Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Fear and Loathing in the Most Powerful Country in the World

The seeming chaos that characterized this election is the predictable consequence of massive wealth inequity, a deadlocked and corrupt political system, fifteen years of hyping the terrorism threat, twenty years of the most recent decline narrative, and twenty-five years of not knowing what to do next after winning the Cold War.  Despite their unchallenged superiority on the world stage, the American people have become confused and scared.  Their long-sought status and power have not brought a society-wide sense of security.  Yet, like all who have power, we are afraid to lose it, and our resultant choices are unfathomable to those who do not understand this dynamic.

When at least a significant part of a population shares these feelings, the stress reduces their cognitive functioning and makes them susceptible to simplistic explanations (such as xenophobia and class warfare).  They look for the reassurance of a strongman figure who places blame in convenient places and promises simple, sweeping solutions that restore the old, preferred status quo, even if that status quo didn't really exist and it's clear the policies can't either be implemented or, if somehow implemented, successful. (This explains why Russians like Putin so much.)

The United States is throwing everything it has (and borrowing heavily) to try to uphold an international system that daily grows more divorced from modern reality and an increasing percentage of the world views as unfairly benefiting a heavily American global elite.  External adversaries try to undermine us (justly, in their view) and our country becomes increasingly divided as these efforts predictably fail to produce greater security.

Exacerbating matters, a subdivided media now owned by corporate interests (and corporations themselves) gradually abandoned objective journalism to pursue its owners' political interests and follow titillating but inconsequential stories that serve as profit sources, but hardly pass muster as true news items.  As a result, the population is unprepared to apply meaningful perspective to life's harsher, come complicated realities.  By 2016, we had a perfect opportunity for the ignorant bully, the corrupt palace courtier, and a few well-meaning but unqualified others to make a play for power.  No matter who wins that kind of contest, we lose.

This is not to say all is lost.  Wielding real power within our entrenched and antagonistic bureaucratic system is expensive and frustrating for a reason.  Like all things, this ill-favored episode in our history will pass.  With luck, foresight, and perseverance, it will happen sooner rather than later, shortening the dark age between stable, generally beneficial international systems in which we find ourselves so ineffectively floundering at present.

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