Prognosis Negative

I haven’t seen the latest medical report, but the patient is in a coma and on life support so the prognosis can’t be good. The patient, of course, is the American democratic system and it is very sick if not near death. It waits for a champion on a white horse to rescue it — or perhaps miracle drugs, or a transfusion of new blood. As bad as things are at present they will get much worse if the Republicans have their way — judging by what they say.

In an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times, David Books had a close look at the recent Republican National Convention and he had many astute observations to make. The one that interested me the most was the following:

But there is a flaw in the vision the Republicans offered in Tampa. It is contained in its rampant hyperindividualism. Speaker after speaker celebrated the solitary and heroic individual. There was almost no talk of community and compassionate conservatism. There was certainly no conservatism as Edmund Burke understood it, in which individuals are embedded in webs of customs, traditions, habits and governing institutions.

Today’s Republicans strongly believe that individuals determine their own fates. In a Pew Research Center poll, for example, 57 percent of Republicans believe people are poor because they don’t work hard. Only 28 percent believe

people are poor because of circumstances beyond their

control. These Republicans believe that if only government gets out of the way, then people’s innate qualities will enable them to flourish.

We should have seen this coming, of course. When the presumptive Vice Presidential candidate tells us his favorite “philosopher” is Ayn Rand who advocates cut-throat capitalism we should have taken note. This group doesn’t care about people or the planet. There is no talk about the importance of educating the young or taking care of the poor. The latter are simply hoist by their own petard: they are lazy and unmotivated and that’s why they are poor. If they had any gumption they would be wealthy like us. This is not only a twisted, and even shrunken, view of the world, it is also a bit sick.

As Brooks suggests, the truly distressing echo resonating from the Republican rhetoric is the lack of compassion and concern for those who need our help. The chest thumping and braggadocio of the wealthy who honestly believe they made it on their own and everyone else should do and be exactly like them or there is something wrong with them is either delusional or downright stupid. This is especially so when one looks around and sees the talented and gifted people who are struggling to keep their heads above water as against the many stupid and uncaring people with great wealth who seem only to be able to gloat.

There are good people who need help and often the only institution that is in a position to deliver that help is the government, whether we like it or not. We tie the hands of government and reduce the effectiveness of social programs at our own peril: there but for the grace of God goes you or I. Even if people don’t respond to the call for charity and love of our fellow human beings, one would think they would respond to enlightened self-interest. We all benefit from a healthy government rooted in the concept of the common good.

If government “gets out of the way” we all run the risk of going down for the third time. The day of Horatio Alger is past. The day of progressive economic theorizing is past. We need to rein in our greed and self-interest and try to see the broader canvas. We need to develop new economies of sustainability and conservation — in the true sense of this term. And we need to care about one another. If we can’t see these things then the patient is beyond hope. Not even the most miraculous of drugs can save him.

8 thoughts on “Prognosis Negative

  1. Just when I begin to pull myself out of despair for the future…all our children and all our grand children’s future…reality bites…again. I find it scary…the dark ethos, dare I say evil?, of common thought. It is not “what is good for all of us”…but instead…”me first”. Back…to the future.

    • True. I find it a bit scary as well. But there are good people who are doing remarkable things to turn this around and if things get much worse even the deniers might have to get on board!


      • Yes, Hugh. My 81 year old friend says the same. She continues to be hopeful…and tells this youngster of 60+….the “fat lady” hasn’t finished singing the song. I’m a believer in her wisdom and hold the thought that there are many of us believers out there…humming the tune…to assist that “lady” in song!

        Thank you, always, for listening…and speaking.

  2. Wasn’t it Aristotle who opined that democracies all eventually degrade into oligarchies?
    In the past, whenever the US has got itself into trouble, a great leader has always come forward. The three that come to mind are Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt. I had hoped that Barack Obama was also, however, so far, he has not shown himself to be so. Perhaps if he is re-elected and freed from political restraint, we can hope for the better.

    • Yes it was. But this is not a mere oligarchy: it is something new. I share your hope that if reelected Obama will be able to do the right thing if he doesn’t have to worry about reelection. Let’s hope he has a chance to do so! As things now stand he has to please those who hold the purse strings.

  3. I was listening to a speech as I was drifting off to sleep and swore I heard someone say “the individual is stronger than the community.” individual responsibility is good but I am thankful that someone else built the roads I travel, the schools I went to, and wish someone would figure out how to keep our food safe.

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