Belmont Club

The Age of Discontent

In the nearly 30 years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall the fortunes of freedom have experienced a drastic reversal. In the Philippines, where the color revolutions all began in 1986, the son of Ferdinand Marcos is among the leading candidates for the vice-presidency. “The Philippines is steadily giving into ‘strongman syndrome’, the misguided belief that tough-talking and political will alone can address complex 21st-century governance challenges.”

Soon, Philippine (cacique) democracy as we know it may come to an end, as the Filipino people increasingly opt for political outsiders as well as the offspring of a former dictator, who have promised decisive leadership and national discipline. The latest survey suggests that a provincial mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, and Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. are cruising towards the top two positions in office.

If “political outsiders” and “strongmen” sound attractive to the voters in the 2016 election cycle, they’re in lots of company. A Bloomberg report notes that voter anger and consequent shift toward political outsiders is world-wide. “From the supporters of Donald Trump to the street protesters of southern Europe, voters around the world are mad as hell. Inequality, immigration, and the establishment’s perceived indifference are firing up electorates in a way that’s rarely been seen before. As these charts show, the forces shaping the disruption of global politics have been building for years and aren’t about to diminish.” Among their findings are:

  1. The share of wealth owned by the middle class declined in every part of the world on a relative basis;
  2. U.S. workers’ share of income has dropped to near the lowest since World War II;
  3. Incomes in Europe’s southern crisis countries have fallen since 2009 relative to the northern Europeans;
  4. The European youth has lost its future.  In Spain and Greece, unemployment among those under 25 is close to 40 percent;
  5. U.S. student debt is soaring, while median pay for recent college graduates has barely budged;
  6. Europe’s asylum and border policies have collapsed under the pressure of refugee and immigration flows;
  7. In 2015 only 19% of Americans trusted their government “just about always” or “most of the time” – down from 54% after the 9/11 attacks;
  8. It’s the same picture in Europe as distrust of government has surged, to a high of 84% in Spain

In brief the report suggests that “the future” — that favorite word of the Left — has disappeared. Nearly 90% of French parents, 72% of British, 65% of American and 56% of German are convinced their children will be worse off than they are.  Not that the “present” is any better.  For one thing the threat of major “war”, that condition the Left promised to save the world from, has grown under the stewardship of their Nobel Peace prize winner.

In the light of these global trends the situation in the Philippines is not unique but typical.  The Bloomberg report argues that all over the world insurgent parties, often featuring strongmen who promise the trains will run on time, are on the rise.  In place of the Color Revolutions three decades ago there is an enormous nostalgia for the age of diktat.  The Wall Street Journal describes an Arab democracy activist who evolved into a suicide bomber.  A Japan Times article argues that the Arab Spring has taught Western diplomats that the best way to spread progress is through stable autocracy. If one were to ask leftists what’s the biggest foreign policy mistake of the last 20 years the answer would probably be ‘not leaving Saddam in power’.

Inside the Beltway, the analysts are awakening to the possibility that faith in old-time democracy may be dying in America too.  Eli Saslow of the Washington Post begins by way of focusing on a funeral in Oklahoma.  “Anna Marrie Jones: Born 1961 — Died 2016.”

Fifty-four years old. Raised on three rural acres. High school educated. A mother of three. Loyal employee of Kmart, Walls Bargain Center and Dollar Store. …

White women between 25 and 55 have been dying at accelerating rates over the past decade, a spike in mortality not seen since the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s. According to recent studies of death certificates, the trend is worse for women in the center of the United States, worse still in rural areas, and worst of all for those in the lower middle class. Drug and alcohol overdose rates for working-age white women have quadrupled. Suicides are up by as much as 50 percent.

What killed Jones was cirrhosis of the liver brought on by heavy drinking. The exact culprit was vodka, whatever brand was on sale, poured into a pint glass eight ounces at a time. But, as Anna’s family gathered at the gravesite for a final memorial, they wondered instead about the root causes, which were harder to diagnose and more difficult to solve.”

So root causes killed her, but which caused it this time?  Global Warming, the lack of a woman in the White House?  Was it guilt at not being welcoming enough to immigrants or depression caused by dropping the atomic bomb in 1945?  None of the official ‘root causes’ seem to fit the bill, raising the disturbing possibility that something else is the culprit.

Whatever caused Anna Marrie Jones’ death is killing white males too. Gina Kolata of the New York Times noted last November that “something startling is happening to middle-aged white Americans. Unlike every other age group, unlike every other racial and ethnic group, unlike their counterparts in other rich countries, death rates in this group have been rising, not falling.”

That finding was reported Monday by two Princeton economists, Angus Deaton, who last month won the 2015 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science, and Anne Case. Analyzing health and mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from other sources, they concluded that rising annual death rates among this group are being driven not by the big killers like heart disease and diabetes but by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids. …

“Wow,” said Samuel Preston, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on mortality trends and the health of populations, who was not involved in the research. “This is a vivid indication that something is awry in these American households.”

No s**t Sherlock. “Watson. You know my methods. Apply them!” It almost sounds — if one didn’t know better — like millions of Americans were dying of a broken heart, mourning the loss of something precious to them: self-respect, jobs, beliefs, a way of life.  Nothing that isn’t daily condemned or denounced on America’s most prestigious campuses.  Yet people are literally dying from the loss of these worthless, politically incorrect things. The most singular thing about this epidemic is pundits are only now noticing.

Perhaps Nietzsche understood the reason for the belated recognition of great facts. In his famous parable of the Madman he argued the biggest crimes were those which we commit subconsciously and are therefore slow to acknowledge. In his story, a madman rushes into the public square expecting to find the funeral of God Himself. Instead he is greeted by the sight of a throng acting as if nothing unusual had happened.

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place … Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? …

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? …

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

The color revolutions may be dying, even in the place where they began. This should come as no surprise. We wanted to change the world into something described as “better”.  The US, the EU, the rule-based economic order.  They sold us the ticket, we took the ride.  Nearly 8 years ago when President Obama promised to “fundamentally transform America” and “change the world”, most people in his cheering throng probably regarded it as a promise of even greater things. But the more perceptive members of the audience must have wondered if they were not witnessing tacit consent to some irrevocable act, some risk their parents would never have taken, which in their willful curiosity they were willing to chance.

Perhaps the “tremendous event is still on its way”. After all, hardly a day passes without politicians assuring the public that the really good stuff is just around the corner. Something’s around the corner because we have started something, even as the fictional Fellowship in Moria had woken something in their carelessness. The only question is what.

Pippin felt curiously attracted by the well. While the others were unrolling blankets and making beds against the walls of the chamber, as far as possible from the hole in the floor, he crept to the edge and peered over. A chill air seemed to strike his face, rising from invisible depths. Moved by a sudden impulse he groped for a loose stone, and let it drop. He felt his heart beat many times before there was any sound. Then far below, as if the stone had fallen into deep water in some cavernous place, there came a plunk, very distant, but magnified and repeated in the hollow shaft. …

Nothing more was heard for several minutes; but then there came out of the depths faint knocks: tom-tap, tap-tom. They stopped, and when the echoes had died away, they were repeated: tap-tom, tom-tap, tap-tap, tom. They sounded disquietingly like signals of some sort; but after a while the knocking died away and was not heard again.

‘That was the sound of a hammer, or I have never heard one,’ said Gimli.

‘Yes,’ said Gandalf, ‘and I do not like it. It may have nothing to do with Peregrin’s foolish stone; but probably something has been disturbed that would have been better left quiet.

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