Election day doesn’t appear to have gone the way I would have liked. That’s okay. That’s democracy. However, in the midst of my dismay, an existential malaise, if you will, I read a number of comments on a number of articles in the local newspaper, and it really made me scared for the future of this country and the world at large.
There are a couple of phenomena in play that have me worried. And I think for good reason.
The first is “American Amnesia.” The causes of this phenomena are varied, but the symptoms are easy to enumerate. The first is the inability to remember anything in the past that disagrees with the current world view. The second is a distinct lack of reasoning abilities. We see these two forces all the time when someone from one side of the aisle quotes some widely reported statistic and lays the blame at the feet of the current person in power from the other side of the aisle.
One of my favorite examples of this is the oft-quoted statistic that under President Obama the national debt has risen by $6.103 trillion. Which is a fact. Yes. But what also gets bandied about is the fact that this is the highest increase in national debt of any president.
We first have to look at history here. Let’s look at the bailouts. Bailouts that President Obama’s predecessor put into play. These payouts show up not completely under President Bush, but also under President Obama. It is important to keep in mind that the policies and spending of the predecessor affects the current administration. And, as an interesting fact, the debt grew by 101 percent under President G. W. Bush versus President Obama’s current 52 percent increase. In fact, among the past five presidents, the greatest increases in national debt, in absolute dollars, have come under Republican leadership. President Reagan’s debt increase is jaw dropping, particularly given his zeal for deregulation and professed desire to shrink the government.
Another thing that the general population seems to forget about is that, as debt increases, so to does the interest due on that debt, leading to an ever increasing debt. Maybe I’m acutely aware of this fact because the credit card companies have me by the short hairs in this area, but even as a president does not increase actual debt, the debt under his or her watch will continue to grow and the more it grows the faster it grows, like some mutant from a 1950s sci-fi flick.
All of this is to show an example of how Americans, seemingly willingly, forget facts that don’t support their view of how things should be, and the further back one tries to remember, the harder it becomes. The second part here is the lack of reasoning.
I think my father in law provides us with a good example of this issue. He is a smart guy, generally. He has a degree in political science; held a number of high level positions in chambers of commerce throughout the nation. Yet when it comes to his political beliefs he willingly and willfully throws reason out the window. Somehow he has the mental ability to wall off his party’s leaders — their successful policies and wins are completely due to the work that they have done, despite the evil monsters from the other side trying with all their power to bring his party’s leader down. On the other hand, if that leader has a failure it is due to the policies of the opposition party’s leader who came before. Likewise, the successes of his party’s leader carry forward to the next administration, but any failures — apart from not being his failures — are laid at the feet of the next administration.
We’ve all had to stand in line at the DMV, the Post Office, or some other government-run office. Often only to be told that we have to go to some other office and wait in line again, just to be referred back to the first office. This is bureaucracy. This is the nature of the governmental beast. So, in our daily lives, in these things that are so mundane it takes ages to accomplish anything, yet we somehow believe that a policy enacted by one leader starts and stops completely under that leader’s reign? Really? So, essentially we are completely rebuilding the government from scratch, its policies and laws, every four to eight years?
I don’t think so. There is a continuation. We still have policies and laws in place from Roosevelt and from Lincoln and from Jefferson. Some good. Some bad. Some that have unintended consequences in today’s technological world. But we have a continuation. Thus, to try to lay blame at the feet of one leader while simultaneously denying any type of continuation for the successes of another leader seems like a feat of mental gymnastics that the rational person could, but chooses not to, engage in.
And there are many instances and examples of American Amnesia. There are also many causes, the greatest being media. Hitler and his henchmen understood what our modern media understands — if you pound an idea into the public’s head often enough, loud enough, and with enough conviction, the public will accept that idea as fact, no matter how many facts are supplied to refute it. How else can we explain the factions that occur, the news channel for the left and the news channel for the right, and the near complete lack of actual fair and balanced reporting? It’s like that mythical, biblical battle between God and the devil for our souls. Each side wants them.
Okay, second phenomena: corporations as individuals and the ability for forming Super PACs. The idea that a corporation has the same protections as an individual is asinine. There is just not that much more that can be said about that. I work for a large corporation. A corporation that spends a shit-ton of money influencing elections, who subtly and not so subtly steers its employees to vote for the candidates and policies it wants to win. The fact that in Alaska over $60 million was spent on the senate race is mind boggling. $60 million. In a state with fewer than one million inhabitants. Really. And where did the bulk of that money come from? I’ve not looked at the exact numbers. In fact I’m making a WAG here, but my guess is that those funds didn’t come from individuals, but rather came from corporations who have some interest in Alaska. Hmmm… oil companies? Resource extraction companies? Or how about outside entities who don’t really care about Alaska, but who need to have their party in control of the senate for whatever nefarious purposes and want to hedge their bets — support 10 candidates and hope that the six you need get elected. Their services are bought and paid for.
And this is what frightens me. The fact that Americans tend to forget the past and often seem okay with giving corporations more power than We the People have. That frightens me.
Okay, that’s my political ranting for the year. Until next time — go ride your bike!
Read more from Phil B on his blog Multimodal Alaska Adventures.