Re: The glue holding America together

Reuters

Seated with talk show host David Letterman, U.S. President Barack Obama makes an appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman" at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City September 18, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • In a $13 trillion economy, there is a huge amount of patrimony that can be wasted in many ways before the scars become visible.

    Tweet This

  • We may well be distracted by Beyonce and the Super Bowl, but those who are supposed to be stewards of our system are driving it onto the rocks.

    Tweet This

  • We are indeed splitting into tribes in the country, but the pie is almost certain to continue shrinking rapidly for the vast majority of us.

    Tweet This

As usual, there is little that can be added to Victor’s deadly analysis of the state of our country that appeared on yesterday’s homepage. Identifying our (very crass) popular culture as the glue holding us together is a great insight that helps answer some of the frustration many of us feel when looking at how bad things are going, but wondering why there is less discernable impact. In his summation, Victor writes, “Like  Rome,  America  apparently can coast for a long time on the fumes of its wonderful political heritage and economic dynamism — even if both are little understood or appreciated by most who still benefit from them.”

That brought to mind some thoughts. First, in a $13 trillion economy, there is a huge amount of patrimony that can be wasted in many ways before the scars become visible. By then, of course, it may be too late, but the hard numbers of GDP growth that economists toss around hide the rot in other areas, such as stagnant incomes, decreased purchasing power, cost of doing/starting up business, etc. Even if the pie is growing, it is growing so unevenly that the sustainability of society as a whole has to be called into doubt. Victor points this out in his comment on the elite gating themselves off from the rest of us; something on which my AEI colleague Charles Murray has written masterfully.

On a side note to this, while some of the elite are indeed able to retreat behind Roman-style villas, I would think the much larger majority of liberals sympathetic to the social-engineering of the Democratic Party aren’t well-off enough to similarly isolate themselves. They must endure the ‘ramifications of their utopian ideology,’ in Victor’s words; but decades of watching their neighborhoods decay due to wasteful spending and misguided policies, enduring ever higher taxes, wondering why the public schools are becoming more violent and less focused on learning, etc., has done nothing to tamp their enthusiasm. They have convinced themselves that it is all for the greater good, and so their real life experience in places like Berkeley, Cambridge, and Montgomery County has made no change in voting patterns. They have institutionalized an ever-more intrusive state through the ballot box, and they virtuously suffer the consequences. Perhaps if things truly start to fall apart reality will intrude, but by then the medicine of renewal will be too bitter to swallow.

A second thought related to Victor’s comment that we may be able to coast for a long while, is that bread and circuses can distract and lull the masses, but everything else will fall apart far more quickly with a corrupt and incompetent political class. Unfortunately, that is clearly what we have. Whether young Americans (or middle-aged ones) know the difference between the First and Fourth Amendments is perhaps not as important as whether their political leaders do. Sadly, there is simply too much evidence to point to the ignorance, cupidity, and irrationality of so many elected officials to have much hope for the future (and similar questions for much of our ever-more aggrandizing judiciary). With the wisdom of Nancy Pelosi guiding the body politic (“we have to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it”) or the regular caving on crucial issues by the Republican Party; when shenanigans like “reconciliation” are used to pass truly momentous legislation, among all the other pork-laden, tax-raising, regulation-inspiring policies that gut American productivity, reduce freedom, and leave Americans with almost no political recourse but the courts, then the idea that our politicians have any true understanding of the commonweal is laughable.

We may well be distracted by Beyonce and the Super Bowl, but those who are supposed to be stewards of our system are driving it onto the rocks. Our collective disengagement from what is happening in Washington, D.C. becomes deadly when the captains of the ship are incompetent. No matter how many of us get up at 5:30 a.m., our energies are being increasingly sucked dry by a rapacious and uncontrollable state (at both local and federal levels). We are indeed splitting into tribes in the country, but the pie is almost certain to continue shrinking rapidly for the vast majority of us. When that happens, then the strength of the common culture Victor identifies will truly be put to the test.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Auslin
  • Michael Auslin is a resident scholar and the director of Japan Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he studies Asian regional security and political issues.


    Before joining AEI, he was an associate professor of history at Yale University. A prolific writer, Auslin is a biweekly columnist for The Wall Street Journal Asia, which is distributed globally on wsj.com. His longer writings include the book “Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.-Japan Relations” (Harvard University Press, 2011) and the study “Security in the Indo-Pacific Commons: Toward a Regional Strategy” (AEI Press, 2010). He was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, a Marshall Memorial Fellow by the German Marshall Fund, and a Fulbright and Japan Foundation Scholar.


    Auslin has a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an M.A. from Indiana University at Bloomington, and a B.S.F.S. from Georgetown University.


    Follow Michael Auslin on Twitter.

  • Phone: 202-862-5848
    Email: michael.auslin@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Shannon Mann
    Phone: 202-862-5911
    Email: shannon.mann@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image The money in banking: Comparing salaries of bank and bank regulatory employees
image What Obama should say about China in Japan
image A key to college success: Involved dads
image China takes the fight to space
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.