By death spiral I don’t mean Trump, he’s only one of the more grotesque symptoms, but our whole political/economy with its falling life expectancies, incomes, savings, happiness, trust, you know, all those social indicators that measures a society.
I’m not surprised that we’ve gotten to this point. It was always obvious that neoliberalism was a horrible way to organize our society. It’s just taken us 40 odd years for this to become manifestly obvious.
Of course it didn’t start out that way. Neoliberalism was a political project, designed to crush labor, carried out by the corporate capitalist class as they felt intensely threatened both politically and economically towards the end of the 1960s into the 1970s.
The Powell Memo is the best description of what our elite intended for neoliberalism as a political project. Lewis Powell was a corporate attorney who wrote a memo for the US Chamber Of Commerce saying that things had gone too far, that capital needed a collective project. The ruling class wasn’t omniscient but they recognized that there were a number of fronts on which they had to struggle: the ideological front, the political front, and above all they had to struggle to curb the power of labor by whatever means possible.
Neoliberalism emerged from this elite counterrevolution.
The judgement at that time was that universities were impossible to organize because the student movement was too strong and the faculty too liberal-minded, so they set up think tanks like the Manhattan Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Ohlin Foundation. These think tanks brought in the economic theories of Freidrich Hayek and Milton Friedman and were aggressive in promulgating a pro-business perspective.
This process took a long time. I think now we’ve reached a point where you don’t need something like the Heritage Foundation anymore. Universities have pretty much been subsumed by a neoliberal ideology with its accomplices: privatization and austerity.
While Americans may not comprehend all the technical details of this vast transformation they’ve come to understand that they do not live in a free or just society but a murderous, oppressive and exploitative one. Because, let’s face it, any political project that’s designed to shift all of the gains to a narrow slice of the population can’t exactly maintain a compassionate, caring, community based society. It has to be a dog-eat-dog, race to the bottom hell-hole.
This should be obvious. Even in what the corporate media calls an economic boom, most Americans feel stressed and many are chronically angry and worried. According to a 2015 survey by the American Psychological Association, financial worry is the “number one cause of stress in America today.”
The Fed describes them as suffering from “financial fragility.” What is fragile is their economic status and self-worth, teetering on the brink of downward mobility. Living in today’s financialized economy creates stresses that seem more damaging emotionally than living in a poor country. America certainly is not a poor country, but it has become so debt-ridden, and its wealth and income growth so highly concentrated, that much of its population is emotionally worse off than that of almost any other country in the world.
In this milieu I’m amazed that more Americans aren’t bat-shit crazy.
Liberals want to blame it all on Trump but he’s only made this horror-show more transparent with his lack of tact and subtlety. In fact I believe that his transparency is the reason for the elite antipathy towards Trump rather than anything else he’s done. This is especially true for the corporate media, who’ve been responsible for covering up the fact that we live in a society which is ruled by oligarchs who benefit from keeping everyone else poor and powerless and profit from deceiving us into sending our children overseas to murder other people’s children.
Fortunately, more and more of my fellow citizens are waking up from the matrix and recognizing the outlines of this monstrous political project.
To recognize these things is to exist as an outsider in our all-American culture of materialism and consumerism, but as the late philosopher Terence McKenna once said “The cost of sanity, in this society, is a certain level of alienation.”