Monday, July 17, 2017

POLARIZATION, AMERICA AND THE WORLD.




Everyone seems so convinced that they are correct.  A nation of true believers.  Trump supporters, seemingly convinced that he is doing "wonderful" things for the country.   Progressives obsessed with the notion that the country is going off the rails, led by a mad engineer guiding the great locomotive of American world leadership into a dark morass of perverted nationalism, who think that the misguided fools in fly-over country are conned into voting against their own interests.  And conservatives who believe that Trump has betrayed the principles of true conservatism.

How did we come this far?   How did we surrender our sanity to this mad irrationality?  Do the disaffected masses actually believe that this will happen?  That their jobs in the mines will be restored, that the great factories and steel mills of the Midwest will again employ low skilled labor, when the economics plainly point in the other direction, a direction where robotics and automation have already replaced more and more of these jobs? Even radiologists wonder when they will be replaced with x-ray reading computers.

The problem is that things are now moving so fast, exponentially, not linearly, and people are struggling mightily to keep up.  It could be a losing battle.  The breakneck speed of innovation is changing societal structure so rapidly; humans may need computers to help them figure out what to do.  Ergo, A.I.  There is early talk of a guaranteed annual income for all, paid for by taxes on increasingly productive corporations, making more  money than ever, but needing less human employees who need sick days, family leave and maternity benefits, not to mention health insurance.  Writ large is a possible dystopian future.

The left points out that the top 1% controls 90% of the wealth, drawing parallels to the gilded age, and the right thinks that Health insurance is not a right.  That rich people paying more taxes stifle economic growth, causing job creators not to create jobs.  Leftist economists think that has not worked, that when the rich have more money, they do not spend it, but the poor do, stimulating economic growth.  Both sides have statistics to back up their different points of view.   History has its lessons, but a Dickensian view of the world has lasted since Homo sapiens left Africa thousands of years ago.  And such philosophies have endured for ages.

Is it that the attention span of the average American is now as short as its President?  Do people read economics, or history, or civics?   Is it not taught in the schools?  Do the late-night comedians who go out in the street asking the average person who their senators are or who the Secretary of State is and getting an "I have no idea” really an interview of a representative group of Americans?  Or do they just cherry-pick the ignorant for a cheap laugh?   I hope so.  It is funny when people do not know when the Declaration of Independence was signed or that George Washington was the first President, but that he gave the Gettysburg address.

What is the matter with America?

Seems like people either do not care or are so uninformed or fed up, that Trumpian lies are becoming the norm.   Such a danger to our polity has many philosophical and psychological answers.  People deny, then become inured to the things they see on the 24-hour news cycle.  They would rather watch entertainment than what is happening in the real world.   Or football, where gladiators get their brains scrambled so that after their footballing days are over, they are consigned to a mental health facility, commit suicide or become a burden to their families, their loved ones enraged by the concealment for years of the dangers of the sport, so that billions can be generated for the coffers of the NFL, a business that dismissed and, worse, covered up the allegations of harm caused for years to unwitting participants seeking a way out of their underprivileged lives.

Politics these days seems no different; it has become a blood sport, fed by rival networks both progressive and liberal that cannot accommodate another point of view because it might damage their revenues.

The cable news networks have never had higher ratings, fed by the scandal-ridden Trump administration.  But even under the virtually scandal-free Obama administration, the accusations of birtherism and of Hillary Clinton's emails distorted the real issues facing America because these distractive issues generated a larger audience, their salaciousness and tabloid appeal undeniable.
No one really cares about the mundane issues of governance.   Its boring to most and Trump knew that all along.    But he may have gone too far, as did a number of con men and demagogues--Huey Long, Father Coughlin, Elmer Gantry, PT Barnum to name a few.

Health care as a right, women's reproductive issues, foreign policy, the danger of North Korea and of Russia and last but not least to Planet Earth, the home we cannot in the foreseeable future escape.  Is the tax more spend more Democratic model or the Republican tax less spend less the proper course?  These are complex economic issues not given to politicians who do not understand the implications of economic policy.   Nor do they understand deep divisions on social issues, including abortion, which if one wishes to be fair, has moral support for both positions.   That is precisely why it is so controversial. 

The real problem is that Americans do not wish to sit down and discuss these issues in a rational, discursive manner.  Such didacticism requires articulation and language that has seemed to disappear from our vocabulary.   Language is the tool, and many have lost the ability to converse.   People shouting at each other never solve anything.

When national discourse becomes strictly ideological, an ossified religion, then a demagogue can step in and fill the space easily with shop worn but unworkable solutions that incites a climate of violence, hatred and national despair.  Politics has unfortunately devolved into a semi-religion, a divine knowledge based upon ignorance, a divine pseudo-knowledge of only Manichean opinion.


It has become possible that the barbarians are no longer at the gate, they are inside and the Republic is in grave danger of dying from within, as did the Roman Empire.   Historians do understand one thing:  that nation states, or empires throughout history do not last in perpetuity.  The ones that do are based upon tolerance and understanding.

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