Monday, April 11, 2011

The nation as a dysfunctional family

Last week the Republican House pouted, stamped its feet and held its breath until the Democratic Senate and White House agreed to serve a federal meal made mostly of ice cream. Who is to blame? The citizens are: we are in one of those moments in which the government comes close to representing a vectorial sum of the political forces in play.

Allow me to explain.

One of the first things I learned in physics was the idea of forces and how they interact. Say we're pushing a big, human-size ball: you're pushing east and I'm pushing west; the ball will either stay put from equally opposing forces or it will veer  northwest or southwest if my force is stronger or northeast or southeast if yours is. This is the sum of our vectors.

Right now the U.S. government comes close to representing the variety of political forces at play. Most people, who were sick of George W. Bush's misrule, elected Barack Obama and the Democratic majorities. The few people who are rich and have corporate power (who, not being stupid, recognized Bush was a colossal failure) made sure Obama and his pals were bought men incapable of doing them any harm. The elderly voted to protect their Social Security and Medicare. The white lower middle class threw away their votes on a former fly boy who really didn't want to win, then got mesmerized by an invention of millionaires and K Street consultants called the "Tea Party." The poor, as always, didn't vote.

VoilĂ ! The politics of 2010. The nation is a dysfunctional family and the government reflects it in miniature. Misbehaving and unruly children in the House. A neurotic, narcissistic wife on the verge of a breakdown in the Senate. A pusillanimous peace-at-any-price husband in the White House.

That's the "royal family" that governs us.

It reflects our own national childishness, our unrestrained and irrational greed, the sheer illogic of wanting the mansion and the swimming pool but not the work, our thinking we are somehow entitled and have earned our privileges. It reflects our collective inability to lose weight, to make things that work, to be as young as we once were without huge infusions of foreigners, coupled with our pathological depressive, fearful and phobic state about our situation. Finally, it reflects the willingness to play whatever theatrical roles are required to keep the farce going that this is a reasonable, can-do, high-minded national family whose house is a beacon to the world.

The first step in any kind of redirection in thinking is to face facts. Awareness. We need to come to grips with the following facts:

1. The "American Revolution" was not a revolution in any sense of the word and Americans are not now, nor have ever been, a revolutionary people.

2. American prosperity did not come about by dint of effort or "know-how" and no amount of wheel spinning and education reform will solve the problems that appear to afflict us.

3. American power did not come as a result of brilliant military strategy or the most effective soldiers, but because of an outmoded military doctrine that will likely never work again.

4. Americans were never primarily English, male and Christian but always an uneasy demographic mix uncomfortable with religious beliefs.

5. The United States is for the moment wealthy, among the largest countries, in diminishing measure a remarkably open and flexible society, an awesome nation of superlatives, yet one whose myth of greatness is often glaringly blinding to those who most believe in it.

Think about and comment on these themes, please. In coming posts, I will try to expand on each of them, perhaps pointing to some of the national therapy we need.


Anonymous said...

I couldn’t agree with you more on any of these points and look forward to your future posts regarding the therapy.

Gary said...

Ah, from an autodidactist point of view, I say, "Wrong, times five."

[1] The revolution was an intellectual revolution, albeit one that extended to only a part of the population. But was it never not so any place on this mortal coil? The many are ruled by the few, and with the revolution, the few (at least) were chosen (semi-)democratically.

[2] Material abundance and self-fulfillment as much as "know how."

[3] Drop "brilliant" and add "material and industrial capacity." And include "national resolve."

[4] Close, very close. Americans (other than Native Americans) were largely north and western Europeans, at least in the first 50-75 years post-revolution.

[5] Closest in all to complete accuracy, especially in the face of the single-culture, authoritarian Chinese national goal for world economic domination. And economic domination, at least in the post-colonial era, means total domination.

What deserves scorn from populists like me is the ugly power of the concentration of wealth. I fear our relatively stable adherence to the republican ideal is not so much in danger from China or India or Russia (with its vast untapped natural resources) as it from multi-national corporations whose allegiance is to the bottom line rather than democratic self-government.

Cecilieaux said...

Thank you for your thoughtful response, Gary. On point 4, do note that I specified English, male and Christian. The other points are well taken, I will elaborate on them.

Your conclusion is quite fitting.