February 08, 2009

The Bipartisan Kleptocracy Will Never Die



I'm sorry, but I don't think I'll ever get tired of saying that. A vague sense of panic has been rattling through my soul for over a week now, though, so I think I'll say it again: "The Bipartisan Kleptocracy will Never Die!!!" I know, I know—it gets played out pretty quick, but it's sort of instinctual at this point, because my god, the oligarchs sure are a testy bunch these days. I mean, it's gone beyond the usual soggy hand-wringing and petulantly adolescent demands for massive tax cuts that we all expect from them anyway—it's to the point where you can almost hear the hysterical terror in their voices every time they get within shouting distance of a news microphone. There is electricity crackling in the air all the time now, and the wrong raised eyebrow can strike sparks anywhere if you're not careful.

Because hey, let's face it—the kleptocratic impulse is strong in the United States of America, and indeed always has been. When you found a nation on theft, slavery, and murder, you're powering the subsequent society on some of the biggest, baddest voodoo that anyone has ever known, and it's only a matter of time before you'll miss a few payments and a phalanx of repo men come knocking. Hand-in-hand with that compulsion is, of course, the reflexive fear that has convulsed generation upon generation of Americans since day one of the Jamestown settlement—the sort of skittish glance over your shoulder to make sure no one's coming to Take Your Shit. The sort of projectionary flinch that's so familiar among thieves convinced that they're surrounded by more thieves, because how surprising is it that other people want to sneak our stash when we did the very same to them? Isn't that how the universe works?

Well, in this country it does—handily spiced with some home-grown, institutionalized racism to boot—and I really believe it's the only way we know how to think. The concept of "our" has always come in a distant third after "mine" and "yours," and the idea of the commons has been so denigrated, and its real execution so botched—many times purposefully so—that the mere hint of anything resembling "socialism" is shouted down in a paranoid frenzy of overreaction. That's why we have dim-bulb non-plumbers accusing future presidents of "socialism." That's why we have transparently ugly and hideously bloated payoffs to the necrotizing financial industry derided as "socialism" by tax-hating zealots and know-nothing faux-populists alike. We all just can't stand that Someone Else Got A Better Deal, Man—and I can't believe that it hasn't produced frantic bank-runs yet. I'm getting pretty antsy here waiting to see which CEO will lose bowel control next and crash their albatross of a company smack-dab against the stock exchange bell.

And really, it'll only be funny as long as it isn't me—but until then I won't cry a drop for any executive who gets tossed in the sheep-dip. The rich may indeed act like wild animals when they get nervous, but the spectacle of once-powerful people brought weeping to their knees is one I have been unable to resist watching—especially since none of them seem to realize that their great golden calf will never truly be cast aside in this country. The robber-barony has shown itself to be remarkably resilient in the face of repeated shocks to its very core throughout its entire existence, but everyone seems to forget that every time the Dow gets a shade too red, and somewhere, the shades of Eugene Debs and Emma Goldman just smile.

Even so, it's unsettling, in a knife-twisting sorta way, to see the bankers now down on the ocean floor with lawyers and realtors. Their endless death shrieks should be soothing, but this twisted Bonfire of the Ptolemies is repulsive no matter how you slice it. The mushy-headed reality of a Shiny New President that can speak in complete sentences ought to be reassuring, especially when he sinks the skewer deep into swine like Limbaugh—and yet I can take no real further pleasure from that, either, because I've still got some short-sighted One-Term blinders on right now, for better or worse. The final days of any empire are always messy and ugly—and usually much more so than even the craziest Cassandras dare to speculate—but when even the Avatar of Hope says "things will get worse before they get better," that sets off a whole orchestra of dog whistles. The End Times mentality is definitely a hard habit to kick, but Americans have had it nailed into our psyches in so many ways, and for so many years, that it's become something much more insidious than instinct or second nature.

And no—I'm not feeling Revelations right now, thankfully, and am not even rising to the level of late-period Roman decline—but the weekly bummer of decompression is there. It's more like a cumulative, gradual, Egyptian-style letdown, and as everyone knows, Ancient Egypt was many things, though it was not in a hurry to become any of them—but more about that ugly reality later, I think. It's worth a mention for now, though, because the freaks pissing in our collective punch these days with their $500K bonus-whines and Super Bowl parties are stone cold amateurs compared to the gluttonous and sybaritic beasts that ruled antiquity. Take the Roman tax farmers, for example: those ruthless bastards reached an early peak in imperial bureaucratic broad-daylight robbery. They plundered the riches of spear-won provinces so thoroughly that in at least one case, Anatolia in 88 BC, the suffering natives were eventually goaded into killing every Roman in the territory—a figure sometimes estimated at 80,000 men, women, and children. That wasn't the end of it—the Romans came, saw, and conquered—but the whole episode serves to shed some historical light on concepts like "megalomania," "desperation," and "decadence."

Yes, decadence. It may be an unfashionable concept these days, what with Teh Change threatening to slow the daily avalanche of reality that we all endure to some degree, but when it comes to dealing with the inevitable slide of the United States of America into the tar pit of history, decadence is in the eye of the beholder—and in this nation of cathode ray addicts, such eyes are never in short supply. The sick and torturous twists of American moral, financial, cultural and political degeneration have long held a firm grip on the imaginations of citizens across our land—but the death spiral's seductive tune has been on "repeat" for a long time now, shuffling along to the same old rhythms of venality, if indeed it bothers to move at all. And holy shit, that's a long way from the initial thoughts about we frantic, paranoid Americans—who are notoriously fickle when it comes to reading rambling blocks of text, especially on a Saturday night—so let's just nip it in the bud right now with the wisdom that the kleptomaniacal robber barons may screech and moan, but in this country, they'll always be among us. Always.

cross-posted: dkos, fsz

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