Modern America and the Sense that Rules Are for Suckers

by Jim Geraghty

Folks on the right will find a lot to chew over and a lot to object to in this essay from George Packer in the Guardian (excerpted from his new book), but there’s probably a lot of truth to this section:

The rules and regulations of the Roosevelt Republic were aberrations brought on by accidents of history — depression, world war, the cold war — that induced Americans to surrender a degree of freedom in exchange for security. There would have been no Glass-Steagall Act separating commercial from investment banking, without the bank failures of 1933; no great middle-class boom if the US economy had not been the only one left standing after the second world war; no bargain between business, labour and government without a shared sense of national interest in the face of foreign enemies; no social solidarity without the door to immigrants remaining closed through the middle of the century.

One of the major driving attitudes on the right is a sense that the America we used to knew, the one we grew up in, is slipping away and being replaced with something more divided, nastier, more selfish, less trustworthy; a country whose populace has worse judgment, with far too many citizens incapable of taking responsibility for themselves and their actions. But whatever era you think of as “better days” — the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1980s or 1990s (anyone really want to argue the 1970s were the Golden era?), the trends we see around us make returning to that kind of society nearly impossible. Something better can replace the country we see outside our windows right now, but whatever that “better” will be, it will be different from our idea of the not-too-distant past.

Packer concludes his essay:

Much has been written about the effects of globalisation during the past generation. Much less has been said about the change in social norms that accompanied it. American elites took the vast transformation of the economy as a signal to rewrite the rules that used to govern their behaviour: a senator only resorting to the filibuster on rare occasions; a CEO limiting his salary to only 40 times what his average employees made instead of 800 times; a giant corporation paying its share of taxes instead of inventing creative ways to pay next to zero. There will always be isolated lawbreakers in high places; what destroys morale below is the systematic corner-cutting, the rule-bending, the self-dealing.
Earlier this year, Al Gore made $100m (£64m) in a single month by selling Current TV to al-Jazeera for $70m and cashing in his shares of Apple stock for $30m. Never mind that al-Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar, whose oil exports and views of women and minorities make a mockery of the ideas that Gore propounds in a book or film every other year. Never mind that his Apple stock came with his position on the company’s board, a gift to a former presidential contender. Gore used to be a patrician politician whose career seemed inspired by the ideal of public service. Today — not unlike Tony Blair — he has traded on a life in politics to join the rarefied class of the global super-rich.

It is no wonder that more and more Americans believe the game is rigged. It is no wonder that they buy houses they cannot afford and then walk away from the mortgage when they can no longer pay. Once the social contract is shredded, once the deal is off, only suckers still play by the rules.

Packer is very critical of Republicans, but I’ll bet a lot of grassroots Republicans agree with his closing assessment . . . 

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