Ever since conservatives decided to forcefully and systematically undermine public education and public schools, the question-- How Dumb Can A Nation Get And Still Survive? that Eugene Robinson asked in a Washington Post column last week, was inevitable... and pondered over by plenty of people, some of whom are actually packing up and moving out in disgust, frustration and hopelessness.
Robinson had 4 unpleasant follow-up questions as well: "How did we become, in such alarming measure, so dumb? Why is the news dominated by ridiculous controversies that should not be controversial at all? When did so many of our fellow citizens become full-blown nihilists who deny even the concept of objective reality? And how must this look to the rest of the world?" He used an incident in a backward precent of South Carolina to illustrate what he meant. Lindsey Graham, one of the state's two Republican Senators/spineless non-leaders, was speaking to some Republicans, not at a Ted Nugent or Travis Tritt concert in Anderson or Pickens counties-- where votes for Trump were sky-high and vaccination rates are pathetic-- but at a country club in Dorchester County, where Trump only won 54.2% of the vote and where the vaccination rate, while still low, is higher than the state average. He was repeatedly booed for just suggesting that the idiots consider getting vaccinated. When he tried arguing back that the vaccine is effective, and that 92% of those hospitalized in the state were unvaccinated, the crowd started screaming that he was lying to them. Apparently, they have their own "facts."
Covid-19 is a bipartisan killer. In the tribal-political sense, the safe and effective vaccines are a bipartisan miracle, developed under the Republican Trump administration and largely distributed under the Democratic Biden administration. People in most of the rest of the world realize, however, that vaccination is not political at all; it is a matter of life and death, and also a matter of how soon-- if ever-- we get to resume our normal lives.
Why would people not protect their own health and save their own lives? How is this anything but just plain stupid?
We are having other fights that are, unlike vaccination, partisan and political-- but equally divorced from demonstrable fact.
Conservatives in state legislatures across the country are pushing legislation to halt the teaching of “critical race theory” in public schools. I put the term in quotes because genuine critical race theory, a dry and esoteric set of ideas debated in obscure academic journals, is not actually being taught in those schools at all. What’s being taught instead-- and squelched-- is American history, which happens to include slavery, Jim Crow repression and structural racism.
I get it. The GOP has become the party of White racial grievance, and this battle against an imaginary enemy stirs the base. But the whole charade involves Republican officials-- many of them educated at the nation’s top schools-- betting that their constituents are too dumb to know they’re being lied to. So far, the bet is paying off.
And then, of course, there’s the whole “stolen election” farce, which led to the tragedy of Jan. 6. Every recount, every court case, every verifiable fact proves that Joe Biden fairly defeated Donald Trump. Yet a sizeable portion of the American electorate either can’t do basic arithmetic or doesn’t believe that one plus one always equals two.
How dumb can a nation get and still survive? Idiotically, we seem determined to find out.
I have a brother-in-law that stupid. He's one of them-- and, of course, a Trumper. I've known him-- more or less, mostly less-- since he started dating my sister over 5 decades ago. I was always astounded that anyone could be as stupid as he is and still navigate the modern world, albeit barely. He has gotten stupider over time. The last time I had the misfortune to speak with him was before my sister had a cell phone and I had to dial their home number and he picked up, and recited that day's Rush Limbaugh show to me. And yet... even he has been persuaded to get vaccinated! Unlike former GOP Florida congressman-- and current Texas gubernatorial candidate-- Allen West, who is unvaccinated, off the campaign trail and in the hospital with COVID. His wife, who has been vaccinated, was also infected, but she's already been released from the hospital and probably studying the terms of his life insurance policy. West is taking horse de-wormer-- and tweeting He noted in the tweets that he has COVID-related pneumonia but wrote that "I can attest that, after this experience, I am even more dedicated to fighting against vaccine mandates. Instead of enriching the pockets of Big Pharma and corrupt bureaucrats and politicians, we should be advocating the monoclonal antibody infusion therapy. Instead of jabbing Americans, and not illegal immigrants, with a dangerous shot which injects them with these spike proteins... guess what? I now have natural immunity and double the antibodies, and that's science. As Governor of Texas, I will vehemently crush anyone forcing vaccine mandates in the Lone Star State. There are far better protocols that individual citizens can utilize and decide for themselves. Our bodies are our last sanctuary of liberty and freedom, I will defend that for everyone, even the progressive socialist jackasses who must be saved from themselves."
The modern world is complicated and people need to pay attention if they want to understand what's going on around them. My brother-in-law, who gets all his "information" from Hate Talk Radio, hasn't a clue. Do the Republican officials who keep lying about the vaccine and about the 2020 election and about the debt ceiling? Aída Chávez, a DC-based reporter for The Nation, wrote the other day that Bernie "wants the public to know that the fight to pass Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending bill isn’t just about meeting the needs of working-class families and combating the climate crisis-- it’s about 'the future of American democracy' and whether oligarchs will be successful in defeating a popular agenda." Too many abstract concepts there for most Americans to understand?
To bring the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill down-- and that $3.5 trillion figure represents a combination of spending and tax cuts over the course of 10 years-- the White House is trying to figure out what Democrats should slash first: billions to alleviate homelessness, universal pre-kindergarten, free community college, dental benefits for seniors, free school lunches, and so on. Some initiatives may be dropped entirely, and many of the social programs Democrats campaigned on are in danger of being means-tested into oblivion.
Manchin, a coal baron who represents one of the poorest states in the country, opposes his party’s reconciliation on the pretext of avoiding an “entitlement society.” But his “entitlement” rhetoric comes as he fights to preserve tax giveaways to the oil and gas industry, an industry to which he owes much of his personal and professional wealth. The West Virginia senator is reportedly demanding that his colleagues pick just one of the top three priorities in the spending bill-- an expanded child tax credit, paid family medical leave, or subsidies for child care. Sinema, on the other hand, has been much less transparent about the specific policies she does and does not support. But Sanders refuses to go down any further on the spending total. “I think we do the programs that we have outlined and we fund them generously,” he said. “That’s not a choice.”
Sanders, as chair of the Senate Budget Committee, first proposed a plan to spend $6 trillion over a decade-- a package that included much of Biden’s agenda. In late March, when the Biden administration was preparing to unveil its infrastructure plan, progressives and environmental groups were calling for $10 trillion in spending over the next decade for climate action alone.
Asked if he’s worried that Democrats will ultimately walk away without passing anything at all, Sanders said he hopes that’s not the case, but there is a chance. “Is there a possibility, a horrible possibility, which would be so terrible for this country, that because two people refuse to do what 96 percent of the caucus wants, that nothing will happen?” he said. “There is that possibility, I think it’s a minimal possibility, but that possibility exists.”
Do you think we'll keep muddling along? These 5 states that have the smallest percentage of people who graduated from 4 year colleges, followed by the 5 states with the greatest percentage of people who graduated from 4 year colleges. Next to each state, is the percentage of voters who backed Trump last year. I'm certain, you'll notice that the states with the lowest educational attainment are the states with the highest number of Trump voters.
Most Uneducated States
West Virginia- 21.05%-- Trump 68.6%
Mississippi- 22.31%-- Trump 57.6%
Arkansas- 23.34%-- Trump 62.4%
Louisiana- 24.98%-- Trump 58.5%
Kentucky- 25.13%-- Trump 62.1%
Most Educated States
[Washington, DC- 59.67-- Trump 5.4%]
Massachusetts- 44.98%-- Trump 32.1%
Colorado- 42.66%-- Trump 41.9%
New Jersey- 41.22%-- Trump 41.4%
Maryland- 40.88%-- Trump 32.1%
Connecticut- 39.84%-- Trump 39.2%
A few days ago Umair Haque drove the point home brilliantly pointing out that societies that invests in themselves-- rather than put all the resources into the hands of a few-- are the societies that succeed-- Europe and Canada. These societies, he acknowledges are not perfect. "But they’re as good as we’ve gotten at this grand civilizational project of building societies. That’s not my opinion-- it’s an objective fact. Europeans and Canadians live not just the world’s best lives, but history’s. They live the longest, healthiest, wealthiest, happiest lives of all. They represent the best humanity has so far been capable of. Why is that? Because Europeans and Canadians enjoy superb systems of public goods, which make up expansive social contracts-- for which they’re renowned across the globe. If you’re lucky enough to be European or Canadian, you enjoy, as a basic right, in most cases a constitutional right, everything from healthcare to education to retirement to a place to live to even abstractions like dignity."
All that means that Europeans and Canadians have access to entire social systems which simply don’t exist in America. I can take a high speed train from Paris to Nice. It’s a beautiful journey. I can stop at the little towns dotting the coastline along the way, and no, not all of them are bastions of the super-rich, plenty are still just vacation spots for the middle and working class. In America? There are no high speed trains. In Europe or Canada I can simply…go to the doctor. Get an education. Retire. I don’t have to worry so much about-- if at all-- about going into lifelong debt about any of those things. In America? You only go to the doctor if and when you can brave the prospect of bankruptcy. Educating a child costs more than a home. Retiring? It’s something Americans just don’t do anymore.
Why do Europeans and Canadians have these super functional social contracts? Because they invest in themselves as a society. Again, that’s not my opinion-- it’s bitter, brutal fact, at least if you’re American, because America doesn’t. Let me spell out exactly how big the difference is. Europeans and Canadians invest half of their economies back in themselves, in public goods like healthcare, education, retirement, every single year. Their economies are perfectly balanced in this sense.
Americans? They invest just 15% back in themselves every year. But that figure is too low. Too low for what? To have a functioning society. To have many kinds of public goods and social systems at all. An investment rate of 15% doesn’t get you any of the following: functioning healthcare, transport, media, education, retirement.
But how do you live without those things? Well, you live a life of despair, indignity, and degradation. Hence, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, two of America’s only good economists, point to an “epidemic of deaths of despair.”
What’s happened in America is something perverse, chilling, grotesque. Because they don’t invest in themselves, Americans are exploited at every turn. Instead of having functioning social systems for public goods like healthcare and retirement and education, Americans have…private ones.
But the private systems for healthcare and retirement and education that exist in America are squarely why Americans are poor.
Again, that’s not my opinion. It’s a fact. Americans have “negative savings rates,” which is economist-speak for “people who are born into and die in debt.” American life is one long, weird cycle of debt. Student debt turns into medical debt turns into credit card debt and so on. America’s a nation of debtors, which means its a nation of paupers, because, well, if you’re a net debtor, you don’t effectively earn or save or own anything.
The reason Americans ended up poor is that all the private systems they have-- which are public in Europe and Canada-- charge them astronomical, eye-watering amounts. Those amounts stagger the rest of the world. The famous-- or infamous-- million dollar medical bill. College tuition that’s double the median income-- how can the average person afford that? The answer is, quite obviously, they can’t.
See the vicious cycle at work here. Americans won’t invest in each other-- and that makes them poor. It leaves them defenseless to be exploited by predators. You have one life. You should do something beautiful and noble and good with it. Who really wants to…run an HMO…Americans-speak for a “Healthcare Management Organization”…that basically fleeces people at their most vulnerable? It’s not exactly something Leonardo or Einstein would have aspired to. Nobody does.
...What does living that way-- like paupers-- do to people, though? Well, it has an even more pernicious effect, which is completely invisible to most Americans. Social bonds don’t exist anymore.
What do all those super functional systems of public goods do for Canadians and Europeans? They don’t just keep them healthy and wealthy. They do something even deeper. They keep a society…a society. That’s because they are things everyone shares. We take the same high speed train. We use the same hospital. We go to the same universities. We rub elbows and shake hands and collide with one another. Public goods, because they’re shared, build trust.
Think of how different Americans really are now from Canadians and Europeans. It’s like they from different planets. Americans are angry, suspicious, hostile. Who knows with an American? They might be the kind of nitwit that carries a gun to Starbucks and thinks Trump was Jesus. You can bet, pretty safely, if you meet a random Canadian or European, they won’t be like that.
That’s because Americans don’t trust each other. They don’t trust anyone or anything anymore, really.
...America’s rapid descent into an impoverished nation has had a catastrophic consequence which is completely unseen. Americans don’t trust one another. They live in a society without social bonds. Sometimes, this rears its head in obvious ways-- Trumpists who demonise immigrants and foreigners, the rabid hate consuming the GOP, the total breakdown between Red and Blue states, the way Texas is persecuting…women.
And yet what Americans don’t really seem to grasp is that all these forms of dysfunction are part of a larger pattern. Americans don’t have social bonds anymore. They don’t have social ties. Their society is imploding as a society. I mean that in the most elemental and fundamental way: a society, a network of people bound together by social ties and bonds, which consist, fundamentally, of shared experiences and goods and values and norms. Americans don’t have that anymore. They exist as individuals, simply trying to eke out another days’ existence, and then retreating to weird cocoons of reality TV to numb the pain of meaningless lives.
...It’s a strange story. How America imploded. Greed made Americans poor, and poverty made Americans desperate. Society itself-- bonds, ties, trust, respect, dignity-- became a luxury as Americans grew impoverished.