Ugly and Uglier

by on September 25, 2017 in Politics

Is uglier even a word? Anyway: this is not about economics.

One reason I have not been very communicative in the past two months is my disgust at the state of the nation. America is simply not the place I came to live in back in the late 1970’s. It is a tired, aging, and deeply unsettled country grappling with an identity crisis and its steady loss of economic energy.

America as a myth was always built around the notion that it was a “land of opportunity”. That opportunity was open to as many interpretations as there were people thinking about it, but that was, I think part of the point. Most often opportunity meant, or at least implied, that citizens of the US has a better chance of personal success, of achieving financial security, and of being able to pass that along to future generations than people elsewhere. This was, post-war, largely myth: other countries were rapidly catching up and were building their own versions of the myth, such that the American exceptionalism people here are so proud of was deeply diminished if not eradicated by the latter end of the last century.

Freedom and opportunity abounded in the industrial west, it wasn’t just concentrated here.

Not only this but because of the politics of America since 1980 American reality and American myth parted company. The ability of the elite to speak of a “rising tide lifting all boats” began to sound very hollow, if not being an outright lie, as it became more and more obvious that certain parts of our citizenry were being tossed overboard to fend for themselves. Eventually, as we all now know, that part being tossed overboard constituted the majority and America became tightly controlled by and governed on behalf of a privileged few.

Discontent festered and was roused by the clarity that the myth had become a lie. The ability of the American capitalist machinery to act as a conveyor belt providing just enough prosperity to its workers to prevent insurrection broke down. And so we arrived at our populist moment where the seams of unity ripped apart and our citizenry turned upon itself in ragged and unhealthy conflict.

That this was eminently predictable is of no comfort to those of us who have railed against the neoliberal turn a few decades back. Division and the breakdown of solidarity was utterly inevitable as the elite dug ever more deeply into the national income.

The populist moment has produced the ugliest leadership in American history, and has allowed the most base instincts top rise to the surface.

America never faced its racist past and dealt with it. All comprise, of course, try to avoid their own ugly memories. Where those memories are more recent it is easy for them to cause conflict if they are replayed and dragged into the current spotlight.

The discontent that spilled over in the last election threw racism up in its wake. It is now clear that large sections of the population resented, or were willing to be led to resent, the historic presence of a black man in the White House. Everything Obama touched has become a litmus test for his unworthy successor. It is as if Trump is driven simply to undo the entire Obama era regardless of efficacy. There is no other agenda.

So it does not matter that healthcare reform may leave tens of millions of people without a health care plan, all that matters is that the hated word “Obama” is banished from the scene. Millions may have to suffer degradation, economic hardship, illness and even death in order for the current leadership to satisfy its urge. Despite the majority of the public supporting Obamacare, and despite the current Republican alternative being reviled and detested with only a mere 15% support throughout the electorate, the GOP marches onward to fulfill its promise. Obama will be effaced from memory. This single mindedness can only be explained by a deeper more visceral emotion than party politics.

That emotion is racism.

It shows too in the entirely different field of sports.

Trump has engaged in an entirely unpresidential slanging match with sports figures over the last weekend. Not only is it demeaning for a president to engage in social media slanging, it speaks volumes about his personal driving force.

The argument started last year when one American football player refused to stand through the playing of the national anthem that is a prelude to all sports events in America. His reason was simple: he was staging a protest against the apparent brutality of various police authorities against black citizens. He was and is entirely within his rights to stage a protest.

Trump, though, sees it somewhat differently. He sees the protest as an affront to the American flag and hence to the country itself. Others have piled on by arguing that the protest is disrespectful of the military who, those people assert, are single handedly responsible for the protection of American freedoms. It was Trump’s comment that players who don’t stand for the national anthem should be fired. Over the weekend Trump spent far more time slanging sports players and what he perceives as their disrespect than he did talking about the storm created crisis in Puerto Rico. Why? Both are instances of his basic enmity for minorities.

Oh: and it isn’t patriotic to stand and salute the flag. It is patriotic to stand for and further the values that America is supposed to represent. So the military does not have a unique responsibility to protect or further those values. We all do.

And, I think, the players who kneel during the national anthem are doing more for those values than Trump is. They are arguing for equal treatment before the law. Without which America is greatly diminished. The biggest threat to that equality comes from the bigotry that seems to motivate Trump and his ilk so strongly.

Then again, as Trump’s comments show, there is a significant minority of voters who object to and/or fear equality.

These are dangerous times. Economic inequality, financial insecurity, and now social unrest have undermined cohesion. Trump keeps opening up the divide.

His administration is ugly and getting uglier.

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