Wars of a Thousand Cuts

In trying to understand the grotesque turn that American politics has taken in the last year, the economy seems to be the most often-cited explanation. Inequality has increased, with the richest Americans filching an increasingly large slice of the pie and leaving only crumbs for the rest of us: the middle class is in retreat, more good-paying jobs are being “outsourced” to foreign countries, and college tuitions and loans are crippling the next generation of workers. We can add to all this the sense that many people have, on both the left and the right, that the political and cultural elites are disconnected from the concerns of the people, that for the elites far too much of the country is fly-over country, both literally and metaphorically. Wall Street is blamed, Washington gridlock is blamed; so too are immigrants, terrorists, pop culture, GMO’s–you name it.

Although all these disasters seem to have struck us suddenly, out of the blue so to speak, or at least since 9/11, perhaps the roots of our problems extend further back, to the first Gulf War (under Bush1), perhaps further than that. The Wikipedia timeline of American wars shows that the country has been engaged in some kind of war more or less continuously since 1909–and frankly,it doesn’t list every incident in which the military has been involved. This constant warmongering, so often contrary to reason, perhaps has wounded our collective psyche so slowly and completely that we fail to see that it is slowly bleeding us to death. We have spent a lot on these wars, we spend a lot to maintain and improve our military capability, and to supply our “allies” with weapons and munitions–money that could be used to maintain and improve our infrastructure and educational system, our healthcare and environment.

Yet we are promised, and clearly we want to believe (why else keep electing the same politicians over and over again), that we can fight these wars at no cost to ourselves, that we can continue to dump trillions into “security” while enjoying tax cuts at the same time.

Here’s an apt illustration of the dilemma: the recent news has been dominated by the excessive wait times for passengers going through security checks at our airports. The TSA is getting the blame (too few personnel, etc.), but equal blame should be put on the blow-back from our ill-considered military interventions in other countries’ business, in our poor choice of allies to whom we ship armaments, and our failure to rebuild our aging and inadequate airports. And our free-lunch attitudes: one of the factors in the long security waits is the fact that passengers want to avoid paying checked baggage fees and therefore carry on as much luggage as they can get away with–that’s a lot of extra bags that need to be searched!

What a tangled web we have (all) woven! Will this political season make a difference? After all, we have a true political renegade now virtually guaranteed to be the Republican nominee for the Presidency, someone who “tells it like it is”; and on the Democratic side we have a very popular contrarian candidate who is giving the assumed nominee a serious challenge right up to the finish line (and who knows, perhaps beyond). Many voters hope that these mavericks can turn things around, but given the interwoven complexities of the overall situation, one wonders what they could actually accomplish should one or the other win. Has too much blood already been lost?

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