A Catastrophic Existential Failure Of Ethics And Institutions

Now what, Ben?

Now what, Ben?

I woke up this morning nauseous, after a restless night. It could have been dinner, but I’m pretty sure that it was Indiana.

Not that seeing Ted Cruz suspend his quest to be President was upsetting in and of itself. He’s a terrible candidate and a dangerous man, and almost certainly unelectable, which in his case is a good thing. As it did with Chris Christie, who was exposed as a character-free fraud; as it did with Jeb Bush, who demonstrated an inability to think; as it did with Ben Carson, who proved why his theory that leaders need no relevant experience at all was nonsense; as it did with Marco Rubio, who provided the definitive definition of “empty suit,” the primary system worked, and eliminated aspiring nominees who were unqualified and unfit in various ways.

It has not worked, however, with Donald Trump. This was not a failure of the primary system or the political system (Hillary Clinton’s impending nomination will be a failure of the political system) but something far more ominous. We are faced with the threat of an unstable, incoherent, ethics-free and irrational man becoming our President because of a catastrophic breakdown in the ethics of our cultural, societal and political institutions, over a long period of time. As a result, our democracy, ideals and way of life are imperiled as never before.

It didn’t have to be this way. It’s just how things broke, that’s all. The United States has sewn the seeds of its own destruction many times before and lucked out, smelling like a rose after mistakes, miscalculations and stupid actions that easily could have ended Mr. Jefferson’s experiment in tragedy and chaos. We might get lucky again, I suppose. Trump might get squished by a falling piece of space junk. Hillary Clinton might get possessed by the spirit of Julia Sand. I wouldn’t bet on it though.

While we face Armageddon—and the world shouldn’t be making any long-range vacation plans either, because without a focused, vital, responsible and competent United States, it is also in big trouble—at least we can use the waiting period to definitively identify the fakes, frauds and fools in out midst. What might have had me nauseous, for instance, was the head-popping op-ed yesterday by that most knee-jerk of knee-jerk Democratic mouthpieces, columnist E.J. Dionne, gloating over how Republicans have fallen prey to “celebrity populism,” as if his own party and profession hasn’t been at the forefront of nurturing it for the past eight years. One reason I don’t think the U.S. will be lucky this time is that the partisan polarization inflicting the culture is likely to block any honest assessment and diagnosis of what went so horribly wrong.  Moreover, the same crippled and rotted institutions that led us to this point are the ones that have to reverse course and address it. I don’t see it happening.

Of course, I didn’t foresee this happening, either.

There’s no way to coherently describe a chaotic event in an organized fashion. Right now, I only have time to consider what forces in a democracy created a public so unprepared, deluded, ignorant, uninformed, immature and misguided as to even consider voting for a demagogue/narcissist/bully/fool like Donald Trump.

For now I’ll restrict the list to twelve. In no particular order, primary among them would be…

The education system, which was diminished by ideology, unions, anti-American cant, anti-Western civilization fads, New Age nonsense, group identification and a profession-wide loss of talent and dedication (an unexpected side effect of eliminating gender bias in the workplace), thus producing generation after generation of progressively less civicly literate, less historically informed and less ethically trained, complacent citizens…

American journalism, which began to see its function as partisan, social and political indoctrination and side-taking rather than challenging power, truth-seeking and gathering information…

Popular culture, which divorced from any responsible standards or motives other than profit, abandoned civility, ethical values and Western ideals for cynicism, darkness, snark, sensationalism and ugly role models, marinating the young in the juices of greed, sex, violence, class warfare and corruption.

The internet, which flooded society with easily available information as never before, with the result that the good and valuable was buried in  and ultimately indistinguishable from the bad and misleading, creating a less-informed public rather than a better informed one…

Social media and the blogosphere, which gave everyone the illusion that  reckless and uninformed opinions are as valuable and legitimate as thoughtful and informed ones…

Radio and TV talk shows, which encouraged incivility, hate, racial, ethnic, gender, class and generational divisions, group-based animus and warped perceptions of right and wrong, while elevating petty and shallow bloviators to the status of opinion leaders…

The private sector, which has a duty to remember that it must not abuse its power, and be perceived as a net benefit for society, but has not…

The federal government, which has a duty to justify its enormous expanse and expense by being competent, trustworthy and accountable, and has never been less so…

The political parties, which abandoned their duty to seek common ground, for that is the only way a republic can work, for the cynical strategy of mutual demonization, division and extremism; and jettisoned the objective of competent, pragmatic, inclusive government to pursue power, greed, and ideology…

The Presidency, which from Reagan the actor, through Clinton the sex machine, and now Obama the rock star, slowly transformed what was a crucial cultural leadership role distinct from and superior to mere celebrity into one that was marketed, sold and ultimately, with this administration, transformed into a glossy variety of pop stardom and the cult of personality over dignity, honor and substance.

Religious institutions, which squandered their ability and power to bolster the moral foundation of  society and culture…

and

Civil rights, women’s rights and other minority advocacy groups, which embodied the corruption process described by Eric Hoffer (who noted that every cause transitions into a business and ultimately a racket) and began opposing dissent and free expression and using real and imagined grievance to justify intolerance, bullying and special privileges.

The end result of this witch’s brew of ineptitude, arrogance, stupidity and incompetence has been a public justifiably frustrated and angry, but too ignorant, badly-educated, and ill-informed to know what to do about it. Democracy can’t work this way, as many philosophers, government theorists and commentators have written and explained for centuries.

Asked by a woman outside of Independence Hall what we had, following the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin reportedly said, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

The “you” is crucial, and Ben, as usual, was wise and prescient. For it is not the well-informed “elite” who must preserve democracy and representative government by care and responsible conduct, but the public. With the American public showing every sign that it is not up to the task, I don’t think Ben’s doubts have ever been more justified than now.

 

126 thoughts on “A Catastrophic Existential Failure Of Ethics And Institutions

  1. It seems that the problem is our way of life. We hold lofty certain ideals, but in real life we ignore those ideals. After all, “Truth Justice and the American way” is from Superman comics written by Jews who knew the underbelly of civilization. While the Federalist Papers spoke about “Self-interest rightly understood,” Americans tend to operate on the basis of “Self-interest wrongly understood.” We willingly allow the powerful to bully the weak even when the strong are trashing institutions which are supposed to provide a civilized frame work for our society.

    In Los Angeles, for example, the city supports the demolition of over 20,000 rent controlled apartments greatly increasing the number of homeless. The mayor’s solution is to give hundreds of millions of dollars to his billionaire developer buddies to sprinkle some “affordable housing units” among the new high rises. The subsidies are needed because there is a 12% vacancy rate among these apartments constructed in the last decade and without the “affordable housing” subsidies the developers feel that their profit margin is not high enough.
    http://bit.ly/1r05XPe April 20, 2016, Zwartz Talk, The Great L.A. Housing Scam

    The irony is that the homeless could be housed in the fancy apartments with the 12% vacancy.
    http://bit.ly/211pcEG April 21, 2016, Zwartz Talk, Help Los Angeles Homeless Now!!!

    People do not want to think abut the implications for a society which would intentionally tear down rent controlled housing, greatly increase the homeless population, and then not allow them to live in the vacant apartments which the city has subsidized with millions of dollars. At the same time the homeless rate in LA was zooming upwards, the number of homeless veterans was dropping because the VA was paying for vets to stay in some of the empty apartments. That means the homeless crisis which the City has caused by demolishing rent controlled units is really much worse. If the VA had not changed its policies and started housing homeless vets in the available apartments, the number of homeless would probably have doubled in the last year.

    The city, however, has only one solution — give hundreds of millions of dollars to developers to build more luxury units and wait for the trickle down. Western civilization has not learned the lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah — and that is the root of our problems.

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