The Unexceptional America
“We’re Americans! Our ancestors were kicked out of every decent country in the world.” – Bill Murray “Stripes”
At the end of World War 2, the United States of America emerged as the most powerful nation on the planet. It was not the only country to be considered victorious, but the other three UK, France, and the Soviet Union had millions of casualties and devastated cities to clean up. Except for the 292,000 combat deaths, the US was not seriously harmed.
For about four decades, there was the “Cold War” with the Soviet Union that cost us hundreds of billions of dollars of weapon manufacturing to “stay ahead of the Soviets” and a couple of comparatively minor conflicts in Korea and Vietnam that generated a lot of military contracts that kept the economy going.
By the 1990’s the Soviet Union collapsed, and the US was the biggest economy in the world, and in the interest of sharing the wealth, we started exporting low paying manufacturing jobs around the world, making corporations even richer, while wages in America stagnated.
Within 20 years, the world was largely better off, global poverty rates went from 40% to 10%, while the US was in serious decline. The problem was, Americans didn’t seem to have realized it!
The story we told ourselves was that the “American Dream™” was alive and well, even though it definitely wasn’t. The richest families of America rigged the game so that they would always win and the bottom 90% would always be broke.
The propaganda of the rich have dominated AM radio and daytime and cable TV, bringing in the the poor “white trash” through their “prosperity doctrine” evangelical beliefs that they were merely “temporarily embarrassed millionaires”, and that the “poor” (euphemism for Black or Hispanic) deserved their poor standing. So when one of these “poor” became President, it was obvious that he must have cheated.
This is how we ended up with Trump. A bunch of racist hicks who believed propaganda that rich people deserved their riches, elected a racist and narcissistic fascist “rich guy” who got his money the old fashioned way — he inherited it. Somehow people got the idea that a reality TV star that drove two casinos into bankruptcy, would make a good President?
For the first three years, he got very lucky that President Obama left him a growing economy, and Trump was able to coast on that while giving the GOP everything they ever wished for.
Then he got caught cheating. He has been cheating all his life, so we all knew he was cheating, but he actually got caught and impeached. But the “rich mans club” that dominates the Senate says he learned his lesson (which his machinations with the USPS prove that he didn’t learn a damn thing) and forgave him.
And then Covid-19 hit America. Now to be fair, nobody at the time knew what to do about it, so we took guesses. As I pointed out before, Trump kept personally guessing wrong, and instead of correcting himself, doubled down on bad decisions. This is because his choices were based on how it would benefit him personally.
The result is 180,000 dead as of now. Expect 200,000 by October, and assuming Trump loses, we are likely to see Trump beat the 292,000 deaths that America suffered over 4 years of WWII before he leaves office in January.
The United States leads the world in Covid-19 cases and deaths. Nearly 20% of the country is unemployed, and the GDP is expected to drop 30 to 40% by the end of the year.
Among the OECD countries, we find ourselves dead last in practically every category. Years of issues “we’ll get around to fixing eventually” like systemic racism, health insurance, salary disparity, and import deficits have all come to bite us on our ass at the same time. We are no longer the brightest jewel of the world, we are one of those crappy worthless “chocolate diamonds” that home shopping channels try to pass off as valuable.
The sources of America’s dissociative disconnect with reality
Americans are uniquely prone to live in fantasy. It is probably what brought on the illusion of exceptionalism in the first place, but it is now dragging us down to mediocrity.
Today, each of us is freer than ever to custom-make reality, to believe whatever and pretend to be whoever we wish. Which makes all the lines between actual and fictional blur and disappear more easily. Truth in general becomes flexible, personal, subjective. And we like this new ultra-freedom, insist on it, even as we fear and loathe the ways so many of our wrongheaded fellow Americans use it. Treating real life as fantasy and vice versa, and taking preposterous ideas seriously, is not unique to Americans. But we are the global crucible and epicenter. We invented the fantasy-industrial complex; almost nowhere outside poor or otherwise miserable countries are flamboyant supernatural beliefs so central to the identities of so many people. This is American exceptionalism in the 21st century. The country has always been a one-of-a-kind place.But our singularity is different now. We’re still rich and free, still more influential and powerful than any other nation, practically a synonym for developed country. But our drift toward credulity, toward doing our own thing, toward denying facts and having an altogether uncertain grip on reality, has overwhelmed our other exceptional national traits and turned us into a less developed country.People see our shocking Trump moment—this post-truth, “alternative facts” moment—as some inexplicable and crazy new American phenomenon. But what’s happening is just the ultimate extrapolation and expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional for its entire history.America was created by true believers and passionate dreamers, and by hucksters and their suckers, which made America successful—but also by a people uniquely susceptible to fantasy, as epitomized by everything from Salem’s hunting witches to Joseph Smith’s creating Mormonism, from P. T. Barnum to speaking in tongues, from Hollywood to Scientology to conspiracy theories, from Walt Disney to Billy Graham to Ronald Reagan to Oprah Winfrey to Trump. In other words: Mix epic individualism with extreme religion; mix show business with everything else; let all that ferment for a few centuries; then run it through the anything-goes ’60s and the internet age.
The result is the America we inhabit today, with reality and fantasy weirdly and dangerously blurred and commingled.
I am a rationalist. The founding fathers of America were believers in The Enlightenment, which holds science and reason as a cornerstone. We have forgotten that.
Today kids are taught that the “founding fathers” were radical Christians that were inspired to create the founding documents. The American Civil Religion was never a real religion but it’s principles are taught in public schools today. It is part of our national dissociative disorder.
The era when all this irrationality really took hold was during the 1950’s and 1960’s. This is the era when the “baby boomers” grew up. Now those irrational Boomers are running the country religiously following Trump and Fox News, and driving their Gen X and Millennial children crazy with their praise for the irrational asshole in charge.
The idea that progress has some kind of unstoppable momentum, as if powered by a Newtonian law, was always a very American belief. However, it’s really an article of faith, the Christian fantasy about history’s happy ending reconfigured during and after the Enlightenment as a set of modern secular fantasies. It reflects our blithe conviction that America’s visions of freedom and democracy and justice and prosperity must prevail in the end.
I really can imagine, for the first time in my life, that America has permanently tipped into irreversible decline, heading deeper into Fantasyland.
It needs to stop. People complain about “political correctness”, but I think maybe we should toss all that aside and start supporting “rational correctness”. People that use lies and logical fallacies should be called out early and often, until it becomes the cultural norm to eschew fantasy theories, and desire a return to science and critical thinking skills.
And this is where I sit…
I am seriously worried that Trump is going to find a way to cheat the election. It is literally the only chance he has to win at this point, because if the election is fair, he will lose very badly.
It will take quite a large conspiracy to cheat an election big enough to get a Trump win, and the problem with big conspiracies, is that conspirators talk. Someone somewhere will give up the game. This is why most conspiracy theories are crap — unless you can get someone on the inside to talk, it doesn’t exist, because if the scheme is big enough, there will always be someone willing to talk about it, either out of boisterous pride, or disillusioned revenge.
So if Trump cheats, we will all know about it. The problem is that rich 10% that rigged the economy in their favor, and hold all the cards, could very well let him get away with it. And that will spell doom to the bottom 90%. I do not see it possible that the United States can remain viable under another 4 years of Trump. Either he will turn the country into a fascist military dictatorship, or we will have a second civil war where the country splits into factions. He has to lose!
Of course this is just one of the problems.
Problem #2 is of course everybody’s favorite, Covid-19. I am keeping safe. I have at least 4 potential risk factors, two of which are “over 45” and “blood type A+” so I rarely go out and wear a mask when I do.
What we are learning about this virus changes every day, and it is hard to keep up. While we know that if you get it your actual chances of dying of it are around 0.3%, the chances go up 100 times (around 30%) of some lasting ailment that affects the heart, lungs, intestines, or brain that could go on for weeks or possibly something that could affect the rest of your life. We still don’t know if it could come back and what it will do if it does. The best strategy is to not get it if it can be helped.
The odds are pretty good that there will be a vaccine in early 2021. I suspect Trump will try to “emergency approve” one before it is fully tested ahead of the election, but the last time there was a vaccine rushed to the public for political gain, it led to the 1976 Swine Flu disaster which is the primary reason why there are so many vaccine skeptics today.
If there is an emergency approval just before the election, I too will be a skeptic. Once science gets behind one (or more) vaccines currently in testing, I’ll definitely be in line.
Problem #3 is the economy.
I currently have a cushy “work at home” job that keeps my bills paid. But because I don’t work for any of the big 5 tech giants (Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook, or Microsoft), the company I am working for is losing money. Every company in America, except them, are losing lots of money. Those 5 stocks are the reason why the stock market is breaking records. That is some serious outcome inequality shit right there.
Or more to the point, there is a chance I’ll get laid off. So far there are no imminent signs just yet — as a person who has been laid off three times, I know what signs to look for — but we have no idea how long it will take for the economy to correct itself once Trump is out and a vaccine is available.
This does not feel like a temporary recession caused by a pandemic. The size of the economic bust is systemic, and serious changes need to be made — and it could take a decade or more to make those changes and get it right.
Problem #4 The stress of it all.
I have this general pattern that I have been following for nearly a couple of decades now. I have different mental modes, typically: creative (making games), gaming (playing other games), and research (reading and watching video to inspire me). When one gets boring, or I need a break, I jump to another, and then in an infinite circle. Each mode typically lasts a few weeks to a few months.
This is how I have learned to finish projects, and why it takes a couple of years for me to make a new game. I often have to go two or three times around the loop during the making of a game.
A problem I am facing right now is that I am not really interested in doing any of these things. That’s the reason I am writing this post — I’m just relieving stress and trying to get this stuff out of my mind. I don’t like being stressed to the point that I can’t enjoy any of the things that bring me joy.
The Stoic Way of Life
Between my INTP personality, my aromanticism, and my interest in truth, reason, and science, I have found the philosophy of stoicism is the best for me in these times of odd stress.
The primary principle is “Don’t let your emotions make you lose control”, which is why the word stoic is synonymous with unfeeling and uncaring. But stoics are allowed to be emotional, we are just not allowed to let our emotions take control.
The second principle is “Don’t worry about the things you can’t control, only worry about the things you can.”
This is a bit tougher because, there is literally nothing I can do if Trump cheats his way to a second term. I can’t prevent it, I can’t stop it. All I can do is vote, and try to plan ahead, and consider what countries I could move to if Trump cheats and gets away with it.
Ditto, Coronavirus. All I have control over is to continue to do everything I can to avoid getting it. If somehow I get it, I will have to figure out a way to deal with it, but that should not be my current concern. Holing up until a vaccine is available is my only plan at the moment.
Ditto a potential layoff. If it happens, I got savings to last a while. Right now there are many whose savings have run out. They have it worse than I do. Meanwhile, I avoid spending any of my savings and living as frugal as I can and making plans in case there is a two year gap in between jobs.
That leaves problem #4: The stress. It is the one problem I DO have control of, and yet it seems the most daunting. I need to restart the cycle somehow. Read some new books, play some new games, write… something!
I guess that is what I am doing right now. Writing this.