America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
Lincoln’s words are as true today as they were over 160 years ago when he first spoke them. Since the birth of our nation our political representatives have always worried about this “grand experiment” collapsing in on itself. The world had not seen a true democracy for thousands of years and never one like this. One that had so many different views and opinions, and all were given equal merit and weight. Or at least that was the idea. It was slow going at first. We were still a pack of farmers and hunters suddenly thrust onto the world stage. We still persecuted the native population and still kept slaves. The true ideals of America had not yet been met. Fast forward 200 plus years and we still haven’t exactly gotten there. Once a land of immigrants, we have turned to heavy persecution not seen since the great Irish migration in the 19th century. Civil rights legislation didn’t really get rid of blatant racism, only made it more subtle and institutionalized. And all our citizens still do not have equal rights, namely our LBGT population, and are no closer to achieving that then they were a century ago. They’re good enough to die for us but their families won’t be treated the way other families are. “Here’s your spouse’s medals, now go away, you’re different”.
When the Constitution was being written there were many questions regarding how the document would be worded and what authority it would have and grant. The best idea was to steer away from a proclamation or decree. Instead, the document would be made up of amendments. This meant that the Constitution is what we call a “living document“. It’s a document that can be changed or added to at any time. When the Constitution was written it was assumed that it would change and evolve as the country did. In many respects it did. Amendments to end slavery, limit Presidential terms, take away our booze(?!), protect our voting rights and extend them to all citizens, a crappy income tax, and all kinds of stuff. Many amendments were added but few were ever repealed or revisited. The Supreme Court was charged with interpreting and ruling on Constitutional issues and does a fairly good job but they are sometime slaves to the wording of the document and not it’s spirit as a living document of a democratic republic.
Still, this country has persevered for over 200 years. It has overcome secession and civil war, 2 global wars, a global depression, and national civil unrest. It did all this on the strength of its people. Good people who gave everything to safeguard future generations. America faced one adversity after another from the Revolution to the end of the Vietnam War. It is in times of great adversity that people’s true intentions come to the surface. The people were strong. They fought and died for what they felt was right. And it was their cold,pointless deaths that finally compelled Congress to act. That is the sad legacy of “progress” in this country. Only when we are staring straight into the abyss do we pull back from the edge. When FDR looked out at this country and saw the great masses fighting and dying for what was theirs by right, he could no longer sit silent. His entire Presidency became about saving this country. He took his message straight to the people and they fought for him. Together they forced Congress to do what was necessary and the country had a new life breathed back into it.
In 1964, Congress passed a “Civil Rights” bill. The passage of the bill was fueled mainly by the atrocities committed against black citizens in Birmingham, Alabama the previous year. It was a toothless bill when it was first passed. All kinds of language about rights and fair treatment, the stuff that makes white people feel good about themselves, and very little authority to enforce any of it. On April 4, 1968, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. Racial tensions were still high as arguments persisted on how the Civil rights Act would be enforced. The black community snapped, and rightfully so. Not only were they still being openly persecuted in the shadow of a supposed “Civil Rights” bill, their greatest leader had just been gunned down in broad daylight and no one was rushing to solve it or catch his assassin. A series fo riots broke out all over the country as decades of building rage came bubbling to the surface. The country was shamed in the aftermath. The death of Bobby Kennedy three months later and the sight of riots on live television finally pushed us over the tipping point, and the Civil rights bill got the absolute authority it had been looking for.
During this time many on the country were also protesting an illegal war in Vietnam. President Lyndon Johnson was a believer in the domino theory concerning Russia. If Vietnam fell under their sway, so would the next country, and the next one, until they are knocking on Europe’s door. A stupid, baseless idea? Yes. But we are talking about politicians here. Much like Bush with Iraq, the Johnson administration was looking for any excuse to get into Vietnam. We had already been providing “support” to France, who were the instigators of the whole thing, but Johnson and many in Congress wanted troops on the ground.
Funny side note: My brother believes Vietnam was targeted for its abundant rubber tree population. America most of all had a standing army in constant need of rubber for any number of uses. Vietnam has one of the largest supplies of the substance and losing that to Russia would have really sucked.Probably not the reason but, knowing how we operate, not at all implausible.
Anyways, Johnson had to get creative if we were gonna get involved in Vietnam. In August of 1964, Johnson got his gift. Two incidents in the Gulf of Tonkin would lead to American troops in Vietnam. On August 2, U.S. naval and air forces engaged Vietnamese torpedo boats in the gulf. It was good but not good enough. Maybe we started it. Maybe the Vietnamese had reason to engage. Congress probably wouldn’t commit the army just for this. BUT, if they openly attacked us again 2 days later, then they might be more susceptible to suggestion. On August 4, LBJ addressed the nation and said that U.S. naval forces had been attacked by Vietnamese torpedo boats. 3 days later Congress gave Johnson the authority to act in Southeast Asia wherever and however he deemed necessary. Johnson wasted little time and the war escalated exponentially. Years later it was determined that the second Gulf of Tonkin incident never occurred. Reported radar images where merely “ghost images” or possibly whales as some theorized. Johnson’s administration took no time to confirm this. They developed an elaborate story about a tumultuous battle which the Vietnamese had started. All a lie. What followed was one of the worst decades in the history of the country. Domestic concerns were all but ignored as focus was put squarely on Vietnam. Even when the war ended it was discovered that President Nixon had already written up a plan to further escalate the war and extend it to Cambodia, where he had already been conducting illegal bombing.
The nation was devastated and whatever innocence it had left was gone. Americans were use to being lied to by politicians but never to such a degree and most certainly not by the President of the United States! This disillusionment lasted all throughout the 70’s. A recession set in and people were too busy feeling sorry for them selves to do anything about it. The spirit of the people was gone. People became concerned with looking out for themselves and getting the most they could. President Jimmy Carter attempted to call us out on this but we spit ti back in his face. We felt we had built the world and now the world was betraying us. European and Asian manufacturers, who had laid in ruin for decades after World War 2, were back in the game and producing a superior product with a more qualified workforce. The fear of losing the “American way of life” led to the unshackling of our corporate monolith. For decades American corporations had led the charge to the top. But they were well regulated and their success was directly tied to the success of the country as a whole. This changed at the dawn of the 80’s.
Americans were having a pity party and felt their best days were behind them. Ronald Reagan arrived in 1980 to tell us that we were exceptional. More than exceptional, we were entitled. We were entitled to have any and every thing we wanted simply by virtue of being born American. It was no longer about earning your way and giving a piece of yourself back to this great land. Now it was about excess and enjoying what was apparently ours by right. Reagan had a plan to make every American rich and we jumped at the chance. The American Dream wasn’t about a house and a white picket fence anymore. Now it was a mansion with 2 sports cars in the garage and a maid to pick up your laundry. Screw saving and budgeting. Jump into the stock market and “make your money work for you”. Get rick quick and retire at 30. Spend! Spend even when you don’t have the money. Take this credit card and just go. Of course there were many, many people pointing out that this was the stupidest idea in the history of stupid ideas, but they were promptly drowned out by by the sound of cash registers.
Now I have nothing against spending. In principle. We spend money to make money. That’s how it works. And the economy actually did improve in Reagan’s first year. The largest economic expansion in decades. But all boats were not lifted in this tide. When Reagan came into office he immediately fulfilled his obligation to the people who paid for his campaign by drastically reducing the marginal tax rate. This rate most affects people with large, increasing incomes, i.e. the wealthiest citizens. This was coupled with massive spending programs that led to the largest increase in the “size of government” in generations, but also put millions of people back to work. Reagan then went on to increase tax rates 11 different times. It really didn’t help though. The economy was full of “fake money”. We had always run on debts and obligations but the money circulating would eventually pay for it. It sounds funny but we would “spend our way out of it”. But the money in circulation had a greatly reduced value and most of our obligations were backed by credit that was quickly spiraling out of control. Real public debt skyrocketed. More Americans owed more money than at any point in history. Debt to creditors, banks, state and federal government, and many were in no position to pay any of it back.
Reagan’s tax hikes were already going to Social Security and Medicare and other government expenses and obligations. New revenue was almost nonexistent. When Reagan left office the top marginal tax rate had fallen from 70% to 28%. Corporate profits were skyrocketing and people were beginning to slip back into unemployment and poverty in large numbers. This mess was handed to George H. Bush and he could do little about it. New revenue had to come in but Bush made a silly pledge to impose no new taxes. So he was fucked from the get go. Of course he had to eventually raise taxes or watch the country slip into another prolonged recession and this cost him a re-election. Many Americans were happy with the way things were. We still felt entitled. We still wanted to be rich. More than that we wanted cheap merchandise and fewer responsibilities.
When Bill Clinton took office the country was paranoid about slipping back into a funk. Clinton realized the people are easily bought. Deals with China and the passing of NAFTA ensured that Americans would continue to get ridiculous shit at low, low prices. We were happy. When the tech boom hit and ordinary Americans were suddenly becoming millionaires overnight, the greed of the 80’s returned in full force. It was a distraction from the further decreasing corporate tax rates. The disappearing regulation and nonexistent enforcement. The people dying so we could have a flat screen plasma. And while many people made tons of money in the 90’s, the gap between rich and poor continued to increase. Like the 80’s it was all artificial and never meant to last. Many analysts and economists saw the tech bubble burst coming years ahead of time. Knew there was nothing of substance underneath it. Clinton walked off into the sunset, a hero, and left behind a ticking time bomb at the center of our economy.
Then, the worst possible person to be our next President became our next president. Taxes needed to be raised, the top marginal tax rate definitely needed to be raised before any more spending programs were set out. That didn’t happen. In the first year of Bush II’s presidency, America was attacked by crazy people. Thousands of lives were lost and America severely overreacted. Instead of asking, “What can I do to help?”, the people were told to keep shopping and pretend nothing had ever happened. Well, that is what we do best so that’s what we did. So many were worried that they may have to sacrifice for the “war” effort but Bush II would have none of it. He told us that the war would pay for itself, make us tons of money, and everyone could just go back to their lives. Even better, Bush II cut taxes for the first time ever during a “war”. Not once but twice! Of course it was mostly for the top 1% but if we hear the word tax break our tails start wagging.
So ti was awesome. Not only did we not have to pay attention to the “wars”, but we were gonna get paid for them!! HOORAY!!!!! Of course, again, many, many people took to the streets and the airwaves to point out how incredibly stupid we were being but we concluded they were trying to ruin our good time and that they just hated democracy. Then Bush II launched 2 multi billion dollar programs, including a failed education program, and went to work trying to take away our retirement money. Democrats, in a rare show of unity, beat back the assault on Social Security and saved it for at least a few more years. We didn’t care though. I mean, we had a magnet on our SUVs clearly stating we “Support the Troops”. That should be enough.
So everything became an excuse. When food and oil went up, it got blamed on Al-Qaeda and we just went with it. Unemployment begins rising, blame it on the Mexicans. And many did. And not just Republicans, who seem to l9ve this stuff, but many, many Americans who just liked getting something for absolutely nothing. Never being asked to sacrifice anything for the country. So the country collapsed. A vast majority of economists from all over the world saw it coming. Wrote about it almost daily. But no one cared. Pay more taxes? Fuck that! I mean, we’d still be paying lower taxes than any American ever, but still, fuck that. And even when it became just about putting the top rates back to normal, too many people felt it was a”trick”. That somehow it would effect them and we just can’t have that.
So when Bush II left office we were hemorrhaging jobs at unprecedented levels, another fake market, this time housing, collapsed, and we fell into the largest recession in 2 generations. BUT, you wouldn’t think things were so bad looking around the country. I mean, not EVERYONE lost their job. EVERYONE wasn’t dumb enough to sign up for a house they knew they couldn’t pay for. So fuck them. They got what was coming to them. You’d think if things were so bad, business would suffer. It didn’t. Retail and service industries still rake in record numbers. New car purchases actually rose in the first year of the recession and, even though many abandoned housing, high value renting shot up. Money was still being spent, people were still living their lives. When Barack Obama was elected President, he took over a country at the height of not giving a shit.
The American people elected him to fix their problems. Seriously. He was elected on the premise that he was a monarch with absolute control of the country. Also, don’t raise our taxes and don’t do anything in general that would require us to sacrifice. Of course Obama was counting on the American people to do their part. That was a bad move. The American people feel entitled to what they have and don’t expect to have to sacrifice for anything. Especially wars and poverty. Fuck’em. Twice Obama tried to repeal the Bush II tax cuts. Twice he failed. Twice he tried to encourage people to give more to our “war” efforts. Twice he was met with a “Meh”. I didn’t expect the country to change 30 years of programming overnight but he’s barely made dent in 3 years. Now we have kids, the next generation, taking to the streets to try and secure some kind of future for themselves and it is met with the usual apathy. Why should the media cover something most of the nation could care less about?
And so that is why we fail. Not because of politicians or corporations or religious extremists. Because we don’t care. because, as long as things are just good enough, we can be content. Effort, pride, and work ethic were snuffed out in the 80’s and it has never really returned. It’s all about making money off of other people and never worrying about being asked to sacrifice. Complaining about the same people and the same systems WE put into place. A country of whining children. Just look at polling numbers.
59% loved Obama’s stimulus package. 59% think he is spending too much money regarding the stimulus. WTF?!
Or how about this: 60% of people want stricter regulations on businesses. 60% think we’re regulating business too much.
56% would like to see taxes raised. Around 56% think we pay an acceptable rate.
And it just goes on like that. It’s fun to say you want to help. Makes you feel good. But actually helping? I dunno about that. But polls are tricky. You can make them say whatever you want. Still, these are disturbing trends. What I take away from it is a populace that is either conflicted or just doesn’t care. Given the last 30 years, my guess is they don’t care.
If this were a monarchy or a fascist government, I would accept the victim card so many in this country play. But we’re not victims. Nothing was done to us. We brought this all on ourselves. “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people…”. You can throw off this responsibility if you want but it changes nothing. Our politicians are not our leaders, they are our representatives. Everything they do is in our name and with our consent. All backed by a corporate owned media that few actually watch but still blame for our ignorance. It will all change though. Things will get better as they always do but I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to a place where most are doing good. I don’t want to get rid of federal government but people do indeed rely on it far too much. And often refuse to pay for it.
So that’s my take. It doesn’t matter who we elect if we don’t do our jobs. America hasn’t failed us, we have failed America. Again, this is why my Presidential platform is “Shut the Fuck Up America”.
George Carlin – Don’t blame Politicians