Which is far from the most worrisome aspect of our future. To review:
The Republican line-up [cartoon: Rolling Stone] on display last week may be laughable, but anyone amused had best prepare for a lengthy stretch of stand-up as the lumbering wreck of the GOP claws its way back into the White House next year. Although predictions are perilous, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that the fragile, collective faith that alighted on Obama the newcomer as a vehicle for doing things differently has evaporated and will not return. All those hoping for a ‘real loony’ like Bachmann or Perry to become the nominee so that Sensible People will stick with Obama had better be careful what they wish for. I will happily place money on the likelihood that the Democratic wipe-out of 2012 will rival that of Walter Mondale in 1984.
Under normal circumstances, such a prospect would be discouraging but not necessarily grim. We’ve survived religious nut-cases in the Oval Office before. But needless to say, normal times these are not. The social break-down evidenced in the British riots are a foretaste of what the seizure of our polity by the super-rich holds for our own future. Two eager economists even reported they dug into the historical record and found that, Behold! austerity leads to unrest.
But more disturbing than witnessing the social costs of wrong-headed social and economic policy is the realization that the entire system is incapable of righting itself. I am persuaded by those commentators who have concluded that this—not the silly S&P downgrade—is the true motive for the stock market implosion. At a time when households cannot goose economic activity for lack of purchasing power, Washington is now completely trapped in the demented worship of fiscal pruning, cutting back government stimulus at exactly the time when it is only thing that could save our collective ass.
Thus the mega-rich have managed both to achieve their immediate goals—crippling government and avoiding punishment for their looting—and to undermine the system that makes them super-rich in the first place. They are like drug addicts who know that using is wrecking their lives and nonetheless head out every night to score.
This is the real crime of the Obama presidency and the reason it must end as soon as possible. If he were fighting for a traditional Democratic, Keynesian strategy, insisting that long-term deficits must only be addressed later when the economy is not in danger of capsizing, that instead government must step up and direct income to the poorest and most destitute as the only means of restarting its engine, it would be worth sticking with him even in a losing battle. That way, once the current strategy fails, as it will, there would be some remaining chance for a humane and sensible alternative.
Instead, we have happy talk and paralysis while the hateful and spiteful claim— correctly—that the current occupant of the White House is out of his depth, has botched the recovery and has no plan B. It will be ironic indeed if the first act of the incoming 2013 Bachmann or Perry administration is to call for emergency deficit spending to put people back to work, for example, on war industries in preparation for an attack on Iran.
And it’s not hard to anticipate the reaction that will greet any manifestations of British-style urban chaos that may erupt in the meantime. In fact, we lived through it once in the 1960s when ‘law and order’ became the Nixonian watchword during the construction of the Southern strategy that turned all of Dixieland into red states. Covert racism is always the fall-back position in our country in times of social stress, so expect more Confederate flags to fly at the Rick Perry rallies as the Civil War gets refought, possibly with an entirely different outcome.
Let’s not forget how dangerous real economic collapse can be—the last one ended with 50 million dead. It was war that got the wheels of German industry moving again as well as our own, and the world remains populated, last time I looked, by the same fragile bipeds desperate for answers in troubled times.