July 10, 2011

The Mad Tea Party

Reflecting on yesterday's outburst: I suppose what is roiling my usual sunny disposition is this gnawing sense that the American political scene is reaching a dangerous inflection point, a fork in the road where the move toward extremism may go entirely mainstream and sweep all before it, and one of the principal enablers of this dangerous trend is the Christian Right.

Student of history that I try to be (to avoid the fate which Santayana said awaited those who ignore the lessons of history), I find it useful to recall that Hitler's rise to power did not proceed in an uninterrupted straight line. Between the Beer Hall Putsch of the early 1920's and the burning of the Reichstag, a full decade passed during which Hitler languished in jail, writing his hateful manifesto Mein Kampf, resumed life as a free man, and began organizing in earnest. He was helped along enormously by the desperate economic times in Germany following the end of World War I, the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic, and finally by the onset of the Great Depression. Germany, once such a proud and powerful nation, was reduced to penury by all these insults.

Similarly, the United States is itself in marked decline, and the rise of extremist religiosity, which is virtually unique among Western First World nations (it is unique, in fact), has been given impetus by these trends. The American middle class is going the way of the American buffalo at this point. Not a single net job has been added to the American payrolls since December, 2000, the last month of Clinton's second term: there were 132 million jobs then, and 131 million jobs now. During that time the American population grew by 28 million people. Jobs came and went during the Aughts of the Bush years, but they were the jobs attached to the housing bubble, construction, financing, buying and selling, and all the consumer buying made possible by the house-as-ATM phenomenon. The bubble burst and we're back to where we were a long time ago. Despite the implausibility of a 9.2% unemployment rate in the face of a 28 million person increase in population with no jobs to accommodate the growth, government propaganda claims this is the case in an effort to quell domestic rebellion. In point of fact, any practical measure of true unemployment would have to exceed 20%, as John Williams at ShadowStats consistently reminds us. This is the unemployment of the Great Depression, not the Great Recession.

Add to the massive ranks of the unemployed the large numbers of currently enlisted soldiers in the bloated military. Remember the "recruiting difficulties" of the Bush years? Where did those go? They went away with the pop of the housing bubble. Younger people coming out of high school, or a few years of college, can either move back in with their parents or sign up and fight in one of the many foreign wars the United States is currently running to provide an opportunity "to serve their country."

Thus, when the federal deficit problems go supercritical, a number of bad things are going to happen all at once. Social Security, which is already running at a deficit (7 years ahead of schedule), and Medicare are going to wobble on their foundations, and the younger generations, who can't even find jobs, are going to have no sympathy for participating in a Ponzi scheme which will never benefit them. So the entitlement programs will collapse. With general government funding in steady decline, the federal government is going to have to scale back on its foreign wars and on the defense establishment generally, which means that our Christianized fighting forces are going to come home, trained in, and inured to, violence.

Meanwhile, the political movement in ascendancy in the USA is the one most closely aligned with the Christian Right, the Tea Party. A Tea Party Caucus of 60 members in the House was formed about a year ago, with Michele Bachmann as the Chair. Michele really has it all: the Germanic name; the utter, implacable confidence that she is right (so typical of the religion-fueled); the intolerance for abortion, stem cell research and gay rights; the serene belief that global warming is a hoax; the desire to institute Intelligent Design classes in public schools "along with" the teaching of evolution (the latter soon to be phased out, of course); the obscurantist, know-nothing confidence of the mid-range I.Q. powered by her awesome belief that she is doing God's work.

Michele is running third behind noted department store mannequin Mitt Romney and the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, but that will change. If you add up the numbers for Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin you will see that they exceed those for either Romney or Perry, and the Tea Party vote is going to go for one of the two women, not both. Mitt the Mormon simply belongs to the wrong cult, and Perry will fade because, crazy as he is, he's just not crazy enough for our day and time. The Republicans want a True Believer, and Michele has the wind at her back. Wall Street won't like her (she's too uncontrollable, unlike Barack Obama), but the Koch brothers can easily fill in the gap.

I suppose that Barack Obama plays the role of Paul von Hindenburg in all of this, the hapless, well-intentioned place holder just trying to go along to get along, but who makes possible, through his very inertia, his displacement by a zealot. The Germans convinced him to run for President in 1932, as the only man capable of defeating Hitler, and Hindenburg succeeded; but then in an act of inappropriate "bipartisanship," he appointed Hitler Chancellor, which is the only opening the Little Corporal needed. Obama, through his mild, accommodating deference to zealots with their own agenda, has given away a great deal of his own power. It remains to be seen whether he can accomplish Hindenburg's feat of defeating the upstart.

Thus, my strident tone yesterday has to do with this sense that it is the irrationality of Christianity which makes possible all of this regressive movement, which is something that Sam Harris writes about in Letter to A Christian Nation. Christians might have what they perceive as the best intentions in the world, they might be "progressive" Christians like Jim Wallis (or Barack Obama), but they give cover and credibility to the extremists among them because they're talking the same language and playing the same anti-intellectual game, ceding the right to their own opinions to a bunch of dumb rules laid down by some superstitious, old Hebrew men a few thousand years ago, as when Barack Obama pretends to oppose gay marriage because of his "Christian beliefs." (And all this time I thought he was the Chief Constitutional Officer in charge of faithfully executing the laws of the land, including the First Amendment.)

And just to finish with the profound, humble recognition that nothing I say or write will do the slightest bit of good. This is building a sand castle against an incoming tidal wave.

1 comment:

  1. hammerud4:47 PM

    It is irrational to make a blanket statement that Christianity is irrational -- all sorts of reasons, fulfilled prophecy being one.