Let us now take a few moments to praise ourselves. Not that we aren’t always appropriately self-effacing, of course, but we just can’t help but acknowledge our all-around wonderfulness. America the Beautiful. Not just beautiful, but compassionate, upstanding, and responsible. Sexy, too. We’ve got it all.
Okay, now let’s take a look at the truth.
We have recently seen our caring, compassionate, responsible Congress pass a tax bill that tells its own story. It tells us that, quite simply, we are thrilled and happy to receive a tax break of $800 a year—or something equally sub-momentous–while we pile another $1.5 trillion onto the national debt over the next 10 years. Which is to say: Let the kids and the grand kids worry about that stuff, because I have urgent personal requirements. Maybe the latest iPhone–and a new table saw! Or maybe better, a weekend to do some gambling in Vegas!
Now, statements like this will of course elicit a predictable spasm of “whataboutism” from a certain dank end of the political spectrum. We will hear the classic “Well, Obama added 8 or 10 trillion dollars to the debt, what about that?” As if to say this further $1.5 trillion does not go up on the scoreboard. As if to say that the debt added in 2008-10 was not added to prevent the entire world economy from going full Fukushima—a meltdown brought into full flower by a genius president, George W. Bush, whose position in the Pantheon of Worsts is improved only by the antics of the current White House occupant.
What we are apparently saying now is that, with a booming stock market and low unemployment, conditions that should in fact allow us to retire some of our massive debt, we are perfectly happy to do no such thing. In fact, we are delighted to add to it.
Feeling more responsible and mature yet?
Maybe you want to blame the creeps in Congress? That’s a popular sport these days. It’s those people, those craven politicians, they’re the ones who are pandering to our worst urges! Exactly. They know us well enough to understand that providing even a skinny reduction in taxes now, without thought for the future, is a winning strategy for popularity and reelection. Oh, do they know us.
Of course, ignoring the debt is not the end of our inspiring civic performance. There’s the little matter of climate change.
When you hear knuckle-dragging Americans groan about all the failed “Chicken Little” predictions, when you hear them scoff that only boobs and rubes would buy into all that phony “science” about the terrible cost of environmental degradation, when they brush past little items like the wholesale destruction of the earth’s coral reefs, the loss of polar ice floes, increasingly severe weather events, and the fact that a substantial number of Miami’s streets now turn into a huge kiddie pool at high tide, you know what you are actually hearing.
It’s a not-very-subtle message which, once decoded, goes like this: We don’t give a fig about what happens on earth forty years from now. Most of us will be dead by then, and the whole thing will be someone else’s problem. What we’re most concerned about is whether we can turn a buck. Right now. This, for the best possible reason: to make our bank accounts pudgier. Yeah, sure, we’ll describe ourselves as “job creators” and will collude with workers who just want another 56-inch flat-screen. We have all trained ourselves to pooh-pooh the inconvenient truth for so long that we even vaguely believe our own blustery, hollow talking points. The truth is, we just want to keep on keeping on, because change is too hard. Those who are in the wheelhouse have too much money invested in the status quo to worry about details like kids and grand kids. Let them sort it out when the time comes—Mad Max-style, if they have to.
Well, I’m inspired. How about you?
Just look how dramatically life on earth has evolved. Dinosaurs needed a huge asteroid to finish them off, and yet just 65 million short years later, we have worked our way up and out of the primordial clam chowder, learned to walk upright, chalked up those sweet opposable thumbs, and figured out how to cause our own demise with no help from any outside agency. And—extra credit!—we will do it even after having warned ourselves in advance. This kind of genius only comes along once in …well…once.
This entire performance might seem just a tiny bit grasping, mean, and short-sighted, but still our motives are pure: you can’t knock all the cool features on that new iPhone, and the MGM Grand always has amazing shows.