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.”
We are not publicly to confess other disturbing truths. The vastly inordinate rates of criminality in parts of the inner city cannot serve as an alternate exegesis to racism to explain why Americans of all races make the necessary adjustments of where, when, and how they navigate. That thoughtcrime is “racist.”
Yet it is an old thoughtcrime dating back at least to Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 paper titled “The Negro Family: the Case for National Action,” which predicted our present tragedies based on the government-fed dissolution of the black family through much higher than average rates of illegitimacy, single-parent households, and rates of criminality and incarceration. After that, Moynihan was persona non grata for two decades: not for lying, but for not lying. None of this is to deny the burdens of racism and the fumes of it that persist; only to suggest that a half-century after the start of the Great Society there is only so much government can do, or rather there is too much government can do -- and we are not supposed to say that.
We suspect that if citizens were to do what too many illegal aliens do with some regularity -- break U.S. immigration law (remember the stern faces of those customs officials who stamp your passport upon reentry?), forge documents, create false identities, or leave the scene of an accident -- we would face felony charges and the end of careers. I take seriously those scary warnings on government documents that I sign and date and notarize "under penalty of perjury." But why do millions not?
When I get hit by an errant motorist in my environs (and it has happened more than once), or have some one run off the road onto my property, the strange thing is not that I expect him to flee, leaving no ID, no registration, and no insurance behind -- that is de rigueur. The odd thing is that the officer on the scene nonchalantly assumes the same thing, too. Yet his shrug does not hide the lie that if I were to do that, I would be charged with felony hit and run, while my victim that night would be contacted by a lawyer to sue me. We all know this and we all know, like good Eastern Europeans circa 1970, never to say that aloud. In Los Angeles, hit-and-run is kinda like jaywalking elsewhere.
The Ugly News
We accept all this, scuttling along like Eliot’s ragged claws, or we look downward to avoid the talking head on Orwell’s big screen.
I have a vague memory that Eric Holder and Barack Obama have resorted to divisive racial rhetoric (“typical white person,” acted “stupidly,” “punish our enemies,” “cowards,” “my people”), but I say vague because we seem to shrug as if to say: “so what?” Did they ever really say that at all?
That mind-washing might explain why, when on the eve of a racially charged trial, the president prejudicially weighed in, claiming racial affinity with the deceased victim. After the trial, at a time of heightened tensions and of an ongoing investigation by his own Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, he doubled down and did it again. He knew that we would shrug as if it were all expected, as if he were just Bill Clinton eyeing another intern.
So it is with the “phony” scandals. The beaten-down public sighs that four of its personnel were killed in Libya due to that awful “video.” So what that the IRS is now a necessary arm of the administration, or that reporters are monitored? Big deal -- the NSA is an out-of-control octopus. Duh?
We are becoming like Eastern Europeans who were oblivious that the faces on the May Day dais had sometimes changed. In other words, the evil and Islamophobic Nakoula did it in Benghazi, the overzealous (but otherwise understandably progressive) Cincinnati rogue agents alone did the improper audits, the evil (Fox News) James Rosen perhaps deserved the monitoring -- all enemies of social justice.
Statism and the voices of megaphones like Jay Carney wear down a population. If the Great Leader says that there is a war on women because hip young affluent females like Sandra Fluke have trouble getting free condoms, then there surely is -- and elevator-owning, dog-torturing, and equestrian-marrying Mitt Romney is waging it.
But there is no war when a Philadelphia abortionist, under the nose of state authorities, murders fetuses as they cry and gasp for air -- and sometimes their laboring mothers along with them. If guns that are black and plastic and look scary are “automatic” assault weapons whose banning will save the children, then by all means ban these machine guns. If the planet has not warmed up in 15 years, then it is still warming up, and companies like Solyndra need more subsidies.
Still, the human psyche is a strange thing. It needs to feel transcendent, either spiritually or by confidence in children or through the reputation of a life lived well. Crush that spirit through government obfuscation, and the people become the walking dead of a dreary Warsaw Pact Budapest or Prague, given that there is no hope for those who follow.
The soul appreciates equality, but not of the enforced kind that destroy individual liberty. Insult the voter, call him names, regulate him, lecture him about his various -ologies and -isms, regiment his youth with proper thinking, curb his speech, and he becomes a mute, a dead soul, a Brit in about 1955, a Hungarian in 1956, a Russian in about 1970, or today’s Cuban.
To keep America exceptional, we need eccentrics, contrarians, doubters, politically incorrect truth-tellers. Take them away, and we are a nation of head-nodders like most other states.
Go to sleep in 2009 and wake up now. The world has changed: golf is the people’s game; racist, sexist, homophobic thought and speech are predicated on the ideology of who says it; the IRS, the NSA, and the Justice Department are watching you; the State Department is run like a campaign organization; the president offers politically correct thoughts on local trials; the attorney general worries about “my people”; the government is producing more oil and gas by trying to stop it; wind and solar are the way of the future; gropes and pornography are either career-ending or cause for needed sabbaticals; and high unemployment, debt, and low growth are proof of a robust recovery.
The model of our future will be a landscape like Detroit, as those on MSNBC or on NPR find ever more clever ways to assure us that the city is “saved” from the free-market capitalist and racist buccaneers. We will shuffle on, as the voices go in one ear and out the other, as they screech that Big Brother saved us at last from the reactionary Goldsteins of the world who nearly destroyed it.