I was watching an interview on Democracy Now! with Kevin Phillips from a couple of weeks after the last presidential election. Phillips is an interesting guy and he is always worth listening to. But he said something that really stood out to me. He noted that America was a nation in decline. This is a big issue to me that I almost never hear anyone talk about.
Where I see America’s decline most clearly is among the rich. These people demonstrate a “circle the wagons” mentality. That’s what all the tax policy is about. The rich seem to have gotten to the point where they don’t think they will get richer because the nation is getting richer. Instead, they just want to take a larger and larger slice of the economic pie. That’s how you get rich in a dying empire.
What’s really important here is that this belief in the decline of the nation is self-fulfilling. Over the last 40 years, we have given the rich a larger and larger share of the economy. This has effectively decimated the middle class. So while we are still a very wealthy nation we have become a kind of banana republic. Of course, instead of having banana plantations, we have a financial industry. That makes it worse! At least you can eat bananas. Most of the financial industry is useless even regarding its already dubious purpose of moving capital around.
The other important aspect of this is the income inequality. Increasingly, we have the very rich and we have the poor. In as much as we have a middle class, it is made up of the remnants of our once unionized work force. For a very large segment of the modern American work force, it might was well be the late 19th century. There is no 40 hour work week when you work 3 jobs. There’s no overtime. There’s no benefits, even at companies that offer them because you don’t work enough for that particular company.
And we are declining in the most horrible way possible. We are constantly told that we don’t have enough money to provide for the poor or have universal healthcare or a clean environment. But we do have enough money for corporate welfare. We do have enough money to lock up cannabis smokers. We do have enough money to cut the taxes of the rich. And note this because it is very important: spending money on the things that our rich overlords tell us we can’t afford would make our country and our economy stronger. And the things they say we can afford are the primary causes of our national and economic decline.
Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “If you work hard and play by the rules, this country is truly open to you. You can achieve anything.” Pretty much the same thing has been said about every politician during my lifetime. But I haven’t seen any of them do anything about it. It is patently false. Obama hasn’t even tried to do anything for the labor movement. Why would he?! New Democrats don’t believe in that old economy stuff. They think if everyone would just teach themselves computer programming, everything would be fine.
But everything will not be fine. That’s because the rich have given up on America. They are just consolidating their gains. And their politicians have given up on America too. The only ones who haven’t given up on America are the poor. But no one listens to us. When the Occupy movement started, the media yawned. “Just a bunch of liberals.” But when the Tea Party movement started, the media celebrated. “A bunch of old people backed by the rich pushing for lower taxes on the rich!” That was something “new” and worth reporting!
And that’s our country in decline: the only things that matter are the things that matter to the rich and that’s because the only people who are ever listened to are the rich. This is not democracy. This is not freedom. If it weren’t so tragic, it would be a joke.