A new year is here in the land of America. I do not know if it is an auspicious year. I do not claim powers of divination. What I am sure of is that our current system of governance is under strain. Without massive overhauls, it will break. Sooner rather than later. In this land, the contest is between utter mediocrity, psuedo-religious fanaticism, and purely hate-driven militaristic stupidity fueled by patently asinine conspiracy theories.
On the left, institutions of higher learning practice a form of theocratic wokeness that fuels minority outrage against average white Americans, and the average white Americans react by electing doltish, boorish fascism lite wingnuts like Boebert and Taylor-Greene. Not only is there no middle ground, but the extreme polarization continues to grow the divide between people who want equity and justice for the first time in their lives, and people who are terrified that their place at the top of the pecking order is in jeopardy for the first time.
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Meanwhile the billionaires gloat and continue to build obscene wealth.
American heresy is to point out that all of this dysfunction is toxic bullshit and intolerable in a so-called first world country.
Every developed country in the world has some variation on a free or low-cost national healthcare system, and free or subsidized higher education.
In most developed countries homelessness is not a crisis; nobody goes bankrupt because somebody in their family got sick; and jobs pay well enough and have union pensions so people can retire after 30 or 40 years in the workforce and live comfortably for the rest of their lives.
Both of the existing parties pander to the top 2% on the economic ladder and everyone else is expected to get by on scraps, thoughts, and prayers. Why should we have to live in a world where we choose between pandering to outrage culture and bowing to billionaires? The heretic’s way is to demand better.
The shithole country is us. The two-party system is shit. The lack of social safety networks is shit. The American brand of capitalism is shit. The American healthcare system is shit unless you have many millions of dollars. The big cities with their unhoused, drug addicted street criminals is shit. The rural landscape with its massive opioid problem is shit. The state of the private prison industry and the highest per capita rate of incarceration of any developed country by a long shot is shit. The highest court in the country packed with religious fanatics is shit. America is a shithole country. It doesn’t have to be.
A reborn American landscape without all the defective cultural aspects would look like this: universal healthcare, universal income, and universal education. Affordable housing would be a top priority. Treatment options for drug addiction and mental health issues (which often go together) would be a top priority. Taking care of everyone instead of taking care of the greedy wealthy would be the law of the land. That could come to pass if the party of morons continues its downhill slide into fantasyland.
Today, as House Republicans convulse over electing their next Speaker, the civil war in the Republican Party has come into the open. But it’s not particularly civil and it’s not exactly a war. It’s the mindless hostility of a political party that’s lost any legitimate reason for being.
As I write this, Kevin McCarthy has failed three times to secure the 218 votes he needs to be Speaker, and the House has adjourned until tomorrow morning. The Republican
MAGA “Freedom Caucus” is demanding a rule allowing them to oust McCarthy at any time, should he fail to bow to their demands in the future; another that would allow them to use spending bills to defund particular programs and fire or reduce the pay of federal officials; and a pledge to hold votes on a balanced budget, term limits, and more border security.
I have no idea what will happen tomorrow or who ultimately will be selected Speaker, but for all practical purposes the Republican Party is dead as a governing institution.
The best worst thing I can imagine happening to the American shithole is a catalyst that would break the two-party stupidopoly up and provide the possibility of something less toxic and more inclusive of all people and not just greedy rich people from having a monopoly on power and all of its trappings.
If you’re like me, and refuse to accept anything less than a tectonic shift in the way we allow wealth to always flow uphill instead of blanketing the landscape to be enjoyed by all, consider learning more about Nordic governance.
To move in the Nordic direction, the United States should promote the mass unionization of its workforce, increase legal protections against arbitrary termination and allow workers to control some of the seats on the corporate boards of the companies they work in, as Senator Elizabeth Warren has recently suggested.
When it comes to the welfare state, the country should create a national health insurance system, akin to some Democrats’ “Medicare for All” proposals, extend new parents paid leave from work, provide young children free child care and pre-K, and give each family a $300 per month allowance per child. The United States should also provide housing stipends to those on low incomes and increase the minimum benefits for those on senior and disability pensions.
To increase public ownership over capital, the government should establish a social wealth fund and gradually fill that fund with capital assets purchased on the open market. Over time, the returns from this fund could be parceled out as universal payments to every American, or used for general government revenue. The government should also build at least 10 million units of publicly owned, mixed-income social housing, which would both increase public ownership of the U.S. housing stock and provide a much-needed boost to the housing supply in prohibitively expensive metropolitan areas.
While the idea of treating those at the lower end of the economic spectrum would make Fox News viewers projectile vomit, it’s that very fact the makes this country a shithole. We condemn millions to die while hoarding the largest sum of wealth the world has ever seen. The conditions we are currently living in are completely unsustainable. We need a reboot.
Wealth grew more vigorously at the top of the wealth distribution than in the middle. Indeed, according to the Gini coefficient and top wealth shares, wealth inequality rose sharply from 1983 to 1989 (the Gini coefficient was up 0.029), remained relatively stable from 1989 to 2007, then showed a steep increase over 2007–10 (the Gini was up 0.032), and a more modest rise from 2010 to 2016. By 2016, the Gini coefficient and the share of the top percentile were at their highest levels of the 57 years of the study period, at 0.877 and 39.6 percent, respectively.
If the rich are growing richer and the poor are growing poorer while those supposedly in the middle cannot afford the kinds of things their parents took for granted, like home ownership or the ability to pay off student loans, what is the end game?
Welcome to 2023. Eat the rich. I hope the MAGAs manage to help us rethink the whole thing without burning it all down. Buying into the left/right paradigm won’t make anything better. Become a heretic instead.
You have expressed my thoughts eloquently. You know, of course, that you would be labeled a Marxist or a Communist or charitably, a Socialist. Perhaps your next letter could be about the meaningless of labels - how we bastardize terms to suit our biases.
I would call you a humanist. A person who thinks every human has value and should experience the basics of a decent life. Especially when there is plenty of money to do it all - easily.
One sad and ironic aspect of all this is that the Oligarchs could prosper quite fully if all Americans were engaged in productive work and had the basics of life covered.
We are the richest nation to have ever existed on the Earth. And yet, we operate as if this were still a "Gilded Age" where a handful of people control the resources of the nation. And millions grovel, scrape by and suffer until they are shot, overdosed or bankrupted. At best, they are aged out of the workforce. Because elders are now disposable - often lucky to be warehoused.
It is time for a revolution where the issues you describe so well become the platform. It's going to take a new movement. It will need a name.
Despite your attempt to disassociate from the political extremes, I must suggest that our ideas of social justice and fairness do...historically and philosophically...have their origins on the left. Not a communist or totalitarian left. But as you aptly refer to, a Nordic left. They would consider themselves centrists, I suspect. Because they put all people at the center of their organisational chart. While they believe in a people first approach, they also foster very strong business sectors.
You refer to Elizabeth Warren, she was my candidate in 2020. I think she has been a champion for the people. If she had been a man, I think she would have clinched the nomination. But adamant women are a turn off in our still macho society. Men can bellow and be admired. Women raise their voices with indignation and they are "shrill".
The only label I can come up with for this movement is Democratic Socialism. A nation where nobody starves, everyone is educated equally and healthcare is a human right. A level playing field from which the hardest working people can claim even greater success. A level playing field where wealth is not hoarded but used to improve the lives of everyone. A level playing field where the "dignity of work" is recognized.
A level playing field where we recognize the value of ALL jobs. A world where if you work hard at a full time job - whether collecting trash or waiting tables or teaching kids or nursing the sick or designing a new car or coding the next video game or providing legal services to the poor or any job that keeps this engine of society moving - you are valued for your participation. If you work hard, you thrive. If you work hard, you are not a burden - but an asset to society. No matter what your job. Because we need you. And we value your contribution.
None of this is hard to accomplish if we leap over the first hurdle. And that is to make the masses aware that they are being bled by the wealthy. We live in Massachusetts. During the last election, we had a non-binding ballot question: "Would you like to see the state establish a universal healthcare system and make private health insurance companies illegal". The question passed.
I think Massachusetts and a few other states will become laboratories where new social structures will be created. And I think universal health care may be where it should begin. In the future, we will look back on the private health insurance model with the same disgust we have for slavery.
Well, that's what happens when somebody like you writes a brilliant letter and I have a strong coffee.
Do I have your permission to cross post this? I don't have a huge following. But it is growing and I know several people who would enjoy your eloquence.
Well, I for one thoroughly enjoyed yesterday. The baboons strutted and beat their chests, and Kevin McCarthy got the humiliation he so richly deserved. And we got to see George Santos in inaction. That’s not a bad day’s entertainment.
Finally and fully, there’s nothing to fear from the clowns still hanging around after the Trump morass. They’ll be annoying for two years and will then be swiftly punted from office.
I’m actually very optimistic for the future (the climate crisis notwithstanding). Once again Americans skidded right up to the edge of the abyss, leaned over and peered into it, nearly toppling in in the process, and then pulled back. I used to think that Winston Churchill’s observation, “The Americans always do the right thing. But first they explore all other options.” was amusing, if a bit overstated. Now I believe it’s like the First Commandment of your country.
You know of course that I’m fully in agreement with the points you made in this excellent article. Your outline of the fiendish escalation and intertwining of America’s biggest problems and worst injustices is deadly accurate.
But the old Overton window groans and creaks and then it shifts suddenly. That which couldn’t be said becomes worthy of consideration. And when that gets cracked open, big change is possible.
It’s not going to be perfect, but I think America is going to be a worthy project again.