America, land of the free to be stupid
What people are angry about, if they only knew it, is that social mobility in the US is over and their economic future screwed
A Tea Party protest in Washington, DC in September 2009: Obama a socialist? Only in a country where people think Ayn Rand is the greatest writer ever.
guardian.co.uk, Friday 5 November 2010 13.00 GMT
There are some remarks that are so stupid that to be even vaguely aware of them is the intellectual equivalent of living nextdoor to Chernobyl. This is what it's been like to live in the United States for the last year or two: it's the moronic influenza, as the irate among us find increasingly convoluted ways to say decreasingly less (as I just did).
Hard to say precisely what it is that people - "folks", as President Obama likes to call them - are so darn exercised about, but they say things that show that their command of any words with more than two syllables is completely questionable, like: "The president is a socialist", or "healthcare reform is unconstitutional". Of course, what they want to say, and what they should say, is something to the effect that they hate this man that those people elected president and they want to kill him - but only people like me, elitists with Ivy League degrees - people who actually have read Das Kapital and who have studied constitutional law - talk trash like that.
If you don't know better, apparently, you demand to see the president's birth certificate - suddenly, every American is on border patrol - and you start claiming that there is nothing about separation of church and state in the first amendment, even though the supreme court has ruled on the point more than 25 times since 1878.
Look, America is a very sad place right now, which is what the Tea Party movement and the midterm elections are about. I could analyse the particulars, but then I would be no better than the whole 24-hour media machine - which, given that unemployment is at 9.6%, is lucky that no one has noticed that they don't exactly do their job. If the news outlets were actually reporting, they would tell us the honest and awful truth: the United States is a post-industrial empire in decline, like England or Belgium or worse (is there worse?). There is no next. We are at next.
And truthfully, it would not be so bad, if we could only come to terms with who we are: we are an amazing country still, but not in the way we believe. We are, in fact, kind of nerdy. We decry elitism, and yet it is precisely the high-falutin' stuff that we are good at. We still have the best research universities on the planet - every world survey puts Harvard, Berkeley and Stanford at the top - and we still have companies like Apple and Google that no one else on earth can come up with. And, of course, our creative industries - movies and music - are still our biggest import, even if piracy is deflating their value.
What are we not good at? Dumb stuff, the things they can do in China for cheap, the things we think we're good at, like making cars and clothes.
So, here's the problem for President Obama, and now for all those shiny, happy Republicans who have just been elected: they don't need to speak truth to power; rather, they need to tell the truth to the weak. They need to tell "folks" that their future, maybe even their present, has been outsourced.
Yes, the United States is still the great meritocracy it's always been; but now, if you aren't brilliant or beautiful or both, there isn't much to do, because they can do it cheaper in Shanghai or Mumbai. The Tea Party people should enjoy their rallies, because the rest of it is, indeed, quite bleak.
For the first time in American history, then, social mobility has been replaced with class struggle. Europeans have always been mystified that poor people in this country don't rise up and throw potatoes at Donald Trump - instead, they make him a reality TV star. But that's because everyone here us sure they are going to be rich like him someday, too. Maybe tomorrow.
The American Dream, coupled with government subsidies of utilities and cheap consumer goods courtesy of slave labour somewhere else, has kept the poor huddled masses from rising up. But no more. They know better now. They are, so to speak, "tea-ed off".
To make matters worse, the current president, who is one of those beautiful and brilliant elite people that the world has not left behind, happens to be black. Ouch! This has got to really hurt. And so, all of a sudden, he's a socialist. The funny thing is, in the United States, there's really no such thing as socialism - instead, there are people here who will tell you, without embarrassment, that The Fountainhead is their favourite book ever. They don't think that it's pulp or that Ayn Rand is a nasty lady - they really think it's a good book, up there with Middlemarch and Moby Dick. Howard Roark is a hero and Objectivism is considered a form of human kindness. So, we just don't know socialism here. It's an absurd accusation.
As for anything being a violation of the constitution: the reason that document has survived over 230 years, while others belonging to other republics are replaced as often as one changes the oil in a car, is that its provisions are vague. The "necessary and proper clause" allows Congress to pass any legislation it deems necessary and proper. Kind of hard to define the contours of that one, right? I, for one, am going to trust the experts to figure out what these words mean, which is what we've been doing all along. There's a reason this society is so litigious and lawyers are so busy - it's because Sarah Palin can't be trusted to interpret the bill of rights for us.
So, you see, all this anger is misplaced. No point changing who is in Congress or who is in the Oval Office. Doesn't matter. Just moving deck chairs on the Titanic. Or switching parties in America, which was great while it lasted.
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