Last week, I neglected to mention one of the key drivers of American nihilism–elite impunity.
As David Sirota recounts in a new article, since Enron, America has become an elite accountability free-zone.
“Our society has been fundamentally altered by a powerful political movement whose goal is not merely another court seat, tax cut or election victory. This movement’s objective is far more revolutionary: the creation of an accountability-free zone for an ennobled aristocracy, even as the rest of the population is treated to law-and-order rhetoric and painfully punitive policy.
In less than two decades, America has experienced the Iraq war, the financial crisis, intensifying economic stratification, an opioid plague, persistent gender and racial inequality and now seemingly unending climate change-intensified disasters. While the victims have been ravaged by these crime sprees, crises and calamities, the perpetrators have largely avoided arrest, inquisition, incarceration, resignation, public shaming and ruined careers. That’s because the United States has been turned into a safe space for a permanent ruling class. Inside the rarefied refuge, the key players who created this era’s catastrophes and who embody the most pernicious pathologies have not just eschewed punishment – many of them have actually maintained or even increased their social, financial and political status.”
I couldn’t agree more.
In the years since 9/11, Americans have watched as the neocon architects of America’s worst foreign policy disaster–the invasion of Iraq–completely escaped responsibility, while being rewarded for their failure. Same goes for their cheerleaders in the corporate media. They’ve all gone on to bigger and better things. War, it seems, is good for ones career.
Ditto for the bankers who caused the Wall Street Crash. They walked off with million dollar bonuses while the rest of us took it in the neck.
Who says that crime doesn’t pay?
In fact, it’s hard to keep up with the sheer volume of elite malfeasance without a scorecard.
Just off the top of my head there’s the CIA’s torture regime; the CIA’s torture memo that was destroyed; the banks rigging interest rates; the retroactive legal immunity for the telecom’s role in the government’s mass surveillance system; and, most galling, Purdue Pharma, where the pharmaceutical company made obscene profits overprescribing opioids, and is now turning around and profiting off the treatment.
Like I say, you can’t make this shit up.
Despite the elegant prose written in the Constitution, it was so 18th century. Today, the feral elite in this country have declared themselves above the law and beyond accountability on too many occasions for it to be an accident. Rather, it’s policy, where Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, laid it out explictly–executives may commit crimes with virtual impunity, and the mega-banks are simply too big to jail.
The dangers of a feral elite was articulated many years ago by Arnold Toynbee in his majestic A Study Of History. Empires in decline, Toynbee wrote, divide into two unequal parts–a dominant minority that controls the political and economic systems with its rewards, and a majority proletariat that bears the costs of this relationship. As this relationship lengthens, the minority forgets the basic law of politics–the people will only remain loyal to their leaders if their leaders remain loyal to them. When this relationship goes off the rails, the people respond by rejecting not only the elites leadership, but their values and ideals as well.
Donald Trump, anyone?
History demonstrates that in declining empires the feral elite very frequently don’t get the memo, even as some of them are dimly aware of the consequences of their actions.
Update: The consequences of a feral elite. All-American edition:
“Kavanaugh’s career should have ended at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. His new role as Supreme Court justice is what happens when democratic societies don’t hold criminals in the government accountable for their actions. At a bare minimum, everyone involved with the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and post-9/11 torture and detainee programs should have been thoroughly discredited and rejected from polite society. That they weren’t may end up being one of the defining moments in the 21st century.”