We Live In The “Non-Information Age”

I miss the news.

I know this seems like an odd assertion when all the data in the world is—quite literally—at our fingertips, but I sometimes find it frustrating to dig through all the noise to find a straightforward presentation of fact that has not been spun into a prediction, rumination, admonishment, speculation, warning, or outright fantasy.  One lesson that I find increasingly easy to teach my college students—sadly enough—is that biased presentation of information is a fact of life today.  Worse yet, what even is a “fact” is now often a subject of intense partisan debate.  I sometimes wonder whether putting ten people in a room today to discuss whether the sky is blue would result in a brawl worthy of the Jerry Springer Show.

Of course, the primary reason that tempers flare when any matter beyond the most mundane is discussed relates to the stakes at hand when we try to attach the terms “right” and “wrong” to behavior, beliefs, or beliefs about behavior.  To be “right” can provide workplace advantage, educational preference, and legal protection.  To be “wrong” results in both a variety of benefits being unceremoniously jerked away and a beat down on social media as an added—and unwelcome—bonus.  Not surprisingly, “news” articles and programs are the primary mechanisms for both conveying and justifying the “correct” attitudes and perspectives, which many times means what passes for news is actually a mechanism for transmitting social, cultural, and political beliefs—not factual information that a reader or viewer can use to form independent judgments of their own.

I wonder how many journalists are even aware that in the not-too-distant past editorializing was confined to the editorial page (how quaint!), and every bit of information had to be confirmed by at least two credible sources identified in the notes that were reviewed by an editor prior to publication or broadcast.  Now “news” stories are many times exercises in rumor mongering and anonymous accusations.  This has, sad to say, resulted in a crushing drop of public trust and confidence in news media, a well-documented phenomenon that perversely seems to have incentivized yet more partisanship in the mainstream media in order to hold onto those readers and viewers who enjoy having their pre-existing beliefs confirmed.  Just to add another layer of crazy to this craziness, partisan journalists on both sides now launch regular attacks on one another’s credibility and judgment, which only further shreds whatever tattered public trust they each might still retain.

Reliable, credible, and unbiased journalism is as necessary to a functioning democracy as air is to human life.  Voters need sources of information that are free from the taint of partisanship in order to make thoughtful judgments about questions of public policy and to choose elected officials to implement those policies.  Lacking this, debate quickly descends into personal attack rather that reasoned discussion.  

It has, of course, always been the case that people have disagreements that result from differences in their judgments, experiences, and values.  However, when these differences are turbocharged by “news” that presents those with opposing ideas as deluded, stupid, or simply evil, any possibility for the type of compromise that allows both sides some satisfaction and creates the public trust necessary for democracy to thrive is eliminated.

As much as I might hope we can return to yesterday’s model of staid and boring journalistic practices, I know this is not possible in a modern media environment where scandal, shock, and salaciousness is necessary to attract viewers and readers.  Therefore, I fear that we may be irrevocably trapped in a pointless and destructive cycle of anger, insult, and accusation that will further deepen the already catastrophic divides in our nation.  

Until the day arrives when we finally realize what passes for news today is many times an addictive and damaging drug in disguise that is consuming both our public discourse and personal sanity, we are going to need to be reconciled to never ending conflict that is feeding a crippling distrust of one another rather than providing the tools we need to manage and build our nation.  How long we can proceed down this path before we take to the streets to start clubbing each other is anyone’s guess—I hope this day never comes—but it is a realistic concern for a nation whose “news” often cannot distinguish between what is real and what is fantasy.

 

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The Government Shutdown Was All About Political Power

Although we are supposed to see our recent record-breaking federal government partial shutdown as a principled battle between Democrats and Republicans regarding border enforcement policies and practices, the reality was both far more complex—and commonplace. There was a cold calculation on both sides that they could benefit politically by harming their opponents. Moreover, both Republicans and Democrats already have their eyes firmly fixed on the 2020 election, and each side is already auditioning applause lines and fundraising pitches aimed at their respective supporters as they maneuver for advantage in what is certain to be an particularly dirty and divisive campaign. As with most supposedly high minded activity by politicians, this shutdown was instead about the same old thing: how to get—and keep—more money and power.

Although the mass media encourages the belief that our nation is a hot mess of warring factions—liberals against conservatives, men against women, educated against uneducated, urban against rural, rich against poor, young against old, and so on—it could be the case that the division that sets us at each other’s throats is far more simple: the powerful against the powerless. Sometimes this power is open and obvious; sometimes it is exercised surreptitiously or indirectly. Nonetheless, power—and the immense wealth that follows right along behind it—has been the subject of our most primal human lust since we first squatted in a cave many tens of thousands of years ago.

Because of the ever increasing globalization of business and finance, the divide between our world’s winners and losers has grown wider and wider over the recent decades. Win enough power—economic, regulatory, or technological—and one can now stand bestride the planet like a Colossus. The central role that government interventions now play in both granting that power and jerking it away has turned government service into an incredibly lucrative career for many, and the immense concentration of wealth in capitals the world over has made the mere proximity to government a main driver of personal wealth.

The areas surrounding Washington, D.C., which now contain most of the wealthiest zip codes in America, has become a near-monolithic block of federal employees and contractors whose highest loyalty is reserved for those elected officials (a.k.a. Democrats) who strive to increase their powers and remuneration. The hostility directed against President Trump by those who work for the federal government is readily explained by his open disdain for much of their work and his desire to close or reduce many of the make-work bureaucracies for which they labor. Knowing that their livelihoods are on the line, it is little wonder that Donald Trump is viewed as a unwelcome interloper whose policies must be “resisted” at every turn by government employees whose loyalties are often clearly not with the elected President of the United States.

It has, of course, been pointed out that one result of the partial government shutdown is that federal workers have now been compelled to confront the kind of personal financial angst that everyone beyond the comfortable cocoon of government employment deals with every day. It is doubtful that every American is moved by the plight of federal workers who were forced to cancel their yoga studio memberships, cut down on restaurant meals, or deal with temporary financial problems that were worse as the shutdown dragged on. This new exposure to employment insecurity faced by federal workers—who will, nonetheless, be made whole on every penny of pay they missed when their paychecks were not being issued—is an unfortunate daily reality that many, many Americans employed in the private sector have suffered for years. The stories blasted throughout the media about the plights of furloughed federal employees, although certainly sad, perhaps produced more schadenfreude than sympathy among some of our nation’s beleaguered taxpayers.

The disconnect between the lives of the vulnerable ruled and those of the—at least until recently—well insulated rulers is, I believe, one aspect of President Trump’s continued appeal that those who live and work within the long shadow of federal power still simply cannot comprehend. The core belief of many Washington’s leaders in the benign and beneficent nature of the immense power they exercise over every facet of our daily lives makes it impossible for them to comprehend the frustration the average person feels each day as they crash into a brick wall of laws, rules, regulations, practices, guidelines, and advisories that cumulatively strip them of personal autonomy and invite the specter of investigation, lawsuit, or arrest if they fail to obey. These pronouncements from the high castle of federal power, which are generally designed to ensure strict oversight over the unruly serfs (a.k.a. you and me), are often the product of scholarly study by a priesthood of credentialed experts who have little interest in—or understanding of—the actual lives or values of those whose existences they zealously regulate.

In addition, the stench of corruption that has emanated from official Washington for many years—a grotesque assemblage of bribe givers and bribe takers (a.k.a. lobbyists and elected officials)—is simply too foul to any longer ignore. Hillary Clinton’s biggest liability in 2016 was not that she was a woman or completely lacking in charisma; the root of the problem was that she was a shameless creature of the D.C. Swamp World of back scratchers, influence peddlers, and money grubbing parasites. She was, therefore, rejected by voters who were willing to roll the dice on a blunt and graceless businessman who spoke directly and forcefully to their anger at an entrenched ruling class who thought them a herd of idiots (a.k.a. Deplorables) whose lives and aspirations needed to be carefully controlled and monitored.

Donald Trump’s election has put powerful D.C. insiders into a two year collective freak out that has been helpfully spun by their compliant media partners into a parable of “resistance” to right wing oppression and Russian chicanery. Taking a step back, you have to admire the genius of those who have created and encouraged this narrative while (wink!) resisting every effort to rein in the incredible powers of the national security state, reduce federal oversight of our daily lives, or remove American troops from dead end wars around the world that accomplish little else other than further enhancing the profits of international arms dealers—quite a Jedi mind trick, to say the least. I don’t, for example, recall Barack Obama meeting with the leader of North Korea to negotiate for the end of their nuclear weapons program, do you?

I know that having their paychecks temporarily stopped and stressing about paying their bills was terrible for many federal workers. Given the clear intransigence of Democrats regarding any negotiations regarding border security, it is possible that this partial shutdown could be back again in only three weeks. The apparent unconcern with which Democrats were willing to forgo the least flexibility and prolong this shutdown until public safety was finally put at real risk leads one to wonder just what kind of end game is being contemplated here.

Is the long-term plan to create chaos, crash the booming national economy, use the megaphone of the mainstream media to place all the blame on President Trump, and try to stampede an impeachment by continually screeching the Clinton campaign accusation that President Trump is an agent of Russia—despite the utter lack of any actual evidence to support this after two full years of the Robert Mueller sideshow? If we remember that this standoff is less about principle and more about power, it makes a certain Machiavellian sense. It is, therefore, likely this is just the first act in what is going to be a titanic power struggle between Washington’s entrenched and angry elite and President Trump and his Republican allies—not all of whom, truth be told, find the current reality all that distasteful. Those Republican legislators and bureaucrats contemplating post-governmental careers as a D.C. lobbyist or lawyer/fixer, with all the wealth and influence that this implies, likely see The Swamp as an ecosystem of power, prerogatives, and future fat paychecks they do not want to actually disturb—sad to say.

Stay tuned, America. You might be witnessing a truly pivotal moment in our nation’s history because this ongoing battle seems like it is going to leave only one side standing, and the future direction of our nation certainly hangs in the balance.

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.

 

 

 

Groupthink Gridlock

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 seemed to many the final triumph of Western liberal thought over a system known for its rigid adherence to doctrines driven by theory, the suppression of dissent, and demands for soul-crushing intellectual conformity by the nation’s elite leaders. A new golden age characterized by freedom of expression, a renewed faith in the value of free and open debate, and decision making based on facts rather than wishful fantasies had triumphed, and all the old divisions would be set aside in favor of a world run by a benevolent and tolerant meritocracy. Go, go Western democracies!

If you had told the celebrants who were gleefully demolishing the Berlin Wall that their futures would be characterized by crippling political polarization, public shaming of dissenters, and academic and political elites that ruthlessly enforced an intellectual orthodoxy that still somehow thrived despite ample evidence of its disastrous failures, they might well have put down their sledgehammers and gone home that day.

The liberal belief in a godlike global state that would be managed to peak efficiency by appointed bureaucrats managed to do little other than engineer a massive transfer of wealth to the super rich while insisting upon a zillion pettifogging regulations for the rest of us that neither protected our futures nor improved our daily lives. Our global elites instead enhanced the power of perhaps the most universally hated group on the planet—lawyers—because their expertise at navigating newly created mountains of arcane and contradictory bureaucratic mandates was now critical to every aspect of our now thoroughly regulated existences.

The steadily rising economic anger of the ruled against their rulers has now led to the election of Donald Trump in America, the revolt against the European Union that has pretty much ended the political career of its greatest champion, Angela Merkel, and the rise of populist leaders most everywhere else who have surfed to power on tsunamis of rage and outright revolt against the deeply dysfunctional status quo. The reaction of the new global elite to this new and unwelcome reality has been both predictable and depressing: Those who don’t appreciate our sage guidance are a bunch of ignorant and misguided bigots who fear what they cannot understand. Therefore, what we need now are new and enhanced powers to monitor and manage this unruly and ungrateful herd.

The self-serving outrage and smug insults of those leaders and their supporters who are angry about the vicissitudes of democracy isn’t likely to win back many of the disaffected. Here in the United States we are regularly treated to apocalyptic gabfests and learned commentary regarding why our governing structures are suddenly too weak to stand up to the scary “white supremacists” who are now diligently engaging in the one action that is characteristic of all budding domestic terrorists: casting a vote in an election. Democracy kind of sucks when those whom you deign to rule tell you to shove off.

However, despite their unwilling efforts to better understand the peculiar motivations of those whose lives revolve around work, faith, and family, the mainstream media and Beltway insiders have mostly fallen back on that old standby strategy familiar to despots the world over when faced with a revolt: We need to reassert our control by crushing dissent. Hence, we hear and read repeated calls to censor the dissemination of opposing viewpoints, incitement of the harassment of those who question the status quo, and the launching of daily ad hominem attacks on the values and morals of those deemed enemies of the statist solutions. Aided and abetted by those in academia equally concerned about the yearnings of many Americans to slip the leash of government-approved behavior and beliefs, we are regularly warned of the hell lying just ahead unless these ideas—and those who hold them—are destroyed and their rights to free speech are suppressed.

The problem is, of course, that neither the globalist or nationalist viewpoint is correct 100% of the time. Just as some matters are best left to individual nations to manage for themselves, so are some problems large and complex enough to warrant a response coordinated by an international body.

A thoughtful explanation followed by a reasonable suggestion is still more than able to sway opinions when the necessity arises, and the 2018 elections should be proof enough that democracy still has sturdy powers of self-correction despite breathless predictions of its imminent demise. However, those who lack faith in the wisdom of the governed are still anxious to hand power to unaccountable authorities who can more easily override the wishes of those who are obviously too stupid to manage their own lives or the planet without leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

New ideas are neither inherently dangerous nor destructive, but the ongoing effort to silence those who want to change the current direction of our nation and world will simply frustrate the legitimate aspirations of many and promote yet more of the theory-driven groupthink that has landed us in the mess we are today. Any refusal to listen is ultimately more harmful than the idea being expressed, and we might find that even those supposedly ignorant and bigoted masses who are not properly credentialed to rule have many ideas worthy of consideration. In the final analysis, those who do the working and the sweating will always understand more than those who devote their cloistered lives to study and judgement—so the voices of the people should be treated with far more respect than they often are 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.