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America's Slow Descend into Madness: Bad News for Democracy! America's Slow Descend into Madness: Bad News for Democracy!
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2015-12-04 09:06:24
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“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”

                                                   --Prometheus, in Longfellow’s The Masque of Pandora

''Men first feel necessity, then look for utility, next attend to comfort, still later amuse themselves  with pleasure, thence grow dissolute in luxury, and finally go mad…

                                   --Giambattista Vico, in The New Science

The philosopher of history Giambattista Vico believed that human societies pass through stages of growth and decay. ''The nature of peoples,'' he wrote, ''is first crude, then severe, then benign, then delicate, finally dissolute.'' In short, as people make life better for themselves materially, they fall into moral, spiritual and intellectual decay. Three of the symptoms that Vico identifies as characteristic of a civilization gone mad are: the destruction of the family, of language and of religion, the very foundation of any sort of society, as primitive as it might be.

This powerful insight into the birth and dissolution of entire civilizations leads to this question: Is America slowly descending into madness? There are disturbing signs that this may actually be the case. The stories America now tells itself are not only vulgar and trivial but are also filled with cruelty, deceit, lies, legitimating all manner of corruption and mayhem. Refugees and hard-working immigrants are characterized as criminals, rapists and “rabid dogs,” Islamo-phobia is on the ascendance with calls for registration and surveillance, and those who disagree with those fascistic tactics are promptly demonized and politically destroyed, never mind truth and honor, justice, and the common good. Those stories as told by corporate liars and crooks do serious harm to the body politic, and the damage they cause together with the idiocy they reinforce are becoming more apparent as America descends into authoritarianism pre-shadowing tyranny, accompanied by the pervasive fear and paranoia that sustains it, to wit Donald Trump who within a year may well become our first mad president, the way Caligula became the first mad Roman Emperor, echoing all the aberrations of a society which is fast losing its democratic ideals and its very political sanity.

We find evidence of a culture of cruelty in numerous policies that make clear that those who occupy the bottom rungs of American society—whether low-income families, poor minorities of color and class, or young, unemployed, and failed consumers—are considered disposable, utterly excluded in terms of ethical considerations and the grammar of human suffering. This is not merely partisan politics; it is an expression of a new form of cruelty and barbarism now aimed at those considered disposable in a neo-Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest society. 

To be sure, the roots of America's current descent into madness can be traced back to a series of unresolved catastrophic traumas Americans experienced during the Bush Administration. In the short span of eight years, it suffered a collective loss of confidence in American leadership, in the ability of government to perform its most basic functions, and in the very essence of the American Dream which is progressively becoming the American nightmare. The stories we tell about ourselves as Americans no longer speak to the ideals of justice, equality, liberty, and democracy. There are precious few towering figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. whose stories interweave moral outrage with courage and vision; stories which inspired us to imagine a just society and a more perfect union. 

Polls have consistently established that both the Tea Party and "birthers," those who consider President Obama illegitimate, about half of the Republican party, share some demographic characteristics. They are white, largely middle class and middle aged. They had been disproportionately impacted by the economic collapse and felt that the government's response to the crisis had been to favor the rich and poor minorities -- at their expense. They see themselves as victims of a failed government that misled them and let them down. The Trump and GOP appeals to "Make America great again," to "stop us from losing", or to "restore our honor" are in response to the still unresolved collective trauma experienced by the same group of voters who comprised the Tea Party. They are the anti-Obama message -- appealing to fear and not hope, and looking backward, not forward.

For months now, the pundits and the GOP establishment have dismissed the dangers posed by the likes of Trump and Carson and Cruz. Trump, they said, would be undone by his insults and fabrications; Carson was a fad who would soon fade; and Cruz, because he was so disliked, would go nowhere. Most recent polls, however, show these three garnering between 50 and 60 percent of the Republican vote while their rhetoric becomes harsher, with naked ugly appeals to intolerance and even violence. Indeed, the clowns have had their saying and have entertained us for a while, but isn’t it time now to wake up from our nightmare before it becomes a sad and irreversible reality?

A final pertinent caveat for all those anti-Americans on the other side of the Atlantic ocean who may find themselves gloating over the above-mentioned bad news scenarios. The news is bad for them too; for if the oldest of the modern experiments in democracy tragically fails, it will almost certainly mean that it will ultimately fail everywhere else too. The descend into madness will then become global, the lights will be out for all, and darkness will envelope the earth; we will have fought World War II for nothing. This may sound  slightly apocalyptic, but it is more in the nature of a prophecy grounded in the historical-political reality  described in Vico’s philosophy of history: once democracy is dead, these anti-Americans’ political and ethical dreams will also come to an end and the descend into a global madness will almost certainly ensue. Vico is yet to be proven wrong on the dissolution of advanced civilizations. Remember too that a prophecy is not necessarily a revelation of the future; it is more in the nature of an urgent appeal to sanity and a warning so that such a future will not come about. Let those who have ears, let them hear.

 


    
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