America is spiralling into a black hole
As the comedy act known as America clown-shuffles around its shrinking stage, all the other nations of our world, including Canada, are in desperate need of a very strong disinfectant to clean up the toxic brew Yankee politics and sociopathic capitalism have wrought on this planet in our post-Cold War world.
If this pandemic has done anything, it has brought into sharp focus how we have bankrupted our future because of our head-long rush to exploit this planet and its people in pursuit of the all mighty buck.
The expansion of industrial agriculture, and the exploitation of wild species has created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases. Safeguards south of the border to deal with pandemics were tossed by the man with a Trump card for everything – why spend tax money on public safety when billionaires can just jet off to one of their fully staffed private compounds in the sun.
And while they turn over for an even tan, the orange one will make sure all the minions needed to buy their wares, to keep the moolah flowing into offshore tax havens, are sent back into danger, to keep the economy running. Because, remember, they want to get back to the factories and plants and slaughter houses that keep the American dream alive for everyone.
And, even more important, they need to be kept just far enough off the Public Teat, to let all the bailout money flow where it’s supposed to, right into the tax-sheltered compounds of the CEO’s who will slip an extra few mill into their accounts thanks to the poor suckers, unlike the president, dumb enough to actually pay taxes.
Why do they have to be kept just out of hand’s reach of help? Because, there’s an election coming, and the worker bees need to keep voting against their own well being. Government, the millionaires on Fox news remind them, is bad. Voting for people who want to pay for proper healthcare and accessible, quality education to lift up everyone, won’t help the corporations whose slick advertisements pay for those million-dollar salaries at Fox, a small price to keep the robots manning the mind machine in line.
But what to do about this annoying virus, the flu, basically, but more of a nuisance to the master plan?
There’s a human hand in the pandemic, which has rendered us near helpless in trying to stop the spread of COVID-19. Professor Thomas Lovejoy of the United Nations Foundation, who coined the term “biological diversity” in 1980, said a couple weeks ago that the pandemic is not “nature’s revenge; we did it to ourselves.”
Of course, the country hardest hit, is still in denial.
Another man-made virus has also played its part in creating the double whammy of a health care and economic crisis. Our neighbour’s antipathy for big government and the resultant flowering of individualism during the Reagan-and-beyond era, has morphed into full-throttled hyperdrive during the time of Trump.
The new orthodoxy laid the boots to what his enablers and acolytes call the “deep state.” This destruction of democracy left our world vulnerable before COVID-19 struck. If it wasn’t a virus, it might have been a nuclear threat from some addled foreign tinpot, or maybe the U.S. itself, if that was the last chance for power in a growing vacuum. Or maybe it would have been all-out cyber warfare, a game played by unhinged despots warring for conquest and willing to shutdown the global economy to get there.
The most likely Armageddon would be climate related, as our skies blacken and our oceans get bleached, so the old boys can keep driving up the markets, until there’s nowhere left to sell. Like the dystopian novels, we will only realize our devastation after we’ve finished the job.
So how can we re-right these serious wrongs? How do we find our way back from the abyss? Why do we long to return to normal when normal got us into the colossal mess? Are we simply getting our comeuppance from Mother Nature after an orgy of excessive living that began in the post-Cold War era and reached new heights (or depths) as we exploited and abused our natural world and treated it as our personal plaything.
The airline industry analysts lament that things might go back to the way they were 15 years ago, when we travelled only a third as often as we did right before the pandemic. That’s right, humans, specifically the top ten percent of earners, were making so much money that air travel had become just another entitlement. Bored of Toronto, jet off to Vegas for the weekend. Antsy to get off the continent, head off to the Mediterranean for a Thursday-to-Monday romp. In need of a complete reboot, Dubai for a weeklong shopping spree should do the trick.
You’re free to go, you’ve earned it. Nothing’s going to shake that freedom to do whateeeever you want – no Great Depression, no World Wars, not even the silent threat of a nuclear one with the other superpower who kept your wild ideas in check.
To most scientists, our record-hot summers, killer forest fires, incessant flooding, and daily uptick in CO2 gases in our atmosphere, seem to be a noose slowly tightening. With every inch of increase in the wealth of the haves, the comical consumption that moves directly in line pushed our planet closer to the edge.
The plastics overflowed in our landfills and were ruining our oceans. Family cars spill off driveways. The 8 billion animals killed each year to feed our insatiable appetite for more-more-more meant the forests had to be burned down to make room for more livestock.
And all that travel, commuting across continents and regions like a monopoly board, stuffed with money, looking for the next experience to buy.
This rampant and unchecked consumerism driven by a ferocious individualism driving people, mostly the have-nots, south of the border to revolt against their own safety was long-ago derided by the great British historian and Marxist doyen Eric Hobsbawm. He predicted a great reckoning awaited us in the 21st century.
Born in the year of the Russian revolution and living as a child through the Great Depression, he passed from this planet just a couple of years after the great economic meltdown of 2008-09. Before he did, he penned his epic tome, Age of Extremes. To his way of thinking, the world had already produced an ugly mutant virus which he called the “a-social individual.”
Trump would fit nicely here as one of the most monstrous manifestations. But Hobsbawm argued that those drawn to American exceptionalism, a striving to be rich and powerful, gave too much license to largesse, or the hyper-exploitation of our natural order.
Profits trump good sense and a softer, more spiritual way of walking on our planet, in his incredibly prescient thesis.
The latest coronavirus has changed our world and altered our perspective.
Wrote Hobsbawm: “As this disintegration of the old patterns of human social relationships snaps the links between generations – past and present – we’ve come to put value on this a-social individualism. Such a society consists of an otherwise unconnected assemblage of self-centred individuals pursuing only their own gratification – whether this is called profit, pleasure, or by some other name.”
This allowed the invisible microbe with the powerful offence, to slip by us, relatively undetected, and those watching the stock markets soar were either too blind or distracted to see. In the U.S. it immediately became an economic issue for the federal government, which has never seen it as a public health threat. Casualties aren’t measured by the number of bodies, but by the destruction of market capital. Of course, the tired line is that it’s not worth living if you have nothing to live for. Spoken like a scared creature, in constant pursuit of pleasure or escape, fearful of even contemplating the type of community-centred life Hobsbawm connected with.
Some might ask, why can’t you have both?
Indeed, why not? Have whatever you want. In an age of no sacrifices, no great causes – unless you’re younger and truly afraid of what your elders (us) have done to your planet – and no real geopolitical/existential restraints to deter your unchecked individual needs, by all means, have it both ways, or six ways or an infinite number of ways.
In case we start wising up, don’t worry Donald, the greatest American enterprise will not let you down.
The marketing man has been working way into overtime lately, to make sure we don’t slip back to a less me generation.
A recent mass email from Banana Republic, the popular San Francisco-based clothier – the higher-end subsidiary of Gap Inc. – was particularly memorable.
The ad is filled with a light-pastel background and a young woman who looks like a good fit for the Bay Area is in some relaxing neutral-toned BR gear, posing seated next to a wall like a Rodin sculpture. She is showing off the latest stuff in the company’s vast online inventory of goods, and the caption reads: “ALWAYS THERE FOR YOU”.
You can see it here for yourself.
The problem is, at a time when nurses and doctors are literally dying for us, it’s slightly offensive because as the world recoils from the virus and the death count mounts, few of us are in the mood for a sales pitch from a company that could care less about us.
Imagine this image and its splayed text arriving on the home screen of a single mom in economic upheaval, trapped at home with three young children and no money for rent.
No. Banana Republic is not there for you. Sorry marketing man, but unless your hollow pitch comes with some free money to pay off the maxed out VISA, get lost. And find your vanishing soul before the next try.
Did our mad obsession with consumerism, a lowering of public sector standards for scrutiny, and a celebration of the so-called winners of the world, create a perfect petri dish in which a virus could flourish? It’s not the government that is “Always there for you”, it’s the mall that can cure whatever ails you.
The Wall Street indices were indicative of this orgy of excess. The pre-pandemic era, only a couple of months in our rear-view mirror, saw the Dow Jones hit an all-time high of 29,551.42. The pandemic ended the longest bull market in history. These were the same markets already juiced up by Trump’s trillion-dollar tax giveaway to his 0.1-percenter friends.
This further widened the gap between rich and poor, with 10 percent of American households controlling 75 percent of the country’s net worth. This yawning gulf was evident in other jurisdictions, including Canada, and our embrace of social Darwinism (survival of the financially fittest). All this was based on the Emersonian ideal of individualism. In the land of the free everyone has an equal opportunity in the markets. It’s just that some get a little extra help, even though it’s others that need it.
It’s notable that in the ruinous 1918 pandemic, the poor were disproportionately punished, as we are seeing happen today. While businesses shutter and millions have lost their jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos made another $25 billion. Hedge fund managers who shorted the market, are drowning in newfound cash. And stockholders with insider knowledge of the pandemic’s potential spread (including many in the U.S. Senate) secured themselves mega-millions in savings.
Even Clorox and other companies are cleaning up because it makes half the disinfectant wipes in the world while those that make a host of high-demand consumer goods are free to adjust prices based on demand. Who wouldn’t want to be a toilet paper manufacturer?
But other large companies are failing just like the households across middle America. The Republicans who push the deep state, anti-government credo are trying to help their friends in corporate circles, however, the Democratic House of Representatives has done a barely-good-enough job of safeguarding the taxpayer (read middle class) bailout from corporate raiders who made a mockery of the public’s involuntary largesse a decade ago.
The double whammy of a pandemic and economic collapse has seen the rise in stature of workers who once operated on the fringes. Who thought there would be more value put on a store clerk, or a truck driver, or a worker at a day care or old folks’ facility, than the manager of a $10 billion hedge fund? Or that our frontline workers, the doctors and nurses and men and women who keep the water running or the garbage trucks operating, would get a Standing O every night at 7 for just showing up to work?
Cleaners and grocers making minimum wage, have stepped up and are much more valuable than NHLers, major league ball players, Tiger Woods, your basic rock star, or Hollywood’s A-listers.
Will society re-evaluate other things, like how much importance will be put on voting, especially in wake of the tragi-comedy performance by Trump and his team during the crisis. Yes, it seems, elections do have consequences.
Will we vet candidates more closely going forward, and will the abysmal turnouts in past elections (especially at the municipal level) change now that the public has seen how critical political leadership can be at a time of crisis?
Will we finally move beyond many of the band-aid solutions we have used to solve what truly ails us, especially in our healthcare systems? America’s profit-gorged free market version is showing the world how well that’s working.
Will all this angst finally result in a vast shaking of our collective consciousness?
Or will society revert to form when the worst of this pandemic has played itself out, or a vaccine is found? The hedge fund lords will again be lionized, the Michael Jordans of the cutthroat world of corporate marauding.
We’ve read horror stories about retailers and manufacturers price gouging during the pandemic and forced labour hell holes continuing operations in Third World countries. Even with COVID-19 a constant worry, these workers can’t afford to miss a day of pay.
The non-profit agency, ‘War on Want,’ has exposed these workplace injustices for years, and it wasn’t so long ago that the late and great comedian George Carlin used his platform to mock the western world’s unquenchable thirst for stuff.
Unfortunately for Banana Republic, another agency had stolen its label.
The Trump team has quickly turned the United States into a Banana Republic.
The late Christopher Hitchens once defined “bananaism” as kleptocracy, where those in positions of influence use their time in office to maximize their own gains, and will always ensure any shortfall is made up by those unfortunates whose daily life involves earning money rather than making it.
Hitchens/Hobsbawm saw consumer-driven capitalism as a fine tool to help separate the haves from the have nots.
Both men bore witness to everyday taxpayers being put on the hook to bail out businesses in the ’08-09 economic meltdown. And we’re seeing a repeat performance during this pandemic. While the first bail out put taxpayers in a rather large debt hole, this one promises to be more hurtful and calamitous, because to feed the engine that drives his machine, Trump can’t afford to keep his people safe. They’re too essential, like all the other true heroes, to suntan in some exclusive island retreat. And when they get used up and burned out, there’s another wave waiting in the wings, just like the virus ready to prey on the world’s rogue nation, while we all sit back and watch the tragic comedy act.
Maybe, just maybe, its demise will bring the dawn of a new age.
Or hopefully, enough of our sensible neighbours will realize, in time, who’s really there for them.
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