A Long Stream of Conciousness Ramble About Chicken Little, Jerry Bruckheimer, Crooked Politicians, China, Easy Chairs and Loving Your Country*Posted by: Varg in Commentary, tags: bush, obama, patriotism, politics, united states
Psssst. Have you heard? We’re doomed. America. It’s finished. The books are written. The articles are scripted. It’s everywhere. Liberals and conservatives agree. The sky is falling! The sky is falling!
But it isn’t.
This isn’t your grandfather’s America. That notion of it being the “greatest country in the world” isn’t so illustrious as it once was. It’s not that the country has lost status, it simply never deserved such status in the first place (no country does). Though, as countries go, this one is damn fine. Unfortunately, nobody realizes it. Everyone is too busy complaining about how its going down the tubes.
We get it. The country is not as great as it once was. But wait, hasn’t it always had challenges? People have always been broke. Government has always been corrupt. Folks have always been dumb. Perhaps instead of these problems producing a snowball effect it is simply a clearer awareness and realization of those problems?
Or perhaps it isn’t America that is falling apart as the rest of the world simply catching up? Is it really so bad? I have a car, a computer, an air conditioner (praise the lord) and a house. Yet if current newscasts or recently written books are to be believed, I am the equivalent of a Roman on the brink of his civilization’s decline – morally, spiritually and financially destitute.
Americans have always had a fascination with entropy, notice the blockbuster films of Jerry Bruckheimer and his ilk over the last decade that showed prestigious U.S. landmark’s being pulverized by meteors or aliens. One might think that after Sept. 11 these would cease but they still pop up every now and again. Conjuring up notions about the fall of America isn’t simply hypochondriac drama, it can also be quite dangerous because it deteriorates hope and fortitude, two essential building blocks of a great nation. That’s a huge difference between the Baby Boomers and the next generation. Somewhere along the way, there was a loss of hope. It could be Nixon’s fault. It could be Bush’s fault. It could be the media’s fault. It could be education’s fault. It could be because of JFK’s assassination It could be because of Sept. 11. It could be because of Viet Nam. It could be because of Iraq.
It’s hard to pinpoint when the notion really gathered moss. Certainly every generation before us has looked at the generation after and thought all was lost. But there is something adrenalized about this latest round. Perhaps it is because the country is heading into a recession. And not having money to waste always gets Americans in a tizzy. Maybe for too many years we rated our own success on how far ahead we were than the rest of the world. Like the man in the recent New Yorker cartoon who sat smugly in an empty section of first class and said, “First class is best when my friends have to ride coach.” With globalization and its effect on poorer countries (specifically, China), that cartoon takes on a worldly meaning.
There are other events that may have left us jaded: Bill Clinton lied to the American People and was impeached, health care began its descent, cable news began exploiting everything to fill a 24-hour news cycle, Election 2000 was a debacle, Katrina …it goes on. These are hard times to be sure. But they aren’t America’s end of days.
We are strong.
At some point though, it became passe to love your country. There has long been a self-loathing current running through American’s minds in the modern era but, with George Bush as its figurehead in recent years, hating America was just too easy. Think about it. Poor blacks hate America because they are broke and kept down. White racists hate America because the poor blacks get stuff for free (and the Latinos are taking over), rich folks hate it because they pay too many taxes. Liberals hate it because the corporations run everything. Conservatives hate it because there are too many minorities and gays. For many people, there is certainly a lot to hate. Unfortunately, not enough people realize they can’t change anything but themselves. They don’t know it starts with them. Rather, people will run around like Chicken Little and scream about the falling heavens rather than look within themselves. It must be ego. It’s always someone else’s fault.
Of course, no comment about the fall of America would be complete without mentioning what seems to be the real problem – an utterly absurd political system that is so eaten with the termites of greed and deception that everyone assumes a Napoleonic code when it comes to judging them. They are all assumed to be crooked and have hidden agendas (or at least suspected of them). This isn’t just South Louisiana either.** It happens in every city, county state and federal government all the way up the President George himself.
Thing is, the politicians are our fault as well. We have gotten to the point where we have learned helplessness. Nobody expects anything but lawlessness from them. No one is demanding faster impeachments, quicker recalls and loud, forceful calls for resignations. At some point between the Clinton and Bush administrations, the shame of a political blunder became shrouded (by downplaying the wrongdoing in Clinton’s case, by spinning it in Bush’s). The politicians aren’t vulnerable. Not enough anyway. They might wrangle among themselves but when it comes between them and the people, the partisanship will be amazing. Is 14 months in Federal prison really such a punishment if there are eight people whom you made rich waiting to offer you a private sector job at its conclusion? That’s shorter than college.
The reason politics is relevant to American entropy is because many times this nation’s psyche is reflected in its president – the turbulent ’60s fallowing Kennedy’s assassination, the materialism and bland pop culture of ’80s via Reagan and the paranoid distrust of the new millennium’s Bush White House.
Now the nation faces an election between an inspiring junior senator candidate running on hope and a four-term conservative senator from Arizona. Logic would suggest, in light of America’s perceived state of decay, the choice would be obvious. But what if it’s all just Chicken Little? The more our current state is perceived to be falling apart, the greater the likelihood of someone voting for the “change” candidate.
Now I have seen a lot of press friendly to Barack Obama. There is probably not a single edition of Rolling Stone printed in the last year that doesn’t glowingly mention him within the first few pages. He is currently running an advertisement on CNN.com. Most media loves him. Any article, book or notion that America is going the way of the Roman Empire only behooves his campaign.
Unfortunately for the point I was trying to make, he really is the better candidate. So far. But four years is a long time (eight years is even longer) so if he begins to change horses mid stream we will all be along for the ride. And after the last eight years with George Bush, we know how bumpy the ride can get.
Until then, it should be at least understood that the sky isn’t falling. Yes, its cloudy but that’s it. High gas prices won’t kill us. They might makes us smarter though.
Skyscrapers in Dubai or China compared to (as our mayor said) “a hole in the ground” in New York aren’t symbols of anything grandiose one way or the other. It isn’t (and I don’t want to overuse this phrase) a zero sum game. Wealth can be distributed. Our situation doesn’t need “have nots.” It doesn’t make me unpatriotic that I revel in the rise of other nations. It’s unpatriotic to herald the fall of our own and blame our own countrymen for it. To sit your ass in an easy chair complaining about the evening news and hating your neighbor.
I’m not saying there isn’t a place for pointing out the errors and missteps in our culture. I’m saying, yes, we get the point. America isn’t realizing its potential. It’s a torn and divided country. I just wonder how much good the incessant bitching is doing. Folks seem content to sit in their Barcaloungers and complain as their form of protest. We understand the malcontent. The stage is set. The drama is: What are we going to do about it?
* This post was partially inspired by this Dan Carlin Podcast (MP3). Especially what he says around the 11 minute mark.
** The reason Louisiana gets so much attention is because folks like to point their fingers and say “that’s where it’s really screwed up.” This helps them swallow the pill that convinces them their politicians are on the up-and-up.