As usual, there is little that can be added to Victor’s deadly analysis of the state of our country that appeared on yesterday’s homepage. Identifying our (very crass) popular culture as the glue holding us together is a great insight that helps answer some of the frustration many of us feel when looking at how bad things are going, but wondering why there is less discernable impact. In his summation, Victor writes, “Like Rome, America apparently can coast for a long time on the fumes of its wonderful political heritage and economic dynamism — even if both are little understood or appreciated by most who still benefit from them.”
That brought to mind some thoughts. First, in a $13 trillion economy, there is a huge amount of patrimony that can be wasted in many ways before the scars become visible. By then, of course, it may be too late, but the hard numbers of GDP growth that economists toss around hide the rot in other areas, such as stagnant incomes, decreased purchasing power, cost of doing/starting up business, etc. Even if the pie is growing, it is growing so unevenly that the sustainability of society as a whole has to be called into doubt. Victor points this out in his comment on the elite gating themselves off from the rest of us; something on which my AEI colleague Charles Murray has written masterfully.
On a side note to this, while some of the elite are indeed able to retreat behind Roman-style villas, I would think the much larger majority of liberals sympathetic to the social-engineering of the Democratic Party aren’t well-off enough to similarly isolate themselves. They must endure the ‘ramifications of their utopian ideology,’ in Victor’s words; but decades of watching their neighborhoods decay due to wasteful spending and misguided policies, enduring ever higher taxes, wondering why the public schools are becoming more violent and less focused on learning, etc., has done nothing to tamp their enthusiasm. They have convinced themselves that it is all for the greater good, and so their real life experience in places like Berkeley, Cambridge, and Montgomery County has made no change in voting patterns. They have institutionalized an ever-more intrusive state through the ballot box, and they virtuously suffer the consequences. Perhaps if things truly start to fall apart reality will intrude, but by then the medicine of renewal will be too bitter to swallow.
A second thought related to Victor’s comment that we may be able to coast for a long while, is that bread and circuses can distract and lull the masses, but everything else will fall apart far more quickly with a corrupt and incompetent political class. Unfortunately, that is clearly what we have. Whether young Americans (or middle-aged ones) know the difference between the First and Fourth Amendments is perhaps not as important as whether their political leaders do. Sadly, there is simply too much evidence to point to the ignorance, cupidity, and irrationality of so many elected officials to have much hope for the future (and similar questions for much of our ever-more aggrandizing judiciary). With the wisdom of Nancy Pelosi guiding the body politic (“we have to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it”) or the regular caving on crucial issues by the Republican Party; when shenanigans like “reconciliation” are used to pass truly momentous legislation, among all the other pork-laden, tax-raising, regulation-inspiring policies that gut American productivity, reduce freedom, and leave Americans with almost no political recourse but the courts, then the idea that our politicians have any true understanding of the commonweal is laughable.
We may well be distracted by Beyonce and the Super Bowl, but those who are supposed to be stewards of our system are driving it onto the rocks. Our collective disengagement from what is happening in Washington, D.C. becomes deadly when the captains of the ship are incompetent. No matter how many of us get up at 5:30 a.m., our energies are being increasingly sucked dry by a rapacious and uncontrollable state (at both local and federal levels). We are indeed splitting into tribes in the country, but the pie is almost certain to continue shrinking rapidly for the vast majority of us. When that happens, then the strength of the common culture Victor identifies will truly be put to the test.