Some love is just a lie of the mind
It’s make believe until it’s only a matter of time
And some might have learned to adjust
But then it never was a matter of trust
I’m sure you’re aware love
We’ve both had our share of
Believing too long
When the whole situation was wrong
Some love is just a lie of the soul
A constant battle for the ultimate state of control
After you’ve heard lie upon lie
There can hardly be a question of why
– Billy Joel, “A Matter of Trust,” released on July 9, 1986, as the second single from his album The Bridge
These powerful lyrics have always resonated with me, but until recently, I’ve never thought of them in a worldly context. But a commentary by novelist, playwright, and foreign policy expert John Feffer this week rocked me back a bit. In broad terms, Feffer outlines how the response to the pandemic on behalf of U.S. national leaders has eroded citizens’ trust in their government even further than it had been. He goes on to extrapolate that wariness to the global view of this country, citing a 50% drop in world trust in the United States since 2016, according to US News and World Report.
The description in the above lyrics of our state of affairs really hits home these days. We as a people are fed constant lies, no matter who’s running the country, indeed for the purpose of ultimately controlling the populace. Government controls via lies and withholding information, whether out of a misguided sense of “our own good,” or out of sheer greed for power. But we carry on, and as in the case of the current Oval Office resident, we’ve adjusted to a daily condition of outrage. With the last incumbent, much of the country did, “believ[e] too long, when the whole situation was wrong.” We were told that we could count on positive change, and what we got was a reneging on the promise of single-payer healthcare, the failure to bring our troops home from the Middle East and Afghanistan (or anywhere else), and the vast escalation of drone warfare, among many other disappointments. Democrats have been just as complicit in these travesties as Republicans; they’re simply not as public about their actions. Mitch McConnell has for at least a decade been the face of evil, never more so than now, as he quite openly blocks significant aid to the most needy during this pandemic while planning to cede even more advantages to the uber-wealthy and large corporations, along with a hefty $30bn hand-out to the military (see HEALS proposal). But in the House, the Dems just voted with their Republican colleagues to push along the beyond-massive 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, so it’s a goose-and-gander situation.
No government is ideal. However, given the continuous boasts of American exceptionalism, the equally relentless vitriol in our two political parties must look peculiar to outside observers. If the U.S. has the best system on the planet, how is it that the country is so polarized? And how does it happen that, for instance, the response to the pandemic has been abysmally inadequate, spiraling to blatantly incompetent?
A common response is that the current Occupant isn’t a force unto himself; rather, he’s merely a front for his enablers to carry out their nefarious plans of shrinking the government, rewarding the wealthy, and casting the majority of the people into modernized serfdom.
I believe it’s both broader and more complicated than that. More long-standing, too: I’d submit that the problems confronting us go back at least to Ronald Reagan, and there’s a case to be made for much earlier origins. Without going well beyond the scope of a blog post or teasing out causes, I would just cite a few major examples.
Reagan did bring down the Berlin Wall, or so he is credited. But he was the one who had ratcheted up the Cold War to previously unseen heights in a bid to totally outspend the USSR (where he succeeded, thus setting the stage for an obscene level of U.S. military spending in perpetuity). His notorious boondoggle, the Star Wars initiative, immediately comes to mind.
George H.W. Bush: Iran-Contra. Not technically during his tenure at the White House, but enough said. Then there was Operation Desert Storm.
Bill Clinton, outwardly affable and socially adept, but as slippery as they come. His most egregious transgressions, in my opinion, were the passage of NAFTA and the repeal of Glass Steagall.
George W. Bush, possibly the worst President until 2017. There are so many choices for his worst acts, it’s difficult to choose among them, but the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan based on falsified evidence rank at the top. Not to mention his condoning of torture and ignoring warnings about the 9/11 attacks.
Again, Mr. Obama has yet to acknowledge his betrayals regarding single-payer and endless wars.
And so we arrive at the present, with the country in the midst of multiple crises it has never historically endured simultaneously. With a person in charge who is mostly likely clinically mentally ill, but certainly is narcissistic, a misogynist, a racist, and an all-around despicable specimen. Since 1981, four Republicans and three Democrats, none of them with clean hands.
The U.S.’ trust rating may have gone down 50% in the world’s eyes, but that’s only since 2016. How much had trust eroded in the 25 years before that? No one who has led our country recently has had the world’s benefit at heart. And really, not even the country’s benefit. The deviousness, the contradictory actions, the sheer stupidity we’ve seen belie any claims to leadership integrity. The fact that the American people keep “adjusting” and “believing” is proof positive that the nation can’t be trusted. I’m reminded of a mocked-up Time cover from the week after the 2004 [stolen] re-election. I can’t find a picture of it, but it was all black, with a title to the effect of, “You fucking did it TWICE? – the World.” Can’t help but think that sentiment was spot on, and has only grown more intense in the last 16 years.