U$A: Beware Capitalism as well as Fascism

Often accurately praised as a deft and almost idealizing satire of religion, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle also can serve as a fictional examination of political science.

Central to the politics of the novel is the fabricated tension among military, government (dictatorship), and religion (Bokononism):

“But people didn’t have to pay as much attention to the awful truth. As the living legend of the cruel tyrant in the city and the gentle holy man in the jungle grew, so, too, did the happiness of the people grow. They were all employed full time as actors in a play they understood, that any human being anywhere could understand and applaud.” (pp. 174-175)

The U.S. has existed for much of its history on a similar tension between democracy and capitalism, but other tensions have been incredibly important also, many of which are as fabricated as the one in San Lorenzo: the U.S. versus [insert foreign country/enemy], capitalism versus communism (McCarthy Era, arms race with Soviet Union).

With the election of Trump, many have raised concerns about the creeping threat of fascism, and then, some have countered that with arguments that Trump is not a fascist threat.

Lost in that debate, I think, is a very real and present danger: Trump is the logical consequence of the manufactured tension between corporate America and “government” (here, well represented by Bokononism).

For much of the existence of the U.S., the ruling elites of corporate America have created a public demon, “Big Government,” and used that mischaracterization of the democratic purposes of government to meet the very narrow needs of business leaders.

While fanning the flames of the general public’s hatred of the evil Big Government, corporate America has remained mostly unscathed, and then, as a result, the rise of Trump may be about fascism, or it may not be, but it is clearly about the ultimate triumph of naked capitalism and the end of democracy, even as weak as democracy has always been.

The problem with this is that we are now fully committed to an amoral way of being as a people. The rightful tension between capitalism and democracy, what was essential to our becoming a free and equitable people, depends on the moral imperative of democracy to guide the essentially amoral mechanisms of capitalism.

Government as a moral lever has ended slavery and child labor; has expended voting and marriage to all adults; and has corrected innumerable unethical and abusive elements that were created and sustained by naked capitalism.

Left without a moral barometer, heroine sales would be shaped by market forces to respond to heroine addicts; the same if true of snuff films, and the most abusive forms of pornography.

There is no market that would not be shaped by capitalism in ways that are “right” for that amoral paradigm: heroine priced at the level the market will bear, and so on with snuff films and child pornography.

Without the collective moral imperatives of a people—government—people become mere consumers at the whim of the Invisible Hand—and some become sacrificed along the way (slaves, children, women, etc.).

And here we are: Trump is the embodiment of naked capitalism, in which no moral standards exist, just ratings—the crassest reduction of market forces.

Trump’s administration is not a reality show, but an infomercial on replay, a shitty product that depends on the force of overstated (and false) claims that simply have to convince enough people to buy in to not only survive, but thrive.

But Trump has not caused this ugly erosion of a people; he merely represents who we are.

And who we are is a culture in which millionaire pro athletes enjoy the necessary tension between labor and billionaire owners through unions while the rest of the country sits by after electing Trump who is marshaling in the very real possibility of a national right to work law—a federalization of erasing the necessary tension between labor and owners.

All decent people should fear and work against the rise of fascism, but right now, the U.S. is experiencing the real and horrible consequences of abdicating our moral and ethical boundaries to the naked capitalism that is Trump, that is us.

We have become lost in very garbled ends and have completely ignored the means.

Government is rightfully the collective will of the people, a necessary moral and ethical check to the amoral forces of the free market, in which the “free” is not about liberty but about being free of any ethical concerns.

And thus, I see no need for fascism because there is no resistance; the fall of democracy in the U.S. serves the same interests whether by fascism or the slowly creeping cancer of naked capitalism.

The fall of democracy in the U.$.A. is about a people freely admitting we have no soul, no real concern for anyone except “me.”

The branches of government be damned; we have the Home Shopping Network, the foma of a lost people drunk on crude oil.

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Where Is Our “Sense of Decency”?

Before teaching The Crucible in my American literature courses during my two decades as a high school English teacher in rural Upstate South Carolina, I played the students R.E.M.s “Exhuming McCarthy,” which “makes an explicit parallel between the red-baiting of Joe McCarthy‘s time and the strengthening of the sense of American exceptionalism during the Reagan era, especially the Iran-Contra affair” (Wikipedia).

The song includes an audio from the McCarthy hearings, including this soundbite of Joseph Welch confronting Joe McCarthy:  “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator….You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Part of The Crucible unit asked students to examine how societies continue to repeat the basic flaws of abusing power and oppressing powerless groups of people. Despite the lessons of the Witch Trials and the Red Scare/McCarthy Era (with the Japanese Internment in between), Americans seem hell-bent on doubling down on policies and practices that are authoritarian, hypocritical, and simply mean—especially if those policies can be implemented by people with power onto the powerless.

Current education reform needs a McCarthy hearing, and we need to confront those driving those reforms with “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

For example, consider the following:

History is replete with evidence that the ends do not justify the means.

While there remains great political and public support for grade retention, for example, a huge body of evidence shows that retention negatively impacts students retained, taxpayers, and peers not retained—all for mixed results of short-term test scores.

The only justification for grade retention is giving the appearance of being tough (raising a key question about how tough any adult is for lording him/herself over a child).

Americans’ puritanical roots are some of our worst qualities, and especially where children and other marginalized groups are concerned, Americans need to regain our sense of decency.

We would be well advised to begin with how we reform our schools.