Are We on the Titanic?

Serious criticism of the current leadership and direction of the United States can be called unpatriotic and unproductive, or viewed as a necessary wake-up call. If you fall in the wake-up call camp, you will find the following excerpts from an article in Salon by Michelle Goldberg very pertinent.

Source: Salon.com Books | Decline and fall

In 1984, the renowned historian and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Barbara Tuchman published "The March of Folly," a book about how, over and over again, great powers undermine and sabotage themselves. She documented the perverse self-destructiveness of empires that clung to deceptive ideologies in the face of contrary evidence, that spent carelessly and profligately, and that obstinately refused to change course even when impending disaster was obvious to those willing to see it.

Kevin Phillips’ grim new book, "American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century," puts the country’s degeneration into historical perspective, and that perspective is not conducive to optimism. The title is a bit misleading, because only the middle section of the book, which is divided into thirds, deals with the religious right. The first part, "Oil and American Supremacy," is about America’s prospects as oil becomes scarcer and more expensive, and the last third, "Borrowed Prosperity," is about America’s unsustainable debt. Phillips’ argument is that imperial overstretch, dependence on obsolete energy technologies, intolerant and irrational religious fervor, and crushing debt have led to the fall of previous great powers, and will likely lead to the fall of this one. It reads, in some ways, like a follow-up to "The March of Folly."

"Conservative true believers will scoff: the United States is sue generis, they say, a unique and chosen nation," writes Phillips. "What did or did not happen to Rome, imperial Spain, the Dutch Republic, and Britain is irrelevant. The catch here, alas, is that these nations also thought they were unique and that God was on their side. The revelation that He was apparently not added a further debilitating note to the later stages of each national decline."

There’s a sad irony to the fact that Phillips has come to write this book. His 1969 book, "The Emerging Republican Majority," both predicted and celebrated Republican hegemony. As chief elections and voting patterns analyst for the 1968 Nixon campaign, he is often credited for the Southern strategy that led to the realignment of the Republican Party toward Sun Belt social conservatives. Today’s governing Republican coalition is partly his Frankenstein.

Phillips’ book is very valuable in the way he brings all the strands together and puts them in context. He has a history of good judgment that affords him the authority to make big-picture claims: In 1993, the New York Times Book Review wrote of him, "through more than 25 years of analysis and predictions, nobody has been as transcendentally right about the outlines of American political change as Kevin Phillips." Other recent books foresee American meltdown; James Howard Kunstler’s "The Long Emergency" deals with some of the same gathering threats as "American Theocracy." Kunstler is a far more engaging writer than Phillips, but he’s also more prone to doomsday speculation, and he sometimes seems to relish the apocalyptic scenario he conjures. It’s Phillips’ sobriety and gravitas that gives "American Theocracy" ballast, and that makes it frightening.

Unless the United States proves immune from the economic laws that have heretofore prevailed, this arrangement is unsustainable. As former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker wrote last April in the Washington Post, under the placid surface of the seemingly steady American economy, "there are disturbing trends: huge imbalances, disequilibria, risks — call them what you will. Altogether the circumstances seem to me as dangerous and intractable as any I can remember, and I can remember quite a lot. What really concerns me is that there seems to be so little willingness or capacity to do much about it."

Again, as Phillips shows, the historical record provides warnings: "Historically, top world economic powers have found ‘financialization’ a sign of late-stage debilitation, marked by excessive debt, great disparity between rich and poor, and unfolding economic decline."

But if Phillips is correct, the coming years are going to be ugly for all of us, not just blithe exurbanites with SUVs and floating-rate mortgages. With oil growing scarce and America unable or unwilling to even begin weaning itself away, we could see a future of resource wars that would inflame jihadi terrorism and bankrupt the country, shredding what’s left of the social safety net. As Phillips notes, a collapsed economy would leave many debt-ridden Americans as what Democratic leaders have called "modern-day indentured servants," paying back constantly compounding debt with no hope of escape via bankruptcy. The prospect of social breakdown looms. The desperation of New Orleans could end up being a preview.

In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, it was clear to everyone that the United States had suffered a hideous blow, but few had any idea just how bad it was. It didn’t occur to most people to wonder whether the country’s very core had been seriously damaged; if anything, America had never seemed so united and resolute. Almost five years later, with Bush still in the White House, a whole cavalcade of catastrophes bearing down on us and a lack of political will to address any of them, the scope of Osama bin Laden’s triumph is coming sickeningly into focus. He didn’t start the country on its march of folly, but he spurred America toward bombastic nationalism, military quagmire and escalating debt, all of which have made its access to the oil controlled by the seething countries of the Middle East ever more precarious. Now the United States is careening down a well-worn road faster than anyone could have imagined.

via WordWhammy