On this Holy Day of going to the Big Box stores and outlet malls to use up whatever’s left of the American Consumer’s shrinking credit line, as a permanent jobless/starving class approaches one-fourth of the entire population and constant economic fear is the standard emotion for all but the richest 5%, what are Washington’s concerns? Preserving very low tax rates for the very richest Americans, spending hundreds of billions losing wars against nobody in places like Afghanistan, and the institutionalized harassment of people who can still afford tickets on the nation’s commercial airlines. Did you give enough thanks for all this, yesterday?
The Edward Gibbon of the Future will be as puzzled by the Collapse of America as the historians of the 18th Century looking back on Ancient Rome. (Ha ha, maybe we are the Edward Gibbon of the Future, which is about as sad a commentary as anyone really needs about the Early 21st American Century.) How did a nation of such wealth and power and influence crumble so quickly? Was the whole American Era really just a blip on the timeline that we’ve somehow mistaken for something bigger, something more important?
In terms of military might and influence, the only true winning streak goes from the Second World War until Vietnam, a span of just two decades — and that’s ignoring the Korean stalemate. Outspending the Soviet Union on defense gave Washington an undeclared victory in the undeclared Cold War and a couple of novelty wars just to show we could still beat up any brown people who looked at us wrong, but thirty years later the United States is in a position that’s looking a lot like Moscow in the mid-1980s: fighting endless foreign wars of occupation it can’t afford as things rapidly fall apart at home.
Technologically speaking, there’s still nothing on Earth to compete with Silicon Valley. But Apple and its peers are primarily Asian engineers creating products that are manufactured in Asia. We are not being very original or clever by saying the coming wave of technology and manufacturing companies won’t need a street address in Cupertino or Palo Alto.
In human terms, the United States peaked with the hard fought Civil Rights era, nearly a half century ago. The rest of the rich world long ago left us behind in recognizing the equality of races, genders and sexual orientation — and here in 2010, we’ve just sent a bunch of yokels to Washington who would very much like to wind back the clock to the pre-civil rights era.
Our art is shit and our literature is empty, and both are ignored by all but a rapidly vanishing, self-conscious culture class. Other than a few marquee buildings thrown up in Los Angeles or New York to great fanfare from an overcompensating press, our buildings are repulsive — a mass architecture of cheap vulgarity and dinky imitation. The roads crumbling, the sewers backing up in the streets, the public schools starved of money and even the airports with their $200,000 backscatter x-ray machines are decaying and disgusting with their broken luggage conveyors and stinking toilets — this is a fading country dedicated to nothing more than building walls against invaders who don’t even want to invade. Why bother with invasion when you can cripple the most powerful military in the world with a printer cartridge shipped from Yemen or wherever?