America's post-midterm inferno: Tea Party garbage, media nonsense and economic hell

Our notion of American exceptionalism and superpower status is blinding us to reality. Here's what we need to admit

By Robert Hennelly
Published November 12, 2014 3:58PM (EST)
Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Rush Limbaugh                                                      (AP/Timothy D. Easley/Jeff Malet, Carlson)
Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Rush Limbaugh (AP/Timothy D. Easley/Jeff Malet, Carlson)

A full week after the alleged “shellacking “ of President Obama and the Democrats, the country remains a “stucknation” locked in a partisan standoff where both factions hold each other in contempt and have a long list of past grievances they want to relitigate.

For several years now, the two parties have so amped up the partisan rhetoric that what used to be middle ground is nothing but scorched earth. It's a machine fueled by animus, but raises hundreds of millions of dollars for the warring factions and keeps the nation from a necessary reconciliation that's a prerequisite for moving forward.

Listening to this cacophony that passes for political discourse, an alien from outer space would come to the conclusion that Americans really can’t stand each other and just don’t want to defeat their opponents but annihilate them.

No wonder Putin sent his armor into the Ukraine.

History is never shaped by one thing, but a confluence of trends and events. We have a president who just can’t figure out why everybody is not as smart as he is, and a disloyal opposition that so lusts for his demise they would shut down the government to make a rhetorical point.

For many Democratic partisans, the reactionary right is waging a war on women’s reproductive rights and working around the clock to strip the right to vote from people of color. A key core belief of many Tea Party Republicans is that Democrats can only win elections if they steal them.

This delegitimizing of the nation’s political process popped up for Democrats in Gore v. Bush in 2000 and now has captured conservatives, who pretty much refute the results of every election except for the ones they win. (A notable exception was Ed Gillespie’s concession to Sen. Mark Warner, which went some distance in restoring the notion of a Virginian gentleman.)

Just spend an hour listening to national talk show host Michael Savage and his many less talented imitators that blanket the airwaves. You will hear such a deep hatred for the president you’ll understand that Savage and his crowd just don’t have contempt for the president -- but for the tens of millions of their fellow Americans that voted for him twice.

Even as ISIS does its thing Savage has described the sitting president as the “enemy within” who wants to spread Ebola, open the door  to “illegals,” all  so as to make the U.S. a third-world nation in a kind of egalitarian “marxist” exercise aimed at collapsing capitalism. These statements are made despite the president’s record deportations  and unprecedented profits enjoyed by U.S. corporations during the president’s tenure. A mediocre chief executive he may be, but he certainly is not a marxist.

While largely ignored by the mainstream media, Savage’s millions of loyal listeners are also voracious readers who sent his recently released Stop the Coming Civil War: My Savage Truth”  on to  the Barnes  and Nobles big seller list. The bookseller’s website says Savage tells his readers “our nation is in real trouble and the seeds of a second conflagration have been sown.”

This near violent alienation extends into the global warming debate with one side insisting that as long as there is a God we need not worry about environmental consequences and we must burn as much fossil fuel as possible to fire up prosperity for future generations. Their opponents see these “climate change deniers” as a clear and present danger to the planet, funded by fossil fuel profiteers, whose only reason for existing is accumulating as much material wealth as possible so as to extend their dominion over a quickly dying planet.

There is just no reconciling these alienated factions. Billions of dollars are backing up both narratives, even as the homeless stretch out in the street and West Africa begs for the basics. No wonder most Americans decided to sit out Choice 2014.

In the aftermath of the 2014 midterms, the milquetoast political press offers a ho-hum narrative dominated by the politicians' personal story. What’s President Obama’s legacy? Which Republican will claim the 2016 nomination? How do the results of 2014 impact former Secretary of State  Hillary Clinton’s chances to win the presidency?

Rank them. Sort them. Do whatever your cyberalgorithms tell you will get the most eyeballs. The political reporting is so fixated on who's winning  or falling behind that the horse race eclipses the actual economic and social conditions of the country. What they seem to be missing  is just  how badly polarized the nation is and just how many American households are still falling behind.

As for the voters' hearts and minds, they get their shot during the exit polls.  Based on those polls  Republicans would be mistaken to interpret their victory  as some kind of blank check. As the New York Times reported, voters surveyed this time around were skeptical of both parties. They believed the U.S. economy is rigged for the 1 percent and are doubtful their children will do better than they have.

There is something that is ruminating out there beyond the Beltway and the safe green zone of the corporate media that acts as its buffer.  Looking at the “right way-wrong way” survey data by the NBC News/Wall Street Journal it has pretty much been all downhill from right after the Sept. 11 attack. That was when just over 70 percent of those surveyed thought the nation was headed in the right direction as ground zero still smoldered, the nation pulled together and the world embraced us as a victim of terrorism.

By this summer,  more than 12 years into our global war on terror, and a few years into the “recovery,”  that same poll was totally upside down with 70 percent now saying the nation was headed in the wrong direction.   In the immediate run-up to the midterms  the  president said  U.S. intelligence missed the rise of ISIS, the Secret Service left the front door of the White House and the Centers for Disease Control fumbled the initial response of Ebola.

Most all the Democrats ran away from the president. Consistently the president was a couple of beats behind the breaking news where his handlers must have thought it was safe. Whether it was responding to  the wave of undocumented children crossing the border, ISIS or Ebola the White House waited for events to play out for weeks and even months, and only when the media declared a “crisis,” would we get presidential action. It was as if President Obama’s heart wasn’t in doing his job.

Off course for the Savage contingent this passiveness was extrapolated as premeditation and diabolical planning to collapse the nation into an oozing morass of disease and lawless chaos.

The president’s poor performance, whatever the reason for it, had consequences down ballot. Republicans  not only won the U.S. Senate but they now hold 31 of the nation’s governorships, replacing Democrats in Arkansas, Illinois, Massachusetts  and Maryland. The GOP now has total control, that is the governorship and the state legislatures, in 21 states compared to the Democrats who now have a third of that many.

In the state races there were no doubt  local issues also in play. Yet New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who led the Republican Governors Association's  bid to capture as many state capitals as possible, says in the 35 states he visited  voters expressed major anxiety about the president’s lack of leadership. “I wouldn’t call it fear. I’d call it anxiety, really anxious. I think the best way to describe it was a woman I met who told me she was in her 80s from Vero Beach and she said  to me, 'Governor what's happened to our country? We used to control events, now events control us.'”

“I think the reason folks are anxious is they feel like the president is weak and as a result our country is perceived to be weak,” Christie told reporters after he voted. “I think the country is looking for the president to be strong and I wish he would be. He’s my president too.” Up against Michael Savage Christie sounds like Eisenhower, a throwback to the Republican Party that pledged allegiance to the flag and respected the occupant of the White House, no matter what his party affiliation, because they respected the office and by extension the broader electorate.

That America now only exists in history.

This nation’s existential crisis started well before President Obama was on the scene, as any graph over the growing wealth disparity will illustrate. What ails us goes deeper than a passive and detached president who's reliably two beats behind the news wave and a Republican Party leadership committed to derailing his presidency at any cost.  Even as the factions  continue their war of attrition on each other, the American worker continued to fall behind, thanks to stagnant or declining wages despite increased productivity.

These are the same economic conditions candidate Barack Obama railed against, and before him candidate Bill Clinton. Yet from 1979 until  2013  productivity grew by almost 65 percent but average workers only saw their compensation increase by a measly 8 percent increase in  those 33 years.  More recently, from 2007 until 2013 the median U.S. income dropped every year and when adjusted for inflation was the lowest since 1995.

All you need to know about the frame of mind of Americans for the 2014 midterm was in the small print of the latest Department of Labor report on employment that came a couple of days after the election. “In October, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed at 2.9 million,” writes the Department of Labor, which translates to roughly a third of the unemployed. Civilian labor force participation continued its steady decline, hovering now at 62.8 percent, flat since April.

Last month the DOL  reported 7 million people were consigned to part-time work, even though they wanted full-time opportunities. Also in October, DOL said 2.2 million people were “marginally attached to the labor force,” a disconcerting stat DOL says “was little changed from a year earlier.”  “These individuals were not in the labor force” but “had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the four weeks preceding the survey.”

At the same time that most U.S. households were stuck in neutral or slipping back into reverse, the top 1 percent continued to buzz by in overdrive leaving the rest of the U.S. in their dust. From the first half of 2013 to the first half of 2014, real hourly wages fell across the board with the exception of  states that raised the minimum wage. Meanwhile “the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of the post financial crisis growth  since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer,” according to the World Economic Forum’s Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014.

And while the business press chirped out happy faces over the officially declining unemployment number, the rest of the stats in the latest Department of Labor data described the ongoing wasting of a nation through workforce and wage stagnation.

Americans are trying to walk up the downward escalator whose motor is driven by corporate greed and bipartisan complicity. While corporations keep a lid on compensation and hiring they have increasingly become more skilled at stashing hundreds of billions of dollars in profits offshore, shifting their tax burden  onto the same population that they have been squeezing for decades.

By some estimates as much as $2 trillion remains stashed offshore, kneecapping any real recovery. This  creates a phony scarcity to help build back the pressure to get their tax cuts, shrink the federal government, help rescind the social contract and break what’s left of the American labor movement.

Having totally captured both political parties it is in the interests of corporations to fund the great American political kabuki dance that perpetuates the myth that on the issues that matter most to the corporations there’s a big difference between how both parties would govern. This partisan sideshow keeps the electorate distracted from the widening income disparity, wealth concentration and tax shifting that has happened under the leadership of both political parties for decades.

In 2008 we went for "hope and change," but six years later there's this sense we are still on a downward trajectory, despite the booming stock market and gas prices dropping so fast experts are worried.  Our kids are burdened with billions in debt and now the very same Wall Street vultures that created the mortgage meltdown are coming back to buy up foreclosed homes so they can rent them to the serfs who now can’t afford their own castle.

It is this gnawing insecurity about the prospects for our families that is the psychological fallout from the Great Recession  and our wars without end. For our grandparents it was shorthanded as the "Depression era" mentality. It defined every choice they made but also burnished a sense of national purpose, self-sacrifice and collectivity. It beat  fascism on two fronts, came home, had a parade, built the interstate highway system,  and sent their soldiers to school for free.  But back then we had FDR who united the population against the speculators.

Now the speculators divide and prosper.

Today most people grapple with their economic dislocation in isolation. The TV says we are in a recovery so it must be just me, my family, my household falling behind. Every day the TV says the market is up and yet that seems to have less and less to do with the average American family's economic well-being.

Yes, we are a war-prone republic, but we have always had periods when we collectively stood down, albeit briefly. Now we are told we are in a further notice eternal war where peace comes only when we leave this earthly plain. I don't know if the human psyche is wired for that.

But there is something else at work structurally that the  media also shies away from because it undermines  our superpower status narrative and the notion of our exceptionalism. Even talking about it one risks looking unpatriotic.  For many Americans this has been the linchpin for their sense of well-being in an ever-changing world. We are just not up to coming to grips with the notion that planetary peace, prosperity and  stability is truly a multilateral project.  Where’s the national pride in that?

When the president wasn't propping up the phony Bush war on terror narrative,  he spoke eloquently about this reality as he did at West Point.

President Obama is presiding in a period where in the scheme of world affairs, save the  nuclear war option, the presidency is shrinking. This globally integrated marketplace we were so hell-bent to create has geopolitical consequences.

You can’t rely on China to finance your federal debt and not expect to lose leverage in the world. While Republicans like to put the shrinking of the presidency  on the current occupant of the White House, it ignores structural  things like that and  the well-documented choice by U.S. multinationals and hedge funds to bet against America because they can make more money someplace else.

Ironically, these very hedge fund players that helped fund Christie’s Republican Governors Association, like Elliot Management’s Paul Singer who gave over a million dollars to the RGA, are the same crowd looking to profit from the inversion deals being cut  by U.S. corporations to abandon the U.S. to reduce their U.S. tax liability.

So is it now, "ask not what your country can do for you" but which country gives you the highest rate of return?

Robert Hennelly

MORE FROM Robert Hennelly

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2014 Elections America Barack Obama Economy Editor's Picks Gop Media Media Criticism Midterms Tea Party The Right