I guarantee you that if you take a stroll through the local mall or spend a few minutes talking with people in the local cafe, nearly everyone there will know that Kim Kardashian is pregnant and that Kanye West is the father of the unborn child. A majority will know about RGIII’s rookie exploits and which teams made the NFL playoffs and which ones didn’t. A majority will know which NCAA teams are playing for the national championship. A good number will know which NBA team just had a 17-game winning streak snapped, and why it happened. Most can name characters on Cougar Town or Homeland or contestants on Dancing with the Stars. Someone will know that Simon Cowell is dating Carmen Electra. And they may actually care enough about that to engage in a lively conversation about it.
Everyone will know that Congress made a deal with the president and the fiscal cliff has been averted — huzzah! Hardly anyone will know any of the details or that despite that deal, their taxes went up anyway. While everyone was watching the right hand — the income tax rate — the left hand was snatching their money via a payroll tax hike. The great misdirector wins again. The details mattered far less than the fact of a deal. That’s stupid when you think about it. It’s like not caring about the details of the home mortgage you just entered into. The interest rate, and the fact of whether it’s fixed or floats, matters a lot. The details of whether you can afford the monthly payments matter a lot. The property taxes and ground rents matter. Likewise, the details of whether we’re going to cut federal spending or just keep taxing matter, a lot.
Hardly anyone will know that Iran is making threats again. Fewer will care, and fewer will connect those threats to anything larger or see how they may relate to our current leadership’s policies and outlook. Fewer still will know that Egypt has gone from being a passable ally to a rising threat. Hardly anyone will connect that change to anything said or done by the current president and his foreign policy team. Almost no one will praise the good owners of Hobby Lobby for standing up to power and telling it “No” in a good old-fashioned American way.
There was a time when a tax hike the scale of the one that slipped by yesterday would be enough to cause a stir. There was a time when the seismic changes sweeping across the Middle East would drive more headlines than the lifestyles of useless celebrities. There was a time when it wasn’t nearly impossible to raise a family and get your kids through college on one salary without going into crippling debt. That time is gone, and the world of that time along with it.
Along with that world has passed what were once this nation’s bedrock beliefs. We used to believe in a transcendent God. We used to believe in thrift and hard work. We used to be the engine of the world, not just in industry and invention and commerce, but in thoughts and ideals. We used to be exceptional.
November 6 provided powerful evidence that we don’t really believe in any of those things anymore and that we’re not who we thought we were. We have an economy in shambles and a belief system in ruins. Our government makes promises it cannot keep, to keep current officeholders in power at the expense of future generations. Our government passed a law against the objections of the majority that does almost none of what it was advertised to do, but which begins to monopolize the health care system even as it represses the freedom of conscience and the freedom to be left alone.
We’re an economic basket case. Eleven states now have more people on government assistance than are working at jobs.
Forbes calls these the “death spiral states.” It should worry us all that they include New York, Ohio, Illinois and California. Two of them are two of our three most populous states. One glitters with Manhattan and the other, with Hollywood. They dominate the coasts and the culture. They should be working parts of a machine driving the domestic and world economy, but instead they’re becoming sand in the gears. It’s probably not a coincidence that our president was born in one and built his political career in another, and is transforming the nation into something that resembles them.
Calling them “death spiral states” may be unfair to them, anyway. We may be a death spiral nation now. We are running yearly deficits north of $1,000,000,000,000. So many zeroes that your eyes lose focus on them. But the main driver of these deficits is not fiscal, but moral. When you routinely break your word, the problem is moral. In ObamaCare and the fiscal cliff deal, the president broke his word multiple times. He failed to have either of the bills posted five days before votes to allow for review in both cases. He raised taxes on millions making less than his magical $250,000 per year. He set the pattern that he will create crisis that demands action, set an artificial deadline to build pressure and drive media narratives, then leave the American people no time to digest the details of the actions taken until they become law. The fact that he is not called on this by the people is evidence that we have a moral problem. We don’t care that our elected leader’s word is worthless. A majority don’t care that he is hacking the system and may yet bring it down in some future “crisis.”
When you have more takers than makers, as seen in the eleven “death spiral states,” you have people helping themselves to the fruit of other people’s labors. In the current president, we have a man encouraging that behavior on a grand scale, with his callous class warfare and continuous assault on “the rich” and “those who aren’t paying their fair share.” He was re-elected running up larger deficits than the ones he called “unpatriotic” when it was convenient for him. He was re-elected never defining what “fair” is or explaining in detail what taxpayers are getting for their money. He was re-elected breaking his word. More Americans know about and are enraged by Dan Quayle and “potatoe” than the fact that their taxes just went up, that their president lied, and that we’re still hurtling toward the mathematical fact that our nation is on track to spend itself into bankruptcy. They don’t realize, or just don’t care, that this president once labeled his own policies “irresponsible” and “unpatriotic,” and that if he was right then, then he must be wrong now.
I can sit here arguing all day and all night, here in this space or on Twitter or Facebook or wherever eyeballs happen to be, how awful all this is but it does no good at all. As soon as you bring up the m-word — moral — you lose most of your audience. Most Republicans no longer want to hear that word, let alone Democrats or independents. To use it is to jostle up memories of that world that’s gone, Father Knows Best and all that. It’s antiquated. Quaint. Intolerant. Gets you labeled as a crank and dismissed.
So we fight the details of this or that policy in utter futility. We’re nibbling around the edges of the crisis, though. The next assault will be against a fundamental right enshrined in clear ink and with clear purpose, the right to bear arms. Having surrendered the right to be left alone, and having severely damaged the freedom to think, and having pushed our transcendent beliefs off to the margins, it may be easier than it has been in times past to assault the right to self-defense. A moral people would realize that the move to grab firearms from the law-abiding is going to empower criminals and politicians — sorry to be redundant — while doing nothing to make anyone safer. That assault will be followed by others, and phony crises and posturing and heavy spin. A moral people would see through the spin. A moral people would discern truth from lie.
But are we that anymore? For the answer, just look at the quality of the people we have placed in power over us. Just look at the things we choose to care about, and the things we let slip by without them bothering us.