And every fair from fair sometime declines
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d
That’s Shakespeare. Sonnet XVIII – or 18 to those of us who don’t want to bother with Roman numerals.
Will is talking about the inevitable decay and decline of beauty in the person to whom the sonnet is addressed. For me, however, it is a reminder that everything – EVERYTHING – declines. It’s the power of entropy, folks – everything that is fair and/or beautiful, that is strong, must inevitably lose what is fair, strong, beautiful. It arrives sooner – by chance, as Will says, by accident – or later – by the accumulation of days but it must arrive.
That includes nations and brings me to a principle consideration of mine about all the candidates, Democrat and Republican, now vying for the post of Chief Executive of these Unites States. Which one is best equipped to deal with its decline?
Decline is inevitable, to begin with. Every nation, every empire, on top of the heap has fallen off that pinnacle. Every. Single. One. It is a historic inevitability that we will also slide as well. I’m betting on sooner rather than later. Here are my reasons.
A) The Iraq Debacle. With it, we’ve squandered a great deal of our standing in the world. We’ve alienated allies, created new enemies, and failed at nation building in a misguided attempt to re-make the map of the Middle East according to the ill- and mis-informed theories and stratagems of the NeoConservatives.
Don’t try to tell me Iraq was about WMDs or terrorism or taking out a bad, bad man. The concept, the pipedream, was to create a stable democracy that would transform the region, a lovely fantasy that had nothing to do with reality. We are now so militarily engaged that we could not deal competently with another threat and the world knows it. Iraq drains our resources and reveals us as inept. The torture that we have engaged in and the disregard for human rights we have demonstrated have cost us our moral authority and respect, both of which were strong tools in our diplomatic toolbox. We tried to do this war on the quick and on the cheap and it shows. The Iraq Fiasco reveals us as militarily already in decline.
B) Globalization. This works well for multi-national companies but by outsourcing so many of our jobs – especially manufacturing – to other countries we have, I think, weakened ourselves economically. We have made economic rivals such as China stronger while we get weaker. How can labor here compete? There aren’t the same rules regarding working conditions or labor conditions (such as pay) in China as here.
We re-enforce that with companies such as Wal-Mart that ruthlessly demand the lowest prices from its suppliers, to the point of dictating those prices. People shop there because they have less money to spend but part of the reason for that is that the jobs have gone overseas. The jobs have gone overseas because that’s how we get those low, low Wal-Mart prices. We also get lead paint on our toys and tainted products because someone there cuts corners further because that’s how they make their profit. They follow the example we’ve given.
I’m not offering any solution to this because I’m not sure there is any; I’m simply observing what I believe to be a fact. Yes, I’ve heard how new jobs will be generated and blah blah blah. I’m not buying into that. I think those jobs are dependent on other factors that an all too easily vanish. On the other hand, it beats me how ComicMix makes money just giving comics away, so go figure.
I’m also not overlooking that some of our biggest companies are dinosaurs and are captained by short sighted captains of ailing industry. I just read online how Chrysler and Ford are worried about declining sales in the formerly lucrative truck (such as pick-up trucks) market because potential customers aren’t sure they can afford the gas to run them (due to the ever rising tide of oil prices) after they’ve bought them. The automotive industry might have learned this lesson after the last time we had gas problems. They simply went with what kept selling rather than look to the future. Their current solution – roll out the new models surrounded by country music stars and NASCAR princes. Re-enforce the Americaness
of it all. A little more desperate and they’ll be telling us we have to buy their trucks or the terrorists will win.
What it comes down to is that as other nations become more economically powerful, we will become less so. As they become more powerful, they will be able to demand more of dwindling resources, such as oil. We won’t be calling the shots economically; I’m betting it will be China.
C. Sinking economics. The above paragraphs tie into this. I don’t have studies to back this up but I have eyes. Aside from the very tippy-top percentile, people are not doing as well as their parents. They’re working as hard as they can to stay in the same place. Some experts are saying perhaps no better than a 50-50 chance of recession this year. Some say there won’t be one. All of this means they don’t have a clue, either.
I’m betting we’re in the early stages of a recession right now. Oh, there will be a denial of a recession by the Administration because that’s a nightmare scenario for the Republicans – go into the elections as a recession is declared. That won’t change the facts. Check it for yourself. Is your pay raise keeping up with inflation? Have you had a pay raise? Do you have health insurance and, if so, how good is the coverage? (I don’t have it and I live in daily fear of accident or sickness.) How secure is your job? Or jobs? How close to the edge do you live?
The Bush Administration has kept up a program of tax cuts for the rich while paying for the Iraq adventure by borrowing and selling bonds to foreign governments. That is going to be a bigger problem as the value of the dollar continues to decline. And yet Cheney says that deficits don’t really matter.
At some point, we’re going to stop being a good investment to those folks overseas. It won’t matter to the Bushies because they will not be in the White House; with luck, Senator Clinton will be elected and the mess will collapse on her doorstep allowing the NeoCons and their pals to indulge in one of their favorite games (or rituals) – Bashing Hilary. Hey, it beats taking responsibility.
Our financial house is in disarray. It’s a fragile house of credit cards. The solution lies not in corporations which increasingly see themselves as global, not national, entities. Actually, I’m not certain there is a solution. Just decline.
D. Aging population. That includes me. I’m part of your problem. A lot has already been written about the Graying of the Baby Boomers. The facts are – we exist. Not only will there be a bigger drain on Social Security, which has already been raided over and over by various Administrations, but on Medicare and other programs. Health insurance is less obtainable and less willing to pay claims and health problems will only continue to grow for those of us who grow older.
Companies lay off older workers in favor of younger workers because experience no longer has a value and younger workers are cheaper (in theory). Pensions are targets for corporate raiders. Yes, we’ll be a drain on the economy unless you throw us off the sled and to the wolves. Me? My best hope is to work until I drop dead – assuming I have the work to do.
There’s a lot more to be said on all this and other points but the general picture is of a nation in decline. I don’t see any solutions to most of these problems and certainly none that are quick or painless. Which brings us to the question I asked at the start – which candidate is best to preside, to guide, to govern a United states in decline? Once again, I turn to a poet – Paul Simon this time – and to the lyrics to “Mrs. Robinson.”
Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon.
Going to the candidate’s debate.
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose.
To solve a problem you have to first admit the problem exists. Any candidate who even suggested that “this great land of ours” was Not Number One would be committing political suicide because We, the People, don’t want to hear it. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault lies not in our candidates, but ourselves. The closest we come to admitting the problem this political season is to say that “change” is necessary. The belief is that “change” will restore us to who and what we are. I don’t see that happening.
Look, maybe I’m all wrong on this. Maybe I’m just doing a Crabby Old Man Rant (C.O.R.M.). I’m about the right age for it. Ohhh, this country’s going to hell in a handbasket. A Handbasket, I tells ya! And the music sucks too. Couldn’t play it on my Victrola even if I wanted which I don’t! That sort of thing. There may be things I’m not seeing and I’ll be the first to admit my understanding of economics is no better than, say, the President’s. Maybe there is a way back and I’m not seeing it. I really hope that’s the case.
I just don’t think it is.
Koo-koo-ka-choo, Mrs. Robinson
John Ostrander writes GrimJack: The Manx Cat, new installments of which appear every Tuesday here on ComicMix, and much of Munden’s Bar, new installments of which will reappear anon here on ComicMix. Both for free. His new Suicide Squadmini-series is out there from DC Comics, and his Star Wars: Legacy is out there from Dark Horse, both at finer comics shops across the galaxy.