Life in the Twilight
The Good News
America is in great shape energy-wise. We have more gas and oil reserves than ever before. Indeed, the United States could shortly become the world’s largest exporter of coal. Our cheaper power rates may bring energy-intensive industry back from Europe and Asia.
If America’s small colleges are nearly broke and our public schools failing, nonetheless our blue-chip universities’ math, science, and engineering departments, and professional schools, remain the best in the world. California alone has more centers of higher learning rated among the world’s top 20 universities than does any other single nation save the United States itself.
Agriculture is booming. Net food exports are at record levels. Our military, despite the sequestration cuts, stays preeminent. We are not witnessing the sort of social unrest that is now common from Greece to the Middle East to Brazil, thanks to the Founders’ brilliant Constitution and a popular culture that is still more inclusive than tribal. The U.S. may be the global nexus for modernist disruption, but it is of the enormously profitable sort, typified by the cultural domination of Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Google, and Starbucks. Even Egyptian protestors in jeans and T-shirts look like those on Venice Beach. If they were not rioting in between texting, they could be rollerblading along the Pacific.
The Bad News
Yet most Americans remain politically unhappy. Polls show record dislike of the Congress. There is growing irritation with Barack Obama, and a general sense that the country is moving in the wrong direction. There are many causes of the depression -- the mounting debt, the chronic deficits, the serially high unemployment, the weak growth in the economy, the up and down housing market -- but surely one catalyst is the sense that we increasingly are all living in an alternate universe, one of nodding "yes" when we know the opposite to be true.
In some sense, our whole way of life is changing. Wide-open, upbeat America is turning into a neurotic, look-over-your-shoulder society. Kids stay home until 30. Part-time work is OK. Having one child in your late 30s is a burden -- all papered over by a veneer of iPhones, latte, and nice-looking imported cars.
At work, every American is one thoughtless remark away from ruin, one incorrect thought on the environment, gays, race, or feminism away from social ostracism. Paula Deen kept popping up on the screen in her version of reeducation camp to beg forgiveness for an improper word. In her serial contrition, you would have thought she was running for mayor of America’s largest city after texting photos of her groin.
Then there are the lies of our age all put to the purpose of egalitarian “fairness,” but they are lies nonetheless. Of course, this is not entirely new: the Rosenbergs were really guilty of selling us out. So was Alger Hiss. Mumia Abu-Jamal was a cop killer. Che was a sadist. Castro killed more than did Pinochet. Woodrow Wilson was a classic racist at a time many of his background were not anymore. I could go on, but the legendary and politically exempt icons the left gave us were mostly lies.
In our age, Nobel laureate, exempt Al Gore proved a fraud: the feminist who was accused of groping a woman in crazed sex-poodle fashion; the stern green scold who cashed out to a fossil-fuel exporting sheikdom; the tax raiser who scrambled to sell out before capital gains taxes rose; the humanitarian who profited from anti-Semitic authoritarians; the man of the people who hyped a crisis and then offered a high-priced carbon-offset remedy for it.
If Todd Akin helped to spark a pseudo-war on women, what did the current careers of Eliot “Client #9” Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, and Bob Filner prompt -- the idea that progressive and feminist men, if they are really going to enact hope and change, from time to time should have sabbaticals from their careers after frequenting young prostitutes, sending photos of their genitalia to women, or twisting and squeezing the posteriors and breasts of female employees? Is there a creepy squeeze, and then again a politically correct one? Should there be a camp where John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Weiner, Spitzer, and Filner are taught to behave?
I think the answer goes something like this: “Of course Spitzer, Weiner, and Filner are creeps, but until the public turns on them, they are our creeps and still good point men in the war against reactionary America.”