Buried in the millions of words that were written about the shootings in Arizona last week was a recent poll showing that only 13 percent of the American people think favorably of the U.S. Congress. The implication, of course, is that as 87 percent or roughly 270 million Americans harbor some level of animosity towards their elected federal representatives, the emergence of people who believe that exercising their 2nd Amendment rights is solution to the nation’s woes is inevitable.
Why are so many, so mad at the Congress? The answer is simple – they have no idea what is happening to their lives. Since the beginning of the great recession way back in 2007 they have been told by two Presidents, their senior officials, 99 percent of the Congress, and most of the media that recovery was on the way and that prosperity would return shortly.
As unemployment in the U.S. grew and grew, every politician with a prayer of winning positioned him or herself as the “jobs” candidate who could and would get us all working at good high-paying jobs again. This of course has not returned and is unlikely to do so. We are not only contending with a growing debt bubble of gigantic proportions, we are also rapidly running out of the cheap, abundant energy that allowed us to be so prosperous for the last 200 years.
America’s problem today is that almost nobody in any official position is willing to publically recognize the real nature of the problem we face and start talking about realistic solutions. So long as our elected officials and our media continue to speak endlessly about the recovery that is supposedly underway and continue to hold out the hope that, by voting for this or that candidate, all will be well, the great charade will continue and the people will get madder and madder.
The lack of realism on the part of those in a position to lead public opinion, and the endless repletion of fictions, such as the U.S. unemployment rate now being only 9.4 percent, has left open the door to what were once thought of as extremists to join the political debate and even the Congress. Proposals that are tantamount to national, or perhaps even global, suicide such as defaulting on the national debt, rolling back health care, or dropping environmental regulation are seriously debated as solutions to creating more jobs.
The real problem, of course, is that without a continually growing source of cheap and abundant energy, such as that provided by fossil fuels, there will never again be significant economic growth in the sense to which we have become accustomed. It is inevitable that we are all going to get much poorer, in a material sense, and this is the great secret of our age that so far few have had the courage to express. The easier path has been Keynesian stimulation of the economy, government bailouts of what were held to be key financial and industrial institutions, and tax cuts to mollify those who believe all problems stem from taxes. These measures were accompanied by endless expressions of hope that things would soon be better.
However, as the real economic situation continues to deteriorate in the midst of so little appreciation of why it is happening, frustrations with the political system grows and grows. In America, we have now had a run of well over 100 years with minimal domestic unrest on the scale of the Civil or Indian wars. This, however, may not continue to be the case much longer. As unemployment grows and people see the standards of living they have always known slipping away, their frustrations can take many forms. Last November as a nation we threw out dozens of politicians and replaced them with new faces equally devoid of any comprehension of the problem or what we as a nation will have to do next in order to survive, much less prosper.
Next year we will face another round of elections and all indications suggest that 20 odd months from now our economic situation will be materially worse and gasoline will be approaching unaffordability for many. While realism could surface in the intervening time, the odds are it won’t and next year we will be faced with a plethora of silly proposals to deal with imagined problems. As the situation deteriorates further however, some may see violence as the answer to their woes. So far in America violence against individual public officials has been perpetrated by individuals with mental problems or a cause to further. This may not always be the case.
As has been frequently noted by the media in recent days, the level of political discourse in America has been droping markedly in recent years and while no one of any stature seems to be openly advocating violence, some are getting mighty close. Another few years of economic stagnation and increasing unemployment could easily bring us to the point where the line will be crossed.
All this is by way of saying that there is a serious downside to simply ignoring the realities of the current situation and relying on hope rather than leveling with the American people. By failure to guide the country to real solutions to real problems, our leaders are risking increasing violence as the frustrations of an unknowing people continue to grow.
Tom Whipple is a retired government analyst and has been following the peak oil issue for several years.