Our times are often described as “after”. The term “post-modern” came into vogue decades ago as art and architecture slid back into a desire for structure and meaning. “Post-racial” turned into a handy way for white people to never talk about what was right in front of their eyes. “Post-truth” became a useful word in 2016 as the effervescence of “truthiness” fizzled.
Welcome to “post-reality,” the final frontier of after.
“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. … Let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.”
– Gerald R. Ford, “Remarks Upon Taking the Oath of Office as President”
Something happened to our nation in 1974. It was more than Watergate and the disgrace of President Nixon. Years later, Jimmy Carter famously called it “malaise” – a feeling of unease that is hard to pin down. As we discussed in People’s Economics it shows up as a turning point in the economy, too.
Primarily it’s been a crisis of spirit and identity. Who are we? What are we doing?
The natural end to this crisis may be at hand. Like an addict on a 43 year bender, rock bottom might come from the Watergate script pitched as a pointless remake. At first I wanted to call it Nixon on steroids, but this is Nixon on meth. How bad can it get?
After writing for a decade on my political philosophy, it’s perfectly natural for many people to have an opinion about me. Some of my progressive friends make it clear that they view me with some suspicion, due to my tendency to support “the establishment” and my interest in economics – the dismal science of the elite. Some of my conservative friends see my interest in social justice and desire to make constant improvement as dangerous tinkering with the social order and a desire for perfectibility, an intellectual pursuit always fraught with danger.
Both are wrong in a way. Call it “enlightened self interest” if you want, but I see my view as nothing more than the only practical one given my one and only goal. Like Beethoven contemplating the Ninth Symphony, I only want to be happy. And my politics flows naturally from that.
One prominent theme came out of the 2016 election – voters are ready for change. A near majority was excited enough by the idea to actually vote for a narcissist with no rational plan at all. Are voters simply stupid?
In a democracy, you always get the government you deserve. No matter how you may feel about that, it remains true that Vox Populi, Vox Dei – the voice of the people is the voice of God, a sentiment first developed by radical Whig reformers in Scotland 300 years ago.
For those of you who favor the short version, skipping a journey through history, voters aren’t stupid. They may be badly informed and even more badly led, but they are onto something. America is clearly adrift. The essential guiding philosophy is obvious, given a little distance provided by history and the experience of hungrier developing nations. But in the bizzy here and now, what does that mean in terms of politics?
It was a dark and stormy night …
Ten years ago, I started Barataria with that perfectly awful line. It was indeed a cold, dark evening in April filled with a sense of anxiety. Where has all this gone in ten years? You be the judge.
The Senate has changed the way democracy operates in the United States. Consensus, established by the Founding Fathers as a requirement for a free and united people, has been replaced by majority rule. The traditions which made this one of many have been gradually decaying, so the vote is essentially a formality in many ways.
It is also a fitting way to mark the end of the American Century.
As we celebrate a decade of Barataria, two trends stand out. The first is the three years down followed by seven years up for the economy, a slow transformational recovery which still leaves far too many behind. The second trend is the one which truly made the other one painful, a decade long descent into disunity, indecency, and idiocy.
Continuing the look back over the first decade of Barataria, this piece is from April 2007. It outlines a disease which has since consumed us – an inability to accept the need to work things out.
“Politics” is a dirty word.
A common phrase in our world is that we “need to keep politics out” of a given situation. It seems to come from a noble intent, which is the desire to make rational decisions that are best for everyone. But what is it that we are trying to keep out?