Paul Andersen: Fair Game
October 31, 2010
“Bread and Circuses” was Pliny’s recipe for how to satisfy the people. Rome did it with gladiatorial spectacles. America does it with a greatly expanded menu of football, NASCAR, talk radio, shock movies, TV, video games, McDonalds, etc.
Rome had less competition in geopolitics than America does, and yet we mesmerize on “Panem et Circenses” while China grows into the largest economic force the world has ever seen. China rises on the economic teeter-totter while America falls. There’s a yin and yang here that America seems helpless to stop.
Now is the season of our discontent. The midterms are nasty, ugly, embittered. Democracy has never seemed so discourteous or malfeasant. Campaigns debase into the invective spew of a cynical political forum in which there are no winners.
America is a house divided to the point of dysfunction. Our outmoded two-party system resembles the bad breakup of a household where the differences are irreconcilable. A shrill debate argues over the settlement – who gets the kids, the car, the house, the PAC money. It’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E, and therein lies our global vulnerability.
In a recent interview, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said that China’s rising star is propelled by the Chinese people: “The people and the strength of the people determine the future of the country and history. The wish and the will of the people are not stoppable.”
The Chinese people appear as a unified front, assured and positive. The American people are divided and uncertain. Joe Klein, a respected journalist, reported last week in Time Magazine that his travels across America revealed a dispirited people jaded by “the incivility of public discourse and the loss of jobs to China.”
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The Chinese people work hard to achieve success, explained Jiabao. The American people work hard, too, but are easily distracted by Bread and Circuses, on which we are fed a steady diet. The very mechanics of democracy have morphed into a circus.
The Chinese people are not stoppable. The American people are mired in disillusion. China has rebuilt its industrial infrastructure and is now pouring GDP into education. America is in aftershock at how its brightest people manipulated the economy for their own enrichment. The goal of capitalism – self-gain – triumphed over the collective sense of community that we, as a nation, must somehow reconvene if partisan rifts are ever to be healed.
The stature of the U.S. has been downgraded, as reported by Transparency International. “The United States has dropped out of the ‘top 20’ in a global league table of least corrupt nations, tarnished by financial scandals and the influence of money in politics… This was the lowest score awarded to the United States in the index’s 15-year history and also the first time it had fallen out of the top 20.”
The problem with the U.S. isn’t a legal one, reported TI. “We’re not talking about corruption in the sense of breaking the law. We’re talking about a sense that the system is corrupted by these practices. There’s an integrity deficit.”
Is it any wonder the two-party system is ridiculed by Independents and outside observers? The political will of a diverse people is manifest in two parties whose practical differences are nearly indiscernible, yet whose infighting is shredding the cultural fabric.
This explains the recent findings of an ABC News/Yahoo poll: “Optimism about the American system of government is at a 36-year low, yet most Americans blame the people in office – not the system itself. Only 33 percent of Americans today say they are optimistic about ‘our system of government and how well it works’. That’s the smallest number in the nearly dozen times the question has been asked over several decades.”
Our problems are not China, Iraq, Afghanistan, al Qaeda or the Taliban. Our problems are not external. They stem from a post-Greatest Generation complacency in a highly competitive world of rapidly shifting technology. In this new world, America is an overextended debtor nation whose political dynamics are hamstrung by a controlling plutocracy.
Our blood and treasure are spent on unwinnable wars while our education system is falling behind. Our economy is based on consumerism rather than production. Our politics and culture advocate competitive materialism rather than unifying spirit. America needs that unifying spirit more than ever, and it’s not going to come from Bread and Circuses.
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