Like you (presumably) I’m beyond disgusted with our mindlessly dysfunctional, money-driven politics. Just thinking about it literally makes most Americans unhappy: “People appear to dislike politics and politicians so much,” Princeton University economist Angus Deaton said of one study, “that prompting them to think about them has a very large downward effect on their assessment of their own lives.”
And I may have crossed a personal Rubicon from disgust to anger in the last month.
First, though I am one of those privileged Americans who have never gone without health insurance, a recent encounter with the system left me fuming. The United States surely has the most maddening, inefficient, creativity- and innovation-crushing system in the world. It’s as if mischievous gremlins got together and said, “Hey, let’s invent the worst health-care system imaginable!”
But at least I had a choice. The Affordable Care Act is better than what we had before, but mostly for millions of previously uninsured and “uninsurable” Americans who now have coverage. But I’m not sure it’s a great improvement for anyone else, including friends of modest means who now pay more for less.
Second, I just finished reading Matt Taibbi’s “The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap,” a deeply reported, infuriating piece of advocacy journalism that exposes just how far from justice we’ve strayed.
The book peers into the upper reaches of the system, where bank fraudsters who launder money for drug cartels and terrorists on their way to imploding the economy not only get off scot-free, but also are rewarded with billions in government bailouts that allow them to keep their obscene, unearned wealth.
At the bottom, Taibbi finds hapless, helpless people such as undocumented immigrants and minorities who are nabbed repeatedly for minor infractions — possessing a joint or just standing on a sidewalk — and welfare recipients ensnared in the pitiless web of cruel, soul-killing government bureaucracy.
In between lie the tattered remains of “justice,” where judges often are in cahoots with government prosecutors, feckless “regulators” and quota-obsessed cops, and the goal is usually to win a quick, phony plea — lie, basically — and extract fines that will fund more unnecessary arrests, and never mind the truth.
“A guy goes to jail for a joint while an HSBC (bank) executive walks for washing hundreds of millions for drug dealers,” writes Taibbi, whose stories in Rolling Stone about the financial collapse are illuminating and infuriating. “Some guy in backwoods Arkansas gets arrested for forging a check for $450 to bail his girlfriend out of jail but nobody gets arrested for systematically forging hundreds of thousands of signatures on foreclosure documents.”
Thanks to Taibbi, I no longer think America’s divide is between Republican and Democrat or rich and poor. It’s about Big vs. the rest of us. Big Bureaucracy, in government and business alike, Big Justice, Big Law Enforcement motivated more by the promise of government largesse than protecting citizens, Big Tech (hint: Facebook, Amazon and Google are not your friends), Big Security, Big Ag, Big Debt, a Big, Fat Self-perpetuating Military-Industrial Complex, and more.
“The system eats up rich people, too, because it is not concerned with protecting individuals, even the rich ones,” Taibbi writes. “This is a machine that loves and protects money but somehow hates all people.”
“The Divide” exposes the rot at the core of both major political parties, which have fallen into a poisonous, black-or-white infinity loop. I have long believed that government is the only thing standing against a GOP-style Hobbesian nightmare; I still do. But as Taibbi makes clear, Big Government now harms the most vulnerable as often as it helps.
Most Republicans now embrace such lunatic notions as “money equals speech” and corporations have the same rights as individuals, not because it serves them, but because that’s what Big GOP tells them. They march, zombie-like, to the tune of big money in politics and business alike, endlessly chanting, “government is the problem;” (yes, but only partly).
Mainstream Democrats, meanwhile, love government so long as their team is in charge, even, apparently, continual erosion of civil liberties, a president who kills American citizens with a pen stroke and the Borg-like assimilation of power — “Resistance is futile” — by ossified, self-perpetuating bureaucracies. As the occasionally lucid George Will has observed, many seem to believe that “whatever the government’s size is at any moment, it is the bare minimum necessary to forestall intolerable suffering.”
The well-intentioned ACA is the foul spawn of Big Bureaucracy, Big Pharma, Big Hospitals, Big Education, Big Tech and on and on, a lousy, inefficient system that rewards those players at the expense of everyone else, Tea Partiers and liberals alike. Courtesy of Big Politicians who must feed at the Trough of Big Bribery in their unending quest for re-election.
But I’m convinced that if average Americans could just agree to disagree on those big, unresolvable questions the Bigs love to distract us with — personal morals, religion, militarism, Facebook, celebrity superbodies — people on both right and left could join forces against Big Everything to demand change.
Maybe I’m dreaming. But Taibbi has shown us the enemy, and it’s not us. It’s Big.
First published in the Daily Camera on July 20, 2014