A good friend of mine recently became Swiss. He is looking to let go of his American passport to escape the madness of the American Empire as much as possible on this planet. He asked me in a recent email:
The USA has become a very weird place in many ways – or maybe I have over the now 25 years I have been away. You were also away for a long time, what is your perspective on the country?
I answered him in a longish email:
On the USA, my perspective is that there is a certain branch of the wealthy oligarchy is controlling the discourse and the large companies. Its control is by buying the hearts and minds of the people who are business oriented to buy into a mental set, a zeitgeist which is tinged with a particular morality. The mental set of leaders of this sect have perpetuated the idea that people who work in monopolistic positions in say finance or media (Murdock and his ilk) or any of the big corporations (GE) are virtuous. The workers, whether here or in low wage countries are of a different sort of people and deserve to be, or at least as a practical matter can be, treated with contempt. There is a leitmotif going on of stories of the immoral poor who feed at the trough of government largesse and are undeserving. One commentator has called the whole narrative the “Stern Father” narrative.
The middle class has been (and is in the process of being) made into the masses, without rights, without decent access to education unless they get loans from the finance elite (and become life long debt slaves), without access to healthcare, without access jobs, to housing sometimes now. The American middle class as a motor of the economy is being hollowed out. Note that 70% of GDP is historically domestic consumption. When the 99% no longer can consume at a growing pace due to the boom bust cycle then the economy of the 1% falters as well. And the difference between rich and poor is getting starker by the year.
The drive of the rich to keep their entitlements and to rob the rest of any entitlements that they may have takes on the weirdness we see in the media. The morality plays of anti-gay, anti-women, anti-ethnic minorities,anti-labor narratives are in fact obfuscations, the equivalent of a very smart marketing of a certain part of the elite media to get people who are in the middle class to vote for candidates who will fleece them by cutting their social security, Medicare and public education.
Public goods are villified now in America. Every public good becomes an opportunity for a clever vampire shark to put up a toll booth to extract rents from the people. The latest is the student loan bubble. There are scads of private colleges offering scam degrees to students and sucking on their student loans. The loans are syndicated into financial instruments and sold to investors like subprime in its prime. The greatest Universities of the USA are now being privatised and most people who have kids now do not know how they will pay for a college education for them. The Congress in its wisdom in the Clinton years made student loans not liquidatable in a bancruptcy. In fact even Social Security payments from the government to a worker can be levied to pay of student loans which are owned by an investment consortium. This right to levy on Social Security has ONLY been granted to student loan sharks, a stunning act of corporate welfare. This is just one of the conduits of vampiracy which I see everywhere now.
In many cases where you come into contact with government workings now, there will be a financialization motive somewhere working behind the scenes to get government largess to flow to private firms. Sometimes this will be by the usual corruption at the level of garbage pickup jobs going to someone’s brother-in-law. But more and more it is Gold-Sacks like thinking of “how can we get LOTS of little streams of money out of the pockets of the people and into the pockets of a pool of investors that we control?” And how can we make the GOVERNMENT responsible for picking the pockets of the people so it doesn’t come back at us? While the first LOOKS like corruption, the second LOOKS like and is sold as virtuous “privatization.” The local and national politicians are part of this fleecing machine. They have their jobs, healthcare and pensions paid for, and when they get out of public service they can go work for one of the financial companies. They are paid off, and their complicity as elected representatives of the people in the fleecing of the public purpose is the real moral story of the age, which of course will only be told by later historians since the radical critiques of today are relegated to the easily ignored blogosphere.
It seems to me that more and more people are able to live with weird cognitive dissonance. It used to be that one could debate based on a shared set of facts, now one can only have opinions. Science and the fact based view of reality is in disrepute. Memes that seem to go together are weird: climate skepticism and extreme militarism, anti-abortion and anti-welfare queens. I was amazed when I came here that so many people were able to believe things that were so against their own self-interest. It is as if the disinformation machine is so successful that people can use the idea of enlightened self-interest of the “market” the “economy” argue against their own self-interest in keeping Medicare or Social Security run by the government rather than businesses.
My sense is that the polarization of the recent election was largely a put on show by the elites to get people to vote in either candidate, though some areas of the elites favored one over the other. Both candidates were for cutting Social Security and Medicare, both candidates were militaristic, both were finance friendly. It is largely a sham, but people imbue it with a sense of overdue meaning.
Photo by Denise Krebs released under a Creative Commons license.