Below is the final essay in my compilation which I collectively entitled The Death of a Nation. It was written in March, 2005, shortly after George W. Bush’s second inauguration. Sadly, not much has changed in the nearly eight ensuing years. Today, in fact, on the veritable eve of the election of 2012, we as a nation are STILL faced with the possibility of what would be, in effect, a return to the policies of the W. Bush era, policies which failed so miserably but which still evoke obvious favor (and fervor) from corporate and ‘power/wealth’ entities.
Will the voting public vote to continue the insanity, or will it — FINALLY — vote to reverse those insipid ‘conservative’ trends by returning full control of both Congress and the White House to that cluster of clear-thinkers that stands for The People and not for special interests? Time will tell, but one fact remains certain: any return to the failed policies of the W. Bush era will guarantee one thing: the process which WILL be the prime mover in The Death of (this) Nation will be accelerated to breakneck speed.
The Ceding of Government
“The market economy is not everything. It must find its place in a higher order of things which is not ruled by supply and demand, free prices and competition. It must be firmly contained within an all-embracing order of society in which the imperfections and harshness of economic freedom are corrected by law and in which man is not denied conditions of life appropriate to his nature.”
(Wilhelm Roepke, “Austrian” Economist)
I cite the Roepke quote because I’m rather fond of paradoxes, and a close examination of Roepke’s words seems to point at one (though I’m sure he didn’t so intend). Roepke begins by stating the obvious, i.e., “The market economy is not everything . . .” True enough. The market economy ideally serves the physical needs of a given culture by providing such things as food, housing, tools, technology, and leisure entertainment for the public to enjoy, as well as work which is exchanged for a common medium of exchange (e.g. dollars), which in turn can be used to purchase goods from the marketplace which the buyer needs or desires to own. Beyond that niche, the market economy is not worth much at all, especially when it comes to spiritual matters, or matters of morality, law, etc. For those, people must look elsewhere.
“It must find its place in a higher order of things which is not ruled by supply and demand, free prices and competition . . .” Not so sure what he means here, at least in the so-called ‘Austrian’ context, but it does remain a fact that America’s market economy continues to evolve rapidly in ways which would, one might assume, change the fundamental and familiar supply-demand dynamics. In the first place, America produces very little in the way of consumer goods anymore. Anyone who doubts that should read the labels next time they visit the hardware store, department store, shoe store, etc. – “Made in USA” labels are rare as hen’s teeth these days. That of course means that the manufacturing jobs are no longer in the US but rather have been ‘outsourced’ instead. Levi Strauss, in fact, moved their entire operation out of the US, and now the bulk of their blue jeans are manufactured in Mexico. They’re still sold in the US, of course, and look no different than they ever did; I assume the asking price is about the same as before which would allow a bit more profit for Strauss.
And so it goes as more and more industries move offshore. Since George W. Bush first assumed the office of president, there have been more jobs lost than at any time in America’s history. In fact, as of Bush’s second inauguration in January of 2005 there were STILL less jobs than there were on his first inauguration in 2001. He promoted his tax cuts as job producers based on the outmoded notion that if the wealthy could keep more of their money they’d invest in business which would, ergo, create more jobs. Of course it didn’t work that way and even the most recent month’s stats show that the market is still flat – barely enough new jobs were created to keep up with population growth. And of course there’s the statistic no politician cares to grapple with, the one that shows real wages are flat as a pancake, not even keeping up with inflation. The American economy is, in a word, hurting; sometimes one can get the idea that the only thing to keep it going at all is the spin that tries to make even a lousy ‘gain’ look good.
So, price competition has almost become a red herring. Retailers still use loss leaders to entice customers, of course, but those, too, wear thin after awhile. Meanwhile, consumption of junk has reached an all time high, or so it seems at least. Clever advertising and a gullible public have teamed up to energize, for example, the cell phone industry; cell phones are now so ubiquitous that it’s almost impossible to go anywhere and not be one of the few who isn’t talking on the phone. Even in the supermarket. Cell phones are almost unanimously manufactured overseas. The transmission infrastructure in the US is anchored to American soil, of course, but that’s only because satellite cell phones haven’t yet become pervasive. But where, pray tell, is this mysterious ” . . . place in a higher order of things” of which Roepke speaks?
Roepke answers: “It must be firmly contained within an all-embracing order of society in which the imperfections and harshness of economic freedom are corrected by . . .” One can almost presume that when he speaks of the ‘all-embracing order’ where flaws are ‘corrected by’ what surely must be a powerful entity, such entity would act as the embracing and containing agent – i.e. a government, an ‘order of society’ – and that said government would act on society’s behalf to correct the ‘imperfections and harshnesses’ inherent in a competitive free market, all-the-while acting on behalf of the people, protecting them from excesses which, history has shown, can easily become common to giant corporate enterprises.
In fact, that’s the way things have long been constructed. Government’s anti-trust laws prevented price-fixing monopolies; regulation by the FCC protected the airwaves and guaranteed versatility of the broadcast media; labor unions were allowed to strike if they found situations not to their liking, and the corporations were bound by the law to negotiate rather than simply discharge the striking workers. The system was, overall, cumbersome in some ways and efficient in others, but it invariably (eventually) served to protect the individual, not the corporate entity.
Roepke concludes his statement by identifying the means and purpose of “corrected by”:
” . . . corrected by law and in which man is not denied conditions of life appropriate to his nature.”
It’s generally common knowledge that America is defined by her Constitution as country of laws, not of men, that laws are written in order to protect society, to protect “We the people of the United States . . .” from excesses on the part of any entity, be it government, business, or individual, and that rights are guaranteed by law and are enforceable. Americans are a free people.
Or at least they were. Times have changed. Since the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney began in January 2001, there are few aspects of American life, of American society, which have not been impacted by change, and a great majority of said changes have been made at the expense of, not in favor of, the individual American, the collective mass of “We the people of the United States . . .” Many of the changes and the consequences thereof have been detailed in the preceding pages, and thoughtful review almost forces a single inevitable conclusion.
There’s an old tale that speaks of frogs and freedom. It compares a gradual loss of liberty to the slow cooking of a frog by suggesting that the best way to cook the critter is not to simply drop him into a pot of already boiling water, as the frog would try immediately to jump free of the pot. Better to start with a cold frog in cool water, then increase the heat slowly to a boil; the frog will happily enjoy the luxury of warmth until it’s too late; he’ll stay in the pot until he’s cooked. The metaphor, of course, is that if rights are trampled all at once, people will stand up and notice, probably rebel, but if they are taken a little at a time – a few here, a few there – it’s likely that no one will notice till it’s too late. Is America in 2005 a case in point? If not, and based on the evidences of the moment, it should do till we find one that is.
There’s a slogan making its way around the country, spoken almost as if it’s a revelation of truth: “What’s Good for Wal-Mart is Good for America.” Wal-Mart is, of course, that discount department store/supermarket headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, that has rewritten the book on merchandising. Wal-Mart began as what sounded to be a good idea: it opened stores in small cities across the country and offered there a variety of goods that normally could only be found in large city stores, and it offered them at very reasonable prices. Over the course of two or three decades, however, Wal-Mart turned into what could best be described as a monster, today beset by accusations (and some convictions) of violations of everything from immigration to child labor laws, of gender discrimination, union busting, plus graft and corruption at virtually every level. Wal-Mart also has become, in the process, a ‘business’ which has a bottom line larger than many countries, a business which has, in effect and by default, brought China forth from the remnant of an economically backward Communist state to a modern international economic power which will soon challenge the United States for global economic supremacy.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart has effectively leveled the business economies of towns and small cities everywhere to the point that once-prosperous downtown streets are now lined with empty and boarded up store fronts, virtual ghost towns. In fact, Wal-Mart has also affected employees of even such food-marketing stalwarts as Safeway, Kroger, Albertsons, and others in larger cities across the country. Wal-Mart, forever non-unionized and purveyor of only modest fringe benefits if, indeed, any at all, is able to undercut prices of the familiar chains; in result employees in the chains are teetering on the brink of being forced to give up benefits in order that their employers can keep the stores open.
I cite the Wal-Mart example because it defines, in effect, the stranglehold that deregulated and/or unregulated business is coming to have on the American culture and society as a whole, a reality which is beginning to define what may well become the endpoint of the American Constitutional experience: the ceding of the Constitution itself to the Spiders of power. Today there are three main Spiders: political, corporate, and religious. Use any of those three adjectives to modify the word Power and the picture becomes clear: the Constitution is, indeed and in the cited words of US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, “outdated.” America is well along the path to becoming not a government of laws, but of men.
The problem may be complex in its expression, but not in its origin. It really requires little more than having a few of Dante’s Seven Deadly Sins become parcel to a Spider’s personality. Consider the list, restated here to reflect a cumulative, not necessarily individual, view:
1. Lust: The inordinate craving of pleasures
2. Gluttony: The desire – compulsion – to consume in excess
3. Wrath/Anger: The spurning of law and order in favor of fury
4. Sloth: Laziness in labor and/or creative thought
5. Greed: The inordinate craving of wealth or power
6. Envy: The desire to possess that which belongs to others
7. Pride: Excessive belief in one’s own attributes, possessions, or power
One could write a book by simply elaborating on each of those seven, by carefully discussing how each is expressed by a nation, and by citing chapter and verse specific references of chronicled events which point to and substantiate the thesis. That exercise is beyond the scope of this far briefer analysis of a national malaise, but I think I’d be surprised if thoughtful folks were unable to quickly scan the list and instantly plug in their own familiar examples that support each of the seven. Add the three antecedents, i.e. political, corporate, and religious to each of the seven and it quickly becomes obvious that the means of describing the consequences to America of the collective actions by the Bush administration is in hand. Following is a brief list which should demonstrate the ease of the process:
1. Lust of political, corporate, or religious Power
2. Gluttony as in the monopolistic goals of political parties (Republican vs Democrat), corporate conglomerates, and specific religious groups, sects, or philosophies (i.e. evangelical, pentecostal, fundamentalist, vs. mainstream Christian vs. Islam, et al.)
3. Wrath/Anger ranging from political dirty tricks to warmongering; corporate union busting, hostile acquisitions/buyouts; religious imposition attempts, i.e. ‘believe as I do or burn in hell NOW!
4. The Slothful habits of non-productive ‘make work’ political bureaucracies; lackadaisical attentions of mega-corporations to the environment and to the natural world as a whole in re pollution of air, water, or destruction of land and habitat; the religious restrictions on free and creative scientific thought with reliance instead on Biblical metaphor suddenly proclaimed absolute truth.
5. Greed is little more than Lust (see above) magnified and put into practice, then expanded endlessly. What we are witnessing in America is Lust for power become the Greed OF power – a never-ending cycle in which success in satisfying Greed always breeds more Lust for more power, etc. etc.
6. The Envy of that which other possess, whether envy of power, or resources, or material goods, or even position in an appropriate pecking order inspires evermore Lust and Greed and Gluttony and even Wrath/Anger, each parcel to the never-ending cycle of attainment of power.
7. Pride, an otherwise quite common and generally benevolent asset of the overall human condition quickly becomes perverted when power becomes the master, the motivator. One needs not look far today to see perverted pride in action as it reinforces political and corporate imperialism both at home and abroad, as it comes to define Patriotism in dangerous and intolerant terms, and as it motivates religious fervor.
As an example of the latter – pride in religious fervor – we need only quote US Lt. General William G. “Jerry” Boykin, an evangelical Christian, currently the Undersecretary of Defense For Intelligence, formerly a covert operator in Delta Force, veteran of campaigns in both Somalia and Afghanistan, twice wounded and medaled. Boykin spoke to a religious group in Oregon in October of 2003, and while describing his battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia, he said: “I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.” Boykin also once said of George W. Bush: “He’s in the White House because God put him there.”
Perhaps in such wanton expressions of false pride we can begin to see and understand just how power corrupts, and, too, how false pride is the logical first endpoint of success in mustering the attainment of reward from each of the other six Deadly Sins. Recall again the words of Phillip Berrigan, quoted previously in the header to the [Part 8] segment entitled Corporate. Berrigan asked:
“How can a people so gifted by God become so seduced by naked power, so greedy for money, so addicted to violence, so slavish before mediocre and treacherous leadership, so paranoid, deluded, lunatic?”
It’s fair to say that there is no simple and easy answer, no quick explanation which points the way to an easy solution. In that regard, the question is, in fact, rhetorical. Still, if we assemble simply that which we know and then look at it in Berrigan’s context, it begins to seem reasonable that successful quest for power lies at the root, and further, that it is the success in the quest which brings forth the seduction and its inevitable consequences.
When Bush came to power in January, 2001, America was by no means any longer the pristine and benevolent guardian of the Rights of men everywhere that many perceived her of having become in the aftermath of the Second World War. In fact, her slip from the pinnacle (if, indeed, she ever deserved to be there in the first place) began rather quickly. Some might say it began with the atomic bombing of civilian targets Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945; others might argue the fall from grace began in Korea, or domestically during the McCarthy hearings, perhaps in the origins of that Military-Industrial Complex of which Eisenhower warned. Or perhaps it began in Vietnam, or in Nixon’s Watergate. Reagan’s Iran-Contra? We do know that one of the principals in Iran-Contra, Oliver North, once admitted, “I was provided with additional input that was radically different from the truth. I assisted in furthering that version.”
The concept which underlies North’s confession could easily be applied to the Bush agenda, the agenda which included military action in and against Iraq long before the events of 9-11-01 produced Wrath and Anger in measure large enough to enable popular support for the furies since unleashed in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and for those now threatened against Syria and Iran, to name but two. Consider the lies told to the American public in advance of the Iraq war, attempts to cause enough fear to justify the impending and inevitable atrocity: Weapons of Mass Destruction, including biological, chemical, and nuclear WERE being constructed and the means of delivery WERE in place to enable an attack on American interests, and Hussein WAS parcel to international terrorism, and that to wait for the United Nations arms inspectors to complete their work, and to then pursue a non-military solution if possible WAS, for America, too dangerous a concept to even consider. War WAS clearly mandated.
Thus, in March, 2003, George W. Bush ordered the United States to preemptively attack the sovereign nation of Iraq; it was at that moment that America severed all remaining ties to her image of the pristine and benevolent guardian of human rights. It was at that moment that America became an international outlaw, a rogue state, an empire in the making and on the march. The war was supported and urged by both multi-national corporations (who understand full well that profits do today and will tomorrow hinge on availability of oil) and by the fundamentalist Christian religious right whose mythology postulates that war in the Middle East is the first harbinger of the end times, the Rapture, the battle of Armageddon, of the return of Christ to Earth. War in the Middle East is not to be feared, but is essentially Biblically mandated. And how fortuitous it was, how timely, that George W. Bush happened to be “. . . in the White House because God put him there.” Fortuitous, hell! God’s purpose revealed!
The three Spiders were aroused, and each in effect enabled the others. Bush once noted that the reason he prevailed in the 2000 elections was because “They misunderestimated me.” Perhaps true in part, but left unmentioned are the other reasons: massive funding courtesy of the wealthy and huge corporate interests, and nearly undivided electoral support by the so-called conservative Christian right. There’s also far more than a suspicion that voting results in Florida (where George’s brother Jeb is governor) were rigged from the start in case Bush might need Florida’s electoral votes to prevail. As it turned out, he needed them, he prevailed, and the evidence that the election was rigged is almost overwhelming.
But at least George Bush was in the White House and occupied the seat of power, the mechanisms now in place. For the first time in the history of the Republic, the chief executive had effectively been purchased, lock, stock and barrel, by forces which typically are, by nearly any reasonable measure, benevolent and beneficial to society as a whole; forces which, however, once finally placed onto the paved road to power became different.
Emily Dickinson described a similar phenomenon when she wrote:
When a Lover is a Beggar
Abject is his Knee –
When a Lover is an Owner
Different is he –
What he begged is then the Beggar –
Oh disparity –
Bread of Heaven resents bestowal
Like an obloquy –
In America, in December of 2000 when the US Supreme Court improperly selected George W. Bush to be the 43rd president of the United States, a new path was chosen. America’s direction and intent were no longer in the hands of those who have forever loved her Constitution and the principles outlined therein; America’s destiny was now in the hands of owners, of entities which presumed license had been granted to change forever the basic precept that a nation of laws stands in the way of absolute power – but that a nation of men will soon crumble under the threat. The nation was suddenly “Different” in that now, rule of law was supplanted by rule of men, and “We the people of the United States . . .” – the common folk, the masses – are no longer the “begged” but are become, instead, ‘the Beggar’ and ‘oh, the disparity’. The nation and the world which once begged for America’s love of truth, justice, and human rights now see an America whose ‘Bread of Heaven resents bestowal / Like an obloquy’.
America now wages war and destroys nations in the name of Greed, in the name of Power. American justice now includes murder, torture, and suspension of rights guaranteed even her own people in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Corporate power-mongers, their purchase of both Congress and the presidency nearly complete, demand and receive tribute, their “due” in the vernacular of VP Dick Cheney. And the Christian right today stands on the cusp of gaining control of the hated ‘liberal’ judiciary, including even the US Supreme Court. Once they claim ownership, their theocratic agenda will pass through already opened breaches in the fabric of the Constitution like a skunk slips under a porch.
George W. Bush has nearly four more years to complete the work he set out to accomplish. His reward? Absolute power and privilege for the moment, riches enough to last several lifetimes – or, at least until The Rapture.
And who knows but what from “We the people of the United States . . .” might one day be heard Poe’s “long, loud, and final scream of despair” when ‘we’ finally realize:
“If ever we put any other value above liberty, and above principle, we shall lose both.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower (1960)