Oh my goodness, America, what the *&^%$#! are you thinking? I thought we were a completely new and different kind of nation, immune to the sociocultural viruses and innate human foibles that destroyed the Roman Empire, “bread and circuses,” “the world is my oyster” and all that jazz, but here we go, wandering gormlessly down that tired old one-way road to Palookaville.
The only question now is, will there be a Chinese version of Gibbon sometime in the not so distant future that will write about our “Decline and Fall” with a small measure of kindness and compassion, giving our demise some degree of dignity even if we haven’t really earned it? “As we are, so once were they; as they are now, so shall we be….”
It’s nice to think so.
Our poor Founding Fathers deserve at least that much: incandescent Jefferson, the wild street-fighter Paine, Patrick Henry gloriously drunk on rage and the splendor of his own language, Washington like a great block of granite that would not, could not be budged, Franklin the eternal trickster and mischief-maker, serious conscientious Adams and all the rest. You wracked your brains; you burned the midnight oil, the candles (at both ends) and all your bridges behind you. In your minds you delved through the works of every philosopher from Socrates to Rousseau, searching for the tiniest nugget of revelation you could use, squeezing your imaginations dry, parsing, analyzing, agonizing over every compromise, honing your words to razor-sharpness so no-one could possibly misunderstand them, battering argument on argument until both of them exploded and you searched through the dust and the smoke for something new and true, and the whole time living in the shadow of the gallows of England, your beloved Motherland, disgraced in the eyes of all your ancestors, deemed insolent, criminal or totally mad by the Old World that had been there forever and seemed eternal. There had to have been voices of fear and doubt whispering in your ears day and night, saying you had gone too far, far beyond the last vestige of solid ground into empty untrammeled space where there was nowhere to go but down, headlong like the king of the fallen angels himself into the depths of hell. But somehow, by some miracle, you stayed aloft, through sheer unadulterated existential moxie and mojo; you took flight together, and as you soared you wrote in giant letters across the sky your dream of a Republic for free men and women united by a common ideal and purpose and natural empathy….
And all that courage and ingenuity beyond belief, all the sacrifices made since, by those who’ve fought selflessly to nurture and preserve it, we’ve tossed it all away like it’s so much trash. We’ve made a hissing and a mockery of your vision, raising up in its place a demented set of values in which material wealth is the only measure of happiness and success and greed trumps valor, honor and compassion:
Moloch über alles. Furthermore, greed is inevitably accompanied by the fear that someone might try to take away even the tiniest fragment of the priceless but ultimately useless Dreckhaufen one has accumulated, and, as a result individuals and nuclear families meld into a massive scrum of Scrooge McDucks, every duck for himself and God against all, and slyness, selfishness, cleverness, cruelty and insatiability are all regarded as civic virtues. It’s mad-as-a-hatter Ayn Rand’s dream come true and a living nightmare for the rest of us, a vicious circle driven by dementia, spinning faster and faster out of control till it flies off its axis and lacerates the entire planet.
This is what the Tea Party mob and their Reaganite cronies are talking about when they bloviate loudly and ceaselessly about “freedom”: an Animal House brand of freedom, perfect for pigs, dogs, buzzards and monkeys, but for human beings a degraded, humiliating, pathetic thing.
Was this really the vision our Founding Fathers had? Somehow I doubt it.
I can’t see George Washington racing with a shopping cart to grab a half-priced last year’s Droid on Presidents’ Day, or Jefferson leafing avidly through an in-flight shopping catalogue, ordering ceramic garden gnomes and suits of Real Authentic Imitation Medieval Armor (half-scale) to adorn Monticello. No, I don’t think they would enjoy living here, in a country where less than two-thirds of all eligible voters bother to show up for national elections, where corporate scofflaws swindle billions of dollars with complete impunity and then use the money to buy even more political influence, and where learning, education, is so despised that citizens would much rather spend public funds on prisons for non-violent social outcasts than better schools and decent salaries for teachers, or simply keep the money for themselves, to squander as they see fit.
We’re the fattest citizenry in history (and getting fatter every year). We consume over a third of the world’s resources, with less than a tenth of the world’s population, but we’re still not satisfied and demand ever more gas, gadgetry and goods and we’ll go to war, pillage age old ecosystems, exterminate entire tribes and demolish our own most cherished institutions to get it. Our military is larger than those of all the other nations on earth combined, but we who invented civil affairs, benign occupation and nation-building and mastered it back in the 1940s can’t help a poor country like Afghanistan get back on its feet because our soldiers’ best efforts are scuppered by larcenous contractors and a handful of atavistic dementos with beards the size of throw rugs and vacuums between their ears who have us quivering with a fear so craven that we would happily surrender all of our rights and freedoms to feel safe again…
I can almost hear George Washington saying, “I crossed the Delaware with my faithful army of famished, freezing, ragged citizen soldiers for this?”
Those Tea Partiers who delight in traipsing about dressed as Betsy Ross and John Quincy Adams or packing guns and fantasizing that they are courageous partisans battling against tyranny should get real; to be fair and balanced, they should wear pig costumes and jackboots and stomp through the streets, burning copies of the Constitution and singing excerpts from Carmina Burana, led by a vintage Panhard spraying dissenters with a mixture of CS gas and honey, and Grover Norquist in drum majorette garb carrying a banner that reads, “The Petroleum Club, Karl Rove and the Heritage Foundation Approved This Message.” Can’t we at least have a little truth in packaging during these desperate times?
Is that really too much to ask?