America’s “Mommy And Daddy” Problem

Roughly thirty years ago the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo neatly summed up the maddening truth of politics in America today: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” The disappointment the electorate so often feels after an election when the soaring rhetoric of campaigning crashes into real world limitations is today as a common as the birds in the trees.

However, the desire of politicians to not disappoint one’s ardent supporters has led to a significant economic problem over the past several decades—government borrowing and spending on a scale never before seen in our nation’s history to pay for unaffordable promises. Our skyrocketing national debt has been the signal disaster of our country’s recent existence, and this irresponsible march toward insolvency has placed an unconscionable burden upon future generations of taxpayers.

The unfortunate refusal of our recent crop of over-promising politicians to recognize the difference between poetry and prose has now led to a most unfortunate side effect: Many voters now firmly believe that money is a limitless resource that allows government to provide for all their wants and needs—unless politicians are “heartless” and want them to needlessly suffer.

Therefore, the debates about policies are no longer about determining priorities and balancing them against available resources. We instead are asked to choose between the wonderful plans of “compassionate” visionaries who want to provide unending benefits and the “cruel” politicians who actually mastered sixth grade arithmetic. The parade of programs and services many voters expect to be provided at no cost—now with the added burden a basic income for all—is a worrisome sign that many truly consider government to be the indulgent parent they never actually had.

That price tags attached to many of these proposals—universal health care, free college education, job guarantees—run into the tens of trillions of dollars. The mythology pushed by those leaders making the promises—that all of this can be funded by taxing “the rich”—makes the costs seem not only manageable but also an opportunity to wreak vengeance upon those who live lives of comparative ease. Not realizing that the affluent pay the lion’s share of the taxes already, many voters are encouraged to labor under the impression that comfort is just a painless tax increase—for somebody else—away.

Why are so many voters oblivious to basic fiscal reality, and what (if anything) can be done about it?

I sometimes wonder whether the desire of so many voters for a parental style of government that provides every need and want—while also imposing all sorts of equally parental restrictions on thought and behavior—is an outcome of the breakdown of family stability and traditional institutions in America over the past several decades. Having been denied any sense of security in their youths, perhaps many are susceptible to the notion that government can be the mommy and daddy of their dreams— by ensuring that every day is Christmas.

Moreover, aside from providing for all material wants, government can also—according to many who should know better—somehow be empowered to provide emotional security as well by shielding those who find the complexities and ambiguities of adult life overwhelming from all thoughts and viewpoints that they might find distressing. Seen for what it is—terror disguised as virtue—this widespread and worrisome support for all types of speech codes and censorship in our schools, at the workplace, and on the internet becomes eminently understandable. Frantic for the type of parental protectiveness they never had as children, a great many young (and not so young) adults are desperate to be infantilized so that the mommies and daddies of Big Government can save them from the inconvenience of disagreements.

In addition to being a disaster for a democracy that can thrive only when ideas and viewpoints can be freely and openly exchanged, this absurd overprotectiveness is not conducive to developing any adult abilities to engage in reasoned discussion. It should not be a surprise that we are saddled with many young adults who can do little but wail about their hurt feelings before crumpling into a weeping heap. The ability to deal with the inevitable bumps and bruises of a harsh world is severely lacking for many as they attempt to begin lives away from parental supervision, which results in a deficiency of adult efficacy, a crushing lack of self-confidence, and lives that are often defined by ongoing crises and crashes.

We want our lives to be poetry, but in reality they are dominated by the prosaic. Pay your bills. Do your laundry. Change the oil on your car. Meet your deadlines. Stay organized. Plan for problems. Wash the dishes. Floss. Successful adults figure this out rather quickly, and their expectations are tempered by a connection to real life responsibilities and an understanding of the consequences of failure.

Rather than promising people a life filled with freebies and do-overs provided by a mythical pot of tax money extracted from the wealthy, our governmental leaders should instead emphasize personal responsibility and the plain fact that adult life is many times an exercise in pain and perseverance—with no guarantees of success. We would all be a lot better off with less high-flown rhetoric and more tough-minded reality. Rather that campaigning in poetry, our politicians should engage in adult prose with voters about the world as it is—not as we might wish it to be. It might be a shock to many, but it also might be exactly what many need to hear and understand.

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What A Year It Has Been—And Will Be

Having taken a week off from my blog to enjoy Christmas and family time, I have now been encouraged to share my thoughts at the end of a tumultuous year both here in America and around the world.  Therefore, I have taken a little time to review my commentaries from the past year in order to see if there might be a theme or a focus I can build upon.  Thankfully I found exactly what I was looking for right back at the start of this year in my January 14 post entitled Change Can Be Painful.

People are pushing back against experts and policy makers who promote punitive and half-baked ideas regarding what is best for us.
As for government and government officials, they are disliked, distrusted, and disrespected by the vast majority of Americansmany of whom are now approaching a state approximating open rebellion. This is not surprising because our long national experiment with expanding government to provide endless freebies fueled by reckless borrowing has now crashed into the inevitable arithmetic of profligacyeventually you run out of money. Avoiding real-life financial decisions by charging the spiraling costs of government programs rife with waste and inefficiency to future generations of taxpayerswho are now stuck with the tabwas loads of fun for elected officials who could keep handing out goodies without the political inconvenience of raising taxes to pay for them, but the incredibly large check for that stupendous party has now been dropped in our laps. Tough and divisive discussions are certainly ahead.

This phenomenon has not been limited to the U.S. of A.  One need only look around the world to see the leaders of the globalist status quo teetering and falling due to populist insurgencies in their own countries.  France, England, Italy, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Brazil, and many other nations are dealing with wholesale rejections of their traditional elite leadership.  Alarm bells are ringing in government offices around the globe as something approaching a physical revulsion for the insiders who have long ruled with impunity sends so many officials scrambling to understand the anger that has spread like a virus.  Many nations now have their own Donald Trump-ish disrupters gleefully goring the powerful and holding them up to ridicule on socialmedia, which elected officials and appointed bureaucrats are naturally now desperate to control and censor under the guise of suppressing hate speech.  Just how far all these protests around the globe will go is still an open question, but it is easy to see that business as usual is no longer an option.

Although it is our natural tendency to see only that which is right in front of us, we must take a moment to realize that the election of Donald Trump was but a part of a larger worldwide political movement that has, in essence, been a revolt of the beleaguered and neglected masses against their own governments and the entrenched policies that are designed to favor the few at the expense of the many.  

Although government has, from the dawn of civilization, functioned as a tool of the rich and/or connected, the stench of corruption and back room deal making that empties the pockets of workers to pay for the summer houses of the elite has grown so grotesquely pronounced since the Great Recession that the bread and circuses of social welfare policies are now insufficient to the task of keeping the peasantry from wielding their pitchforks.  The Yellow Vestprotests in The City of Lights and the howls of outrage over the billions of dollars in tax breaks showered upon Amazon by New York in exchange for the privilege of King Bezos building a headquarters in The Big Apple both share a common parentage: The stunning awakening of the common folk mated with the oblivious and obsequious largesse of government toward the wealthy.  The average New Yorker may have to count their pennies to buy a slice of pizza at lunchtime, but they will at least be able to rest easy knowing that Jeff Bezos will have a private helipad paid for by their tax dollars.  Hooray!

The revolt of the downtrodden in America, which found its most public expression in the election of Donald Trump, has thrown the comfortable and insular establishment into a rage that is daily printed on the editorial pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post (which is owned by Jeff Bezos, by the way) and nightly broadcasts on the talkfests of CNN and MSNBC that remind us that Donald Trump is a monster and Putin puppet while his supporters are knuckle-dragging cretins and bigots.  

That existential wail that you heard over the past year was Democrats realizing that many voters detest the rickety and stupendously expensive edifice of bureaucratic inertia and lunacy they have spent 70 years constructing and justifying. The Great Society and its many, many governmental offspring have not eliminated any of the social and economic ills they claimed to be able to cure, but the response of Progressives, who now seem to be curdling into diehard Socialists as we speak, has been something akin to the bleating sheep in George Orwells famed dystopian fable, Animal Farm: Big government good. Bigger government better!”  

Instead of trimming their sails and reassessing their basic premises, the new crop of Democrats set to storm the House of Representatives in just a few days seems determined to propose new spending programs that will run into the tens of trillions of dollars.   Most of their plans will, of course, die in the Senate or under President Trumps veto pen, but we will have yet another opportunity to ignore fiscal reality in pursuit of that which can never be attained: Utopia.  The hopes of statist Democrats were rekindled by 2018 midterms, which resulted in gains in the House of Representatives mostly due to the super-bluing of California and New York, but the harsh fact is that their powers are still mostly limited to sanctimonious raging and endless investigating.  

Now that the narrative of nefarious Russian collusion has degenerated into a discovery of hush money paid to a Playboy model and a porn star in exchange for some pre-Presidential nookie, Democrats will need to keep their base energized by huffing and puffing over clearly tangential nonsense and hinting at imminent impeachment in every fundraising appeal.  Frankly, I am much more concerned about Russian and Chinese plans to deploy hypersonic nuclear weapons next year, which will greatly enhance the possibility of extinguishing all life on our planet; however, I realize that missile defense policy is depressingly dull compared to the chirpy prattling of Stormy Daniels about the shape and size of President Trumps penis.  

Perhaps I need to realign my interests to better conform to the priorities of those who truly control public opinion in America nowlate night comedians and cable news clowns.  Only in this way will I be able to resist the urge to repeatedly slam my head into the top of my desk as I flip through the destructive sneering and snark that passes for news in our major media today.

 

 

 

Our “No Trust” Nation

Who and what are Americans to believe in today?

Polls show that we suffer from a crushing lack of faith in government, business, educational institutions, religion, law enforcement, news organizations—and one another.  The outcomes of this perhaps unprecedented collapse in trust in most every aspect of our daily lives are felt everywhere we look, and this likely accounts for much of the sour and suspicious insularity that pervades both our politics and personal lives today.

Our personal lives are based on trust, and the frightening cynicism that pervades our society—and manifests itself most obviously in our suffocating self-absorption and childish focus on our own personal needs above all else—drives many to either “hook up” without any long term commitment or simply retreat into daily lives built around video games and online pornography.  The amazing numbers of people who are alone—yet seem not to even want to bother with human intimacy—is a symptom of a culture and people devoid of even the minimal faith necessary to have a cup of coffee with someone whom they find interesting or attractive.  Of course, anyone willing to contemplate either emotional or physical intimacy must also reckon with the amazing lack of both personal boundaries and respect for the privacy of others that now pervades our existences.  Expect to have a slurp-by-slurp description of your encounters pop up on social media somewhere because apparently an occurrence is no longer real until it is blared to a global audience—which is both frightening and ridiculous.

No society can thrive without trust.  No one will, for example, be willing to engage in dialogue if they doubt both the veracity of the information provided and the good intentions of others involved in the conversation.  Moreover, the willingness to marry, start a business, have a child, earn a college degree, buy a house, or work diligently at a job—each a basic function inherent in a successful nation—all rely on trust in either the future or in others.  No modern economy can thrive without the willingness to both extend credit and assume reasonable debt; the alternative is a pre-industrial system of barter trade that was the key feature of medieval life.  Worst of all, those who lack trust gradually—and catastrophically—stop thinking about the future and focus on nothing other than the here and now, which is an impediment to building the societal consensus necessary to both solve problems today and make the investments of time and money needed to ensure successful tomorrows.

The counterargument is, of course, that our leaders and institutions have failed us and are undeserving of our trust—and there is certainly validity to this.  However, although we seem to now be unable to easily find leaders who can readily recognize that sweet spot on the spectrum between naive idealism and ruthless realpolitik, we must also keep in mind that the renowned men and women of our past were probably not much better.  Time tends to wear the rough edges off both memories and events, and part of the problem with our “warts and all” modernity that records—and endlessly replays—our political and cultural highs and lows is that we are mercilessly stripped of our illusions and reduced to weary cynicism because we cannot escape the fact that our leaders are just a fallible are we are.  Much like children who are crushed to find out there is no Santa Claus, we rage over the foibles of others who share our human weaknesses and are disappointed that no one in charge can ever satisfy our every need in precisely the manner in which we want it to be satisfied.

This childish need to have our every wish granted without having to deal with gritty and unwelcome realities is likely a key component of the irrational attraction many voters currently have for socialism—now rebranded as a new and improved American type of “Democratic” socialism offering the same empty promises that have beguiled previous generations around the world.  

As a system of political, economic, and social organization, socialism has probably destroyed more lives than the Black Plague, but its attractiveness to those who believe that capitalism has failed because some are rich and some are poor is perhaps less puzzling when we view it as a symptom of our crushing lack of trust.  

If one proceeds from the presumption that no one can be trusted to provide what you “deserve”, and there are those who promise to help “the people” experience painless wealth and ease by taxing and regulating those who hold undeserved wealth and power, it sounds pretty darned good. Particularly in light of the harsh fact that our nation—along with most of the developed countries around the world—is crashing headlong into the fiscal limitations of the post-WW II welfare state, the promise of endless benefits paid by a magic pot of money extracted from those who either lucky, smart, or both is simply irresistible to many who have no trust in the American economic system today.  

This will not, of course, end well, but socialism’s many bold promises initially play well with people who have lost trust in their leaders and institutions. However, before we go that route entirely, it might be worth asking the Russians of 1917 and the Germans of 1933 how state-run socialism worked out for them in the long run.

The obvious problem we now face is that—after many decades of continued government interference and control of our national economy—we are far closer to socialism than should be comfortable. The redoubled efforts we will now face to encourage yet more “partnership” between business and government—which typically takes the form of subsidies, regulations, and ever more threat of legal jeopardy—are not going to solve the crisis of trust that so infects much of our electorate. Recommencing our nation’s journey along the path to more government control and oversight of our economic life, which has been only slightly interrupted over the past couple of years, is likely to further cripple the hopes and dreams of many, leaving them little choice but to be further infantilized by elected officials and bureaucrats who will promise parental care and understanding—if only they are given the power to do so by voters so dissatisfied with their lives that they will choose to believe in the snake oil of socialism.  After these new-style socialist officials are in power, we will be assured of little but that the rewards of hard work and personal initiative will continue to erode as this terrible and destructive path to national ruin turns more Americans into passive and miserable wards of the all-powerful state.

Revealing the truth—that although sometimes people are ridiculously lucky or terribly unlucky, most success in an actual capitalist system still derives from brains, hard work, and sacrifice—is nowhere near as much fun as promising oodles of freebies. Telling people to put their heads down and work harder—but without any guarantee of having their fondest dreams fulfilled—is not a winning campaign message when so many are preoccupied with the blatant and blinding unfairness of a system now run to enrich the few at the expense of the many. However, until the electorate wises up to how the current economic disasters of their lives are brought to them courtesy of their own government’s corrupt and idiotic polices, which is doubtful at best, many politicians will continue to peddle their own version of El Dorado, the mythical “lost city of gold” that was there for the taking.

For those who don’t care to Google it, the myth of El Dorado drove many early explorers to madness and mayhem as they scoured the jungles of Central and South America for the gold and jewels that they were told were just lying there ready to be scooped off the ground.  Why did they believe such an outlandish and implausible story?  Perhaps for the same reason we continue to elect those who promise us all manner of government largesse without any explanation of how to pay for any of it.  We choose to believe in wild tales of wealth that can be ours for the taking because we find the belief comforting—particularly when we no longer trust our nation and its leadership to watch out for our best interests because the system is run for the benefit of insiders and government-sponsored grifters.

Bombs Away?

The recent spate of mail bombs sent to prominent Democrats was abhorrent. Sadly, those who are angry—and likely isolated and delusional—can terrorize us in a variety of ways, but attempting to murder others with anonymous bombs is particularly cowardly and awful.

Thankfully, law enforcement has already identified and arrested a suspect, and one can only applaud the incredible work of the FBI and others who worked so skillfully and quickly to apprehend him. We are lucky indeed that no injuries resulted from these explosive devices, and continued investigation will discover whether others were involved with these criminal actions.

Now let us take a step back, count to ten, and watch the actions of a dangerous and disaffected looney become immediately tangential to the political blame game that will blaze through the media between now and the midterm elections—and likely far beyond.

This is the sad and divided nation that we live in today. Rather than simply be grateful that an obviously crazy individual was captured and no one was hurt, we are going to have to portion out the blame for a crazed bomber to one party or politician based upon our own blame-filled political beliefs. How fortunate we are that the period between now and the midterm elections can be packed with some extra bitterness and bile beyond that which already is poisoning our national dialogue.

For the record, it is my belief that trying to find a logical reason to explain the actions of those who are clearly mentally unstable is itself just a bit crazy. Keep in mind that President Reagan was nearly killed in 1981 by a cuckoo who believed that political assassination was the ideal way to impress a famous actress—these oddballs aren’t renowned for their logical and linear thinking. The history of political violence throughout our world’s history is basically a parade of lonely losers who were deluded enough to believe that killing a leader would somehow redeem their miserable and empty lives.

It would certainly be for the best if all our pundits and politicians could refrain from riling up their viewers and supporters in their eternal quest for ratings and votes, but this will never happen. Conflict is, perversely enough, a winning strategy; to pretend otherwise would be both foolish and naive.

Moreover, because we quite naturally revel in hearing that the viewpoints and actions of others prove our own moral and intellectual superiority, our increasingly partisan news and information systems have ready and credulous audiences. More and more hearing and reading no thoughts other than those that match our own, daily tailoring what we hear and read to match our preconceived notions about the “reality” of the world around us and those who inhabit it, creates an intellectual echo chamber that only further narrows our already narrow minds and hardens our hardened hearts.

The word bombs that destroy our tattered unity will only become worse if we do not take action. Therefore, I suggest that we consider reviving an updated version of the Fairness Doctrine, a federal policy that we heedlessly and needlessly discarded in 1987 which required news and information programs to present contrasting viewpoints regarding the issues of the day. This policy was not a perfect solution—and discussions about implementing any similar policy will crash into today’s enormously complex and interconnected digital world—but it did provide for some welcome and necessary measure of balance regarding the presentation of news and opinion.

Our nation and its citizens are poorly served by the hyper-partisanship of our media today. The very existence of, for example, a super conservative Fox News and an abundantly liberal MSNBC—both sneering at the sheer stupidity of the other side—contributes little to creating the bipartisan consensus that is necessary to govern a country as diverse as our own. Each monocular and insular side of our national dialogue is equally culpable for creating the anger and divisions within what is perhaps now ironically called The United States of America. We are anything but united at the present time, and it will be a long and difficult road back from the chasm where we now stand—suspiciously staring at one another.

For any improvements to occur, we will also need to surrender that which is so precious to so many: a smug and intellectually lazy sense of our own correctness. As hard as it might be, admitting we can be wrong is the necessary first step to national reconciliation and unity.

Disorder In The Courts

Setting aside for the moment the unbelievably dispiriting saga of the Supreme Court nominationof Brett Kavanaugh, which is clearly a political and cultural inflection point that will keep commentators scribbling for decades to come, it seems apparent that our entire federal system of jurisprudence is suffering from a crisis of legitimacy that is perhaps unprecedented in recent memory.  

Some of the problems are self-inflicted wounds that are the result of obvious miscarriages of justice that have wronged the innocent and released the guilty.  Some issues have arisen from moving far away from simply applying or interpreting laws and becoming super-legislators whose individual judgments supersede those of duly-elected representatives.  Other difficulties facing our federal courts are the inevitable outcome of our nation’s ever widening cultural and moral divisions—every ruling now produces an army of the disgruntled.

The law and our federal courts have, of course, always been imperfect tools in our eternal quest for justice on earth because the humans who write and apply our laws are themselves imperfect creatures who are subject to the same stupidity and shortsightedness as us all.  However, the hope was that rigorous training of both lawyers and judges in evidentiary proceedings conducted under rules established by both precedents and common sense would be sufficient to reduce the opportunities for either fear or favor to influence the rulings of our federal courts.  This has not always worked, but additional procedures for appeals are available, and a trip up the marble steps of the Supreme Court has always been the final leg of the journey for those seeking justice.  

It is important to remember that, even when the wheels of justice turned slowly, the general perception was that the federal courts were a reliable bulwark against destructive partisan passions.  Although we understood that justice was sometimes elusive, judges and the courts were still held in high regard.  Despite the sometimes reasonable perception that true justice often seemed reserved for rich, white males, Americans had a sense that the federal courts were capable of hearing the pleas of those who felt historically disenfranchised and responding—if belatedly—to their needs, and this served to burnish the reputation of our federal courts in spite of all their missteps on the path to modernity.  Consequently, generations of idealists worked to make improvements to both the operations and outcomes of our federal court system, which enabled a broader spectrum of American society to enjoy the benefits of living in a nation of laws.  If small town local justice sometimes seemed small-minded, the federal courts many times provided the necessary broad corrections that could later be applied nationally through the precedents set by their rulings.

How far away this all seems today….

Perhaps the most pressing problem now facing the federal judiciary is one for which they have only themselves to blame: Abandoning the role of arbiter and assuming the mantle of advocacy has turned judges into yet another subset of political hacks within a system rife with political hacks.  Outsized egos and a lack of respect for the dire consequences of judicial activism have pushed the federal courts further and further beyond their constitutional mandate, which is sadly understandable if you consider the foibles of human nature.  

As much fun as it might be to be a “rock star judge” who finds new and inventive ways to circumvent judicial limitations and seize the powers delegated to the legislative and executive branches of government under the Constitution, the price to pay is the destructive surrender of all-important perceptions of restraint and impartiality.  The unsurprising result has been that federal judges are now subjected to the same rough and tumble scrutiny as those who must regularly win re-election to their offices by presenting their partisan credentials to voters—welcome to the jungle, Your Honor.

As the federal courts have come more and more to both reflect and reinforce the partisan splits in our nation by seeking to circumscribe—or outright negate—the laws and regulations approved by the President and Congress, they have waded deeper and deeper into stormy political and moral waters they cannot possibly navigate without eventually drowning.  Moreover, by making their own partisan agendas ever more apparent through their frequent speeches and voluminous writings, judges serving at the federal level are discarding all remaining pretense of objectivity in favor of social engineering on a scale that would both astonish and alarm their more circumspect predecessors on the bench.  

The sadly predictable outcome is never ending sniping and frighteningly vicious confirmation hearings that are erasing whatever tattered prestige our highest level of courts still retain.

We may not at this late date be able to turn back the clock because our nation’s elite law schools have themselves become the training grounds for a radical judicial philosophy that—terrifyingly enough—believes judges are wiser stewards of our nation than those whom we elect to represent us.  The outright disrespect for our democratic processes that we today so often see manifested in the rulings of our federal courts is an insult to the genius of our nation’s political system, which is still the wonder of the world despite its human flaws.

Therefore, having founded a nation by rejecting the divine rights of kings, it might just be the case that we will renew our nation’s commitment to democracy—however maddening and messy as the will of the people might sometimes be—by opposing the “divine rights” that have been assumed by judges who believe it is their prerogative to strike down legislation, oppose the President, and impose whatever mandates they see fit upon a captive America with a single court order.  

The battle has been joined, and those on both sides of this issue clearly understand what is at stake.  Whatever the outcome might be, we can be certain that our perceptions of the federal court system and its role in relation to the other two branches of our national government are about to undergo a profound shift—and the outcome will either begin to heal or further divide our already troubled nation.