July 2, 2017

Trump didn't just happen; we asked for him

Trump is hopefully the climax of an American obsession with capitalist excess as a solution to the country's problems. Trump didn't just happen. America  - yes, including the media - has long been teaching its citizens that corporatism - not cooperation, common sense, compassion or conscience- carried the burden of our salvation. It has so distorted our thinking that the most recent example, Donald Trump, is not even a corporate figure who would at least have to speak to his board and stockholders, but a family business tyrant able to do whatever he wanted.

Back in 2001, I wrote a book - Why Bother? - with a chapter that addressed this. A selection follows. 

Sam Smith, Why Bother?, 2001 - One of the problems with living around powerful myths is that you can start to feel personally responsible when they don't work out. If you don't lose weight, have better sex, kick your phobia, earn 20% annually in the stock market, or get the job you want, there are few around to tell you that such outcomes are pretty normal. Instead, we are surrounded by hucksters of success and salvation constantly luring us towards illusory certainty. If we succumb to these chimeras of profit and prophesy, if we accept the idea that God rightly favors the successful, the economy justly favors the lucky, and society fairly favors the glamorous, it can ultimately leave us with a sense of failure for no greater fault than being a normal human being. It is hard in such a context to remember that nearly all people who dial the 900 number beckoning them on the cable screen continue to find hard times on easy street. And it is hard to remember a time when humans had other than monetary value.

One of the greatest of our myths is that a free market cures all ills. One would never guess listening to the commentator of NPR and PBS, for example, that if there were, in fact, a free market in this country, they would be out of work, as would be the conservative economists and other welfare intellectuals sinecured at public universities. Thousands of Washington lawyer-lobbyists would be unemployed, the defense industry would crash, and all the airports would have to close. The truth is, as with every society that has ever existed, our economy is not only a conglomerate, but a part of, and dependent upon, a huge number of values, rules, systems, and characteristics that comprise a culture.

We can no more isolate the use of money or labor from these factors than we could declare society to be henceforth based on free lunch. Fortunately, economists discovered money as an organizing principle rather than, say, defecation. Otherwise, instead of the GDP, we would have to listen to Eleanor Clift or George Will pontificating on the latest trends in the Gross National Movement. Aside from avoiding that mishap, however, the monomaniacal obsession with the flow of money offers little in the way of insight. It is -- there is really no better word -- childish, for it simplifies reality into infantile dichotomies beyond all logic and evidence.

You need look no further than the free marketers themselves to see how false the notion of a free market is. Would a truly free market, for example, tolerate government officials with as much arbitrary power as the members of the Federal Reserve? Can one -- as a matter of logic rather than economics -- love both the Federal Reserve and a free market? Isn't monetarism really just a form of socialism that favors capitalists instead of workers? Certainly, if one thing has not characterized the last two decades it has been any restraint on the willingness of government to inject itself into our lives. An era that has been devoted to the free market has simultaneously been the most intrusive in our history. In the name of a free market we have indentured ourselves to a government overflowing in other regards with contempt for personal liberty.

In many ways, concepts such as the "market economy" and "monetarism" have actually gilded the lily of power they pretend to oppose. They provide a comfortable cover for what the government has really been about. Peter Jay once noted that introducing the mother of new capitalism, Margaret Thatcher, to monetarism was like showing Ghenghis Kahn a map of the world. Thatcher had a mean and narrow view of life; she didn't even accept the existence of community, declaring once that "there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families." Thatcher wrapped herself in economic slogans that justified greed not only to accomplish economic ends but also to deal with gays and abortions and everything else she didn't like. In her paradigm, the free market and Victorian tyranny formed a civil union.

By the time Reagan, Bush, and Clinton were through with the concept, they had created a gaping corporate exemption from common morality and decency. The market not only offered adequate justification for any act, it had replaced God as the highest source of law. Until the Reagan-Bush-Clinton era it would have been next to impossible to find a culture that survived for long believing that the unfettered, rapacious flow of money and goods was the core of human existence. Elsewhere, to be sure, commerce had looked to bottom lines, but these had included those established by church, community, government, and tradition.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We also asked for Hitler as well as other odious characters including Turkey's ever power-hungry president Erdo─čan, President Rodrigo Kill 'em All Duterte of the Philippines, and King and Queen Ortega in Sandinasta Nicaragua.