The US has always been a famously optimistic country. From our beginning, rebelling against the greatest empire the world has ever seen in a bold attempt to gain independence, we’ve always looked to a brighter future.
Through our history millions of people have come to what they see as a land of opportunity. The American Dream – the idea that if we work had we can succeed – is one of the key threads that runs through our culture.
How optimistic are you feeling now, though? Does it look as if the US is headed onward and upward to a brighter future? Or do you have an uneasy feeling that the American Dream is on the edge of collapsing into a nightmare?
If you do, and you’re looking for reassurance, I’m sorry to say I can’t give you any. We’re not past the point of no return yet, but there’s evidence all around us that points to this country being in a dangerously unstable condition.
We could manage to turn things around – but right now we’re heading in the wrong direction.
A House Divided
These states don’t feel very united right now. In fact this country might be more divided than it’s been at any time since Richmond fell to US troops in 1865. Our politics have become terrifyingly partisan.
Decades ago, in the golden age of the 1950s, the Republicans wanted to build a prosperous by cutting federal taxes and letting people keep more of their money.
The Democrats wanted to build a prosperous nation by using federal law to give people more rights at work.
OK, that’s simplifying it a little, but both parties wanted pretty much the same sort of country; they just had different ideas – and, really, not that different – about how to get there.
Look at things now. Some moderate politicians still exist (and they get elected, so some people still like what they’re saying) but overall political debate has swerved wildly towards the extremes.
We live in a society that’s financed by reckless borrowing, constantly kicking the can down the road and pretending the day the world won’t lend us money anymore is never going to arrive.
Along with crazy, extreme ideas comes a level of political hatred that’s hard to comprehend. Just a generation ago, we tended to think people who didn’t share our political views were wrong but basically well-meaning.
Now, if you don’t hold exactly the right set of constantly changing and ever more extreme opinions, you’re literally evil. You’re heartless, selfish. You’re not just someone that voted for the other party; you’re the enemy, and you must be destroyed. A society where a large number of people think that way is badly broken. And that’s where we are now.
Violence Is The New Protest
Protesters used to turn up with placards and maybe a bunch of flowers. Now they’re as likely to bring a bike lock, a knife or a gun. Almost any protest is liable to turn into a riot.
Any society will have the occasional outbreak of unrest, but doesn’t it seem like they’re happening a lot more now?
If the police shoot someone – even a violent criminal who was trying to stab an innocent victim – that’s an excuse for an orgy of looting and destruction.
If the Supreme Court makes a decision someone doesn’t like, justices find angry mobs outside their homes – and armed maniacs trying to kill them.
Far too many protesters are going armed. Carrying a gun to protect yourself and your family is a long and honorable American tradition. Carrying a gun to intimidate people you disagree with into silence is not.
The Country Is Falling Apart
In a literal way, America is disintegrating. Our infrastructure is suffering from decades of under-investment. Our power grid is so old and overloaded that it doesn’t need an EMP strike to collapse it; two hot weeks in June could be enough to do the job.
Even a simple blizzard can take down big chunks of it. We’ve been running power cables to homes for over a hundred years, and we haven’t figured out snow yet?
The current administration loves to talk about how it’s going to sort out our crumbling infrastructure, but its big idea is to make us all buy electric cars – then recharge them from the grid that already can’t cope with the load. Everyone knows our infrastructure is in a mess, but nobody has a serious plan to fix it.
Morals Are Decaying
Too many people want something for nothing – whether it’s cynical corporations that want a monopoly, or corrupt politicians that want to exploit their position for money.
Tens of millions of Americans still do believe in earning (or paying) an honest wage for honest work, but a terrifyingly large number don’t. Far too many people have rejected the idea that money is something you need to earn.
A lot of people just don’t seem to have any standards at all. Addicts buy, sell and use drugs in the streets of major cities, and local politicians just let it happen. District attorneys abolish cash bail and work to keep violent criminals out of prison.
There are 340 million people in this country. If we don’t have a shared idea of what’s right and wrong, a set of moral standards we all agree to live by, the US is going to become a very unpleasant place. Without a unifying morality, societies fall apart.
We’re Going Broke
The US is still the world’s biggest economy, and it’s still growing – but most Americans aren’t seeing the fruits of that growth. Wages are stagnating.
Instead of making our schools and colleges go back to teaching useful skills, and protecting workers from cheap illegal labor, our politicians are just trying to borrow and spend their way to re-election.
Look at the US national debt clock.
Right now we owe over $31.8 trillion, and that amount is increasing so fast that the last five digits on the clock are a blur.
Our government is burning through tens of thousands of dollars faster than you can keep track of the number changing.
A million dollars every 36 seconds – well, about that anyway; I couldn’t press the buttons on my stopwatch fast enough to get within $30,000 or so.
There are less than 128 million income tax payers in this country and there’s no way we can finance all the spending the government wants to do.
Yes, some people talk about taxing the rich or the one percent or the big corporations instead of regular taxpayers, but it doesn’t matter; the money always comes out of the pockets of ordinary working Americans in the end.
A big corporation might have legal personhood, but it isn’t really a person. It’s a collection of people that sells goods or services to other people – ordinary people – and if the corporation has to pay more tax, those ordinary people end up paying for it through higher prices or lower wages.
The government has to stop spending so much, but it won’t, because it’s scared of losing votes. So, instead, it borrows the money and hopes that somehow, by some miracle, the world will keep lending to us and we’ll never have to pay it back.
The problem is, the day when taxes won’t even cover the interest on our debt is coming over the horizon. In the next ten years we’ll spend $10.5 trillion on interest payments – while borrowing trillions more, that our government has no idea how to pay back.
Sooner or later the world will realize that we’re never going to repay the money we owe, and they’ll turn off the lending tap.
And, when that happens, the final collapse is just days away. When every federal employee doesn’t get paid, and every welfare check and Social Security payment fails to arrive, the US will be blown apart.
We’re not past the point of no return – yet. But we’re getting very, very close.
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