Can This President, His Party and His Policies Really Be As Phantasmagoric As They Seem to Be? Yup, ‘Fraid So.

Two days after George Bush’s re-election, Britain’s Daily Mirror ran this headline, “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?”

The answer is as simple as the solution to the circumstances it creates is nettlesome. And it is this: in this complex and confusing world, many Americans simply lack sufficient rational thinking skills to consistently make quality personal and collective decisions. (Of course, Americans aren’t alone: it’s a universal condition.)

Frightened (by the 9/11 terrorist attacks), increasingly preoccupied with keeping groceries and gasoline on hand (even the middle class has been seeing a steady erosion in its income and quality of life for many years) and convinced that if their world is going to hell in a handbasket, it is no doubt God’s will, most of those 59 milllion voters no doubt thought they saw in their president a firm hand and voice for troubled times, and so they re-elected him.

And the disastrous consequences continue. The latest calamity is Mr. Bush’s deliberate foot-dragging on keeping his promises to help rebuild the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The Los Angeles Times today reported even members of the President’s own party are openly questioning Bush’s indifference to the need to shape what billions and billions of federal dollars are used for. The White House clearly is not making choices about what should be rebuilt. For example, in this vacuum of leadership, the Army Corps of Engineers is now rebuilding levies and reviving canals that even they admit will probably allow New Orleans to flood again in the next powerful hurricane.

What would those 59,054,087 people do if they voted today? Many might choose to vote Bush out, or they might not. We have to remember just how viserally “people of faith” resist thinking rationally. It’s an instinct that goes back a long ways. Remember that Martin Luther called reason the devil’s bride and a pretty whore. Granted that as this is written, Bush’s approval rating is down to 38 per cent. But his “base” is still strong and still in power. And the President seems immune to learning. Clearly, America has a President who has come to believe that his personal map is the territory.

In quick-check fashion, what are key trends to watch here?

• Historically, America’s national politics have swung like a pendulum. From right to left to right to left. The cycle takes many years. And it is long overdue for a turn toward the left. The swing is nearly always precipitated by disastrous policies, poor action and the internal corruption that extended power brings. The tipping point may be close.

• The American government is bankrupt, and many of its citizens are in trouble financially. A serious downturn in the U.S. economy would have severe consequences for tens of millions of Americans, perhaps more. A decision by the Chinas, Koreas and Germanys of the world not to finance the American government’s cancerous, out-of-control debt any longer would probably signal the end of America’s world hegemony. The reason that this has not already happened is that the arrangement has been so lucrative and convenient to the lenders, and the consequences of letting the U.S. fail are so sobering for the rest of the world. But the time is almost surely coming when enough U.S. debt is enough.

• Will inspiring and competent new leadership appear on the American as well as the world scene? Bush was the best the Republicans had to offer, and there’s no one waiting in the GOP wings. You have to wonder. The Democratic possibilities seem to be weak-kneed nilly-willyies, not even sure how to be an effective opposition. In Britain, Blair is clearly a me-too-George character. Germany’s leaders are, alas, hopelessly provincial and uninspiring even at home. At the United Nations, Kofi Annan has turned out to the quintessential bureaucrat and no more. Hopefully, necessity will be the mother of invention. But where’s Matt Santos when we need him?

• Is it about over? Does America really matter that much to the world anymore? Was the American dream something that in finality not even this country could actualize, much less countries and peoples and cultures not enjoying the splendid isolation and remarkable confluence of lucky breaks that the people of the United States have enjoyed?

My best guesses:

1. The pendulum will begin to turn in the 2006 and 2008 elections. It may take a while, but the GOP is about to be sent to recycling (and with a little luck, a few of their top dogs will be sent to the pokey).

2. The damage done to the fabric of our American way of life by Republican policies of the past 30 years and the party’s failure to prepare the U.S. for the world as we have come to know it is finally going to seep into the awareness of many politicians and many in the proletariat, and work will begin on a new (if scaled-down) social contract between this government and its people.

3. America’s preeminence in the world will continue for the moment. There is a self-restorative quality built into our nature and our systems that is difficult to understand if you have not viewed it from the inside out and have not faced close up its roots and energies. Also, the candidates for replacing us aren’t quite ready to challenge us yet.

4. Both Americans and the other of the world’s citizenry are going to be so engaged by the demands and opportunities of the emerging technologically fecund era of explosive opportunism that the only ones who will have a clear memory of the Bush era in a few years will be those who have just visited his library.

Which, incidentally, is probably going to be built a few miles from my home and office.

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