Friday, May 6, 2016

Imaginary America

The political candidates on the right and left have convinced Americans that America is a rotten place to live.   They have to do this to get elected, as no one will vote for change if everything is going OK.

There are two Americas, the real one and the imaginary one.   And the folks living in Imaginary America are all voting for Donald Trump - or Bernie Sanders.

What is Imaginary America?  And where is it?   Imaginary America is a doppelganger America that exists largely on the Internet and on cable television, particularly Fox News.  It is a shadowy place of fear-inducing rumors and outright lies.
In Imaginary America, Muslim terrorists are lurking around every corner, ready to bomb the local playground.

In Imaginary America, crime is running rampant and criminals (read: black folks) are going to invade your home any minute now.  Better buy a gun!

In Imaginary America, transgender queer folks are going to invade your bathroom and your child's kindergarten.

In Imaginary America, fundamentalist preachers and Catholic Priests are being forced to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

In Imaginary America, "all the good jobs" are being taken by Mexicans, who when they aren't job-taking, are raping and selling drugs (busy folks, those Mexicans!).

In Imaginary America, the founding fathers were all devout Christians who wanted to found a "Christian Nation" based on biblical teachings.

In Imaginary America, kids are being taught the Muslim faith in elementary school.

In Imaginary America, there is a real threat of "Sharia Law" being the law of the land and in fact, it is already the law in Dearborn, Michigan!

In Imaginary America, we can "bring all our jobs back" by telling our largest trading partners to go fuck themselves - without any negative consequences, of course.
In Imaginary America, the "good old days" were better than today, and today, things are just awful!
It goes on and on.   Now granted, some of the aspects of Imaginary America have some relevance in Real America.   Yes, we have had terrorist attacks - and unhinged people who have gone on shooting rampages claiming their Muslim faith instructed them to do so.   But far, far more people have gone on far more shooting rampages just based on general insanity.   The problem isn't Muslims, it's shooting rampages and how easy they are to arrange these days.    But that's real America - in Imaginary America, all shooting rampages (other than those done by Muslims) were fake and used hired actors in order to provide a pretext to "take our guns away."

The sad thing is, a lot of people really believe this, just as lot of people believed that Obama was a Muslim and wasn't born in the USA (and thus not qualified to be President) but that Ted Cruz, who actually was not born in the USA, is qualified to be President.   In Imaginary America, double-standards simply don't exist.

Sadly, there is a second Imaginary America that is populated with a whole host of other folks, whose perception of reality is distorted in another way.   In this Other Imaginary America, things are also in the toilet (it goes without saying) but instead of blaming Mexicans, it is the big banks and Wall-Street Fat Cats who are to blame for "taking away" their money - even though they had no money to begin with and the money they owe they signed the papers on.

In Left-Wing Imaginary America, people are actually suffering from malnutrition!

In Left-Wing Imaginary America, Americans have a lower standard of living than in the Great Depression!

In Left-Wing Imaginary America, Corporations are "evil" - as are Banks and Wall Street!
In Left-Wing Imaginary America, it doesn't matter how much money you make, but rather how much more someone else has!
And so on and so forth.
You see the common denominator here - I've fucked up my life and it ain't my fault, it has to be the fault of someone else!  Other people are making more money than me, and that ain't fair!

The other common denominator is a total disconnect from reality.   As people drive their overwrought SUVs to the all-you-can-eat buffet, they whine about how awful they have it in this country, texted of course, on their new smart phone (while driving, natch).    Everyone else but them has it so easy!  Who took all their money away?  Why do they have to work when everyone else has a private jet?

And yes, every aspect of Left-Wing Imaginary America also has some small basis in reality, sometimes (only supermodels suffer from malnutrition in Real America - the rest of us are on food stamps).   Some bankers and corporations do bad things.   People on Wall Street seek out profit - at your expense if you let them do so.   You have to look out for your own interests - expecting the government to protect you in all instances is a fool's strategy.

But the panderers never fail to tap into this nerve bundle in American Politics.   Huey Long knew about it.   "Every Man a King!" he said - once he was in power, you'd never have to work again.   Both Trump and Sanders know this too.

It's call demagoguery.   What is demagoguery or a demagogue?   The dictionary definitions are quite succinct:

Full Definition of demagogue

a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.
demagoguery play \-ˌgä-g(ə-)rē\ noun
demagogy play \-ˌgä-gē, -ˌgä-jē, -ˌgō-jē\ noun
 * * * 
Demagoguery is an appeal to people that plays on their emotions and prejudices rather than on their rational side. Demagoguery is a manipulative approach — often associated with dictators and sleazy politicians — that appeals to the worst nature of people.

demagoguery - Dictionary Definition :

It ain't hard to see that both Trump and Sanders are playing to the crowd this way - particularly Trump.   But Sanders is no babe-in-the-woods here.   The prejudices he plays to are not against the Mexicans, Chinese, or Muslims (as Trump does) but to the "Bankers" and "Fat Cats" and "1%'ers" who are basically whipping boys for the financial malfeasance of the middle class, who for too long has borrowed far too much money to have it all now, without thinking of how things will play out later.

What scares me about Imaginary America is that when people's perceptions of reality become so distorted it is like pulling back on a rubber-band.   Eventually it snaps back, and that hurts.

We saw this with the housing crises in 1989 and 2009.   People started believing their houses were worth millions and borrowed against them or tried to "buy and flip" houses.   Middle class people did this.   But in Imaginary America, it was poor people buying million-dollar mini-mansions on spec - all goaded on by Bill Clinton and the CRA!

The problem with living in fantasy worlds is that not only does the rubber-band snap back, but people never learn from their mistakes and as a result repeat them over and over again.

It is also concerning in that if you look at history, this sort of wishful thinking has caused all told amounts of horror and misery in the past.   Imaginary Germany, for example, was full of people who really thought that they could take over the world or that Jews were the cause of all their problems.   Imaginary Cambodia believed that people could be flushed out of the cities and an agrarian paradise-on-earth built, with just a little genocide in the process.

Folks in the Imaginary Soviet Union even knew they were living a lie at the time - "We pretend to work, they pretend to pay us" was the slogan of the "workers" of the Communist party.   Sadly today, in Imaginary Russia, people are saying that Soviet technology was so far superior to that of the West, and the collapse of the Soviet Union was, well, a fluke of some sort.   The good old days of the Soviet Union are only one invasion away.  Sadly, this fantasy is not working out well for them so long as the price of oil is in the toilet.    That's the reality of Russia - like Canada, its entire economy is based on exporting raw materials.  And when the price of those raw materials goes down, things get bad.   But no one wants to talk about that reality, of course.

You see this sort of unreal thinking all over the world, at different levels of intensity.   In good economic times, people's perception of reality is closer to actual reality (which does in fact, exist).   The problem is, of course, that as an economy expands, people start to believe in the something-for-nothing and too-good-to-be true mentality, and the cycle starts all over again.

Economic shocks can be a dose of reality for some folks, who suddenly realize the fruits of their folly.  But for others, it is just an impetus to delve into even more fantastical thinking.   After 1929, many folks believed that what was needed was a wholesale overhaul of our society along Socialist or Communist lines.    In Europe, Communism or Fascism was viewed as the "answer" even as economies started to recover.

No one, it seems, pointed out that the cause of these economic collapses was the indulgence in fantastical thinking to begin with - and that more of this was not the answer.

So, what is REAL AMERICA really like?   Well, Real America today is not such a bad place to live, really:
In Real America, housing prices have stabilized, and other than a few isolated overheated markets, are increasing only incrementally over time - as it should be.

In Real America, you can get a mortgage for about 4.5% or less, 30-year fixed, which is pretty much an historic low.

In Real America, unemployment is around 5% which is normal, and has been decreasing for a number of years.

In Real America, the stock market has been on an historic bull run since 2009.  Many companies are doing well and paying dividends like clockwork.   (not the companies that the media talks about, though).

In Real America, taxes are the lowest in the industrial world.

In Real America, no one is starving, and in fact, we are mostly overweight and overfed.

In Real America, Muslims make up a tiny minority of the country and are less a threat to society than insane people with guns (and the Muslims who are a threat, are often insane Muslims).

In Real America, even the poorest and most "unfortunate" has some form of safety net to rely on.

In Real America, crime is at all-time historic low levels and has been decreasing for decades.

In Real America, the Police actually do protect people.

But of course, no one wants to hear any of this.   And politicians realize that you don't get elected unless you can convince people things are awful.    So long as people are content, they won't vote for change, and both parties know this.

So, we are told that Washington is "broken" and that we need "outsiders" to come in an fix it.   Never mind that the outsider "tea party" candidates, such as Ted Cruz, when elected, basically caused all of the gridlock and problems that have plagued Congress over the last six years.    It is not that the "insiders" are unwilling to compromise and get things done, but rather that this new wave of folks, hell-bent on destruction, who are messing things up.

And destruction is what is on the agenda, for both Trump and Sanders.   They want to throw out what we have for some new unknown.   And that might not be a bad idea, if what we have was pretty rotten.   But what we have is pretty damn good, if you sit down and think about it and are not distracted by cries of "Muslims" or "Income Inequality!" or whatever.

It would be sad to see our Republic fall over basically nothing.  But that is what is going to happen, if we keep living in these dreamworlds.