Warning: if you are in a good mood, skip this post, because I’m finding it very hard not to be depressed by the constant reminders of of American institutional dysfunction.

Everywhere you look, there are people who should know better engaging in self-defeating behaviors and magical thinking, fiddling while America burns. I’ve tried to examine the unease I’ve been feeling–the growing anxiety that I’ve been experiencing. Until yesterday, however, I couldn’t put my finger on it–couldn’t find an analogy that fit.

Yesterday, it came to me: we’re on the self-destruct countdown.

Those of you who are Star Trek fans will understand the reference. Spaceships in science fiction always come equipped with a self-destruct sequence, to be used as a last resort to keep the ship from falling into enemy hands. Typically, the captain and first officer will enter their codes into the computer, signaling their agreement to begin the countdown; the dramatic tension comes as the computer’s disembodied voice counts down the minutes until the ship will explode and kill all the crew and passengers.

On television, of course, the bad guys are thwarted in the nick of time, and the destruct sequence is aborted (usually with mere seconds to spare).

We’re not on television, however, and a real countdown clock is ticking. Unless we do something pretty soon to change our trajectory, we stand a good chance of destroying the America we’ve known–the America with a robust middle class, a functioning government and a belief in its ability to meet daunting challenges like those posed by climate change, technology and globalization.

Yesterday’s post was a pretty graphic demonstration of the way in which wealth is currently distributed in the U.S. There’s ample evidence that disparities of this magnitude are profoundly destabilizing–that left unaddressed, they are inconsistent with a functioning democracy. Too many lawmakers in Washington and state capitols around the country are partisan, inept, or lightly tethered to reality–and the result is government that is so broken that no one trusts it anymore.

This paralysis–this inability of American government to act on behalf of the common good–is our self-destruct countdown.

It’s maddening, because there are so many positive elements of American society. I look at my students, and I’d be proud to turn the country over to them; they are thoughtful, inclusive, determined to contribute to their communities. I look at what science and technology have accomplished, and I marvel at the human ingenuity that has made life better for millions of people. Our arts communities are vibrant. Our universities are adding to the sum of human knowledge.

The thing is, all of those social goods require a functional infrastructure: government. And ours is on self-destruct.


  1. America needs a King. The problem with being a King is, as the old saying goes, “heavy lies the crown.” Most American Kings (Lincoln, TR, FDR, JFK) have been assassinated or die in office from being overworked because they understood what their job REALLY is about. The crown, as it turns out, is less about authority and more about sacrafice. I do not know any politician in today’s political climate in Washington that is fit to wear a crown. Too many of them are self-serving rather than public serving. The solutions are easy if our leaders understood a real Christian principle that goes along with true leadership…..Sacrafice.

  2. In my opinion all members of GOP, Tea Party and NRA suffer from obsessive/compulsive disorder and truly cannot help themselves from destructive behavior. The problem is that we are forced to suffer with them. I see no possibility of change in the foreseeable future; maintaining Bush’s tax cuts to the wealthy is at the core of all of this…and of course their refusal to acknowledge and accept our biracial President has been elected to a second term. God help us in the next presidential election.

  3. All True Prof. K. The only way out that I can see would be for the SANE members of the Republican party to hold their nose and vote for Democrats for a few cycles to kill of the vermin that are infecting their party. Then they could go back to being a sane alternative. Short of that, I see no good end to this either. Since we cannot reason with these people, there must be an overwhelming movement in voters to remove them from our national conversation.

  4. A couple of thoughts.

    One, we unfortunately lack the disembodied voice counting down–the people in office don’t realize the self-destruct mechanism is counting down.

    Two, as Buddy Roemer said, Congress (or government) isn’t broken. It’s bought–and therein lies the problem!

  5. in the movie, Star Trek III, the destruct sequence was not aborted and the Enterprise was blown up. It does seem like we’re on a non-abort trajectory with no escape pods available…
    I agree with Pat McC, we need an ‘overwhelming movement in voters…’

  6. JoAnn Green:

    What are you talking about ?

    The Bush tax cuts could have been done away with at any time during the 18 month period (mid-2009 to January 2011) during which the Democrats held the presidency, the House, and had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. The Democrats could have passed any legislation they wanted during that time. They could have raised the minimum wage, ended the Middle East wars, etc. But they didn’t.

    How long do you intend to play the race card ? Is it possible for a white person to disagree with Mr Obama, simply based on policy ? I consider him a blithering fool for continuing the Middle East wars, and for claiming the right to kill anyone anywhere. Does that make me racist ?

  7. Eugene, you won’t get very far with these party loyalists. They are a part of the problem Mrs. Kennedy was talking about, but they are too afraid to face reality to see it.

    Notice how they gravitate toward attacking a certain party instead of a policy agenda. Both parties have been responsible to bringing our country to $16.6T in debt, but they only want to draw lines and point to other side.

  8. “This paralysis–this inability of American government to act on behalf of the common good–is our self-destruct countdown”

    Eugene; I copied and pasted the above comment from Sheila’s article. The Republicans took control of the house January 2010 and called a halt to ending Bush’s tax cuts – President Obama had extended them for two years, they were to end on January 1, 2013. The only time Democrats had control was the first year President Obama was in office; the November 2009 election resulted in the Republican takeover of Congress.

    How could President Obama just end Bush’s wars without damaging military strength of the United States throughout the world by appearing to be too weak to finish what Bush began. He has worked very hard, and successfully, to improve international relationships for this country. President Obama said in 2008 he would bring an end to the war in Iraq and concentrate on Afghanistan and Pakistan to find Bin Laden. he has done this and is bringing our troops home. Battle troops have long been out of Iraq. This country could not just walk out of Iraq on January 21, 2009 and leave the massive destruction and hundreds of thousands of needless deaths – including American troops – caused by Bush’s stubborn insistance that Iraq had nuclear weaponry power. It was proved – and Bush later admitted – he had received documents stating there was no evidence of that anywhere in Iraq but he chose not to believe them. With approval by Vice President Cheney the identification of CIA agent Valerie Plame was made public; putting her and her entire family in danger. Her husband was one of the primary investigators who went to Iraq and who sent the documents to Bush.

    As for the race card; not even John Boehner is going to openly admit their primary objection to President Obama is his mixed race heritage. Today I received the latest Intelligence Report from Southern Poverty Law Center; the cover letter states, “The number of armed militias and conspiracy-minded goups that hate the government soared to 1,360 in 2012 – a remarkable 813 percent increase since the election of our first African-American president.” We have no way of knowing how many of these groups throughout the country (a high number in Indiana) are known by and approved of by elected officials. Indiana has long been Klan country. The problem with voting registration is and always has been racially based. So; I guess to answer your question as to how long I will play the race card, I guess as long as President Obama is Black.

  9. What was it you used to say about your generation??? I think A LOT of fringe party loyalists would like to see the country self destruct rather than to concede that it is not 1813 or 1913, but 2013. The closer we get to destruction the more likely the youth will be to stage a revolution. On every major issue they overwhelmingly poll as progressives which leads me to believe and hope that they still have a lot to fight for whether they realize it yet or not.

  10. JoAnn, the problem with this constant politically-based defensive mentality is you’re cutting and pasting facts to make your argument, while not looking at the bigger picture.

    You can say the President “wanted” the tax cuts to go away, but he didn’t do anything about it so he HAS to own them. At some point our leadership needs to take responsibility for the problems facing our country instead of pawning them off on the future by blaming the past.

    I gave the President a pass on one major flip-flop on Defense issues, because it was very obvious he was a little green in the gills on foreign policy. I hate to use word naive, but did YOU notice how his tenor changed when he started receiving national security briefings? That’s something MSNBC never picked up on. I don’t have a problem with him adoping virtually ALL of the Bush Doctrine on national defense, but by his own logic as a Senator doesn’t that make him a “war criminal” too? Look, I’m glad Gitmo is open, we still have FISA, etc., because people who opposed those initiatives lack a basic understanding of how/why those programs operate the way they do. Of course, now that it’s a Democrat continuing them people like you are spinning instead of just admitting “your” guy is just as guilty of these “atrocities” as “their” guy.

    As far as the race thing, if we truly use the 5% general election swing that’s been floating around, the President will have won reelection with one of the strongest margins in my young lifetime during a period where the largest issue (the economy) was/is floundering. Again, not seeing proof in that pudding.

    It’s easy to say Voter ID laws are racist, because that way you don’t have to confront the myriad examples of voter supression from people who have double-voted (or more). You can also ignore the Democratic push for Voter ID in Rhode Island.

    It’s easy to call the NRA wackos, because you can ignore the President’s terminating an investigation into how we let guns walk into Mexico and then walk back and kill an American citizen. It’s also easy to cry racism when his parents get stonewalled looking for answers (which was particularly despicable, a common tactic and a primary reason I’m no longer a Democrat.) Ask yourself how and why an investigation like this would be conducted with no surveillance or follow-up? It’s easy to talk about what an erudite personality the President has, because you can ignore the former critic of executive privilege CLAIMING executive privilege.
    It’s easy to applaud the Iraq war winding down, because you can ignore the bungled lies that followed the Benghazi attack.

    It’s easy to lol@ newkular but corpseman just didn’t trend, I wonder why? It’s easy to criticize “corporate welfare,” but how do you reconcile that with the President bailing out GM and the makeup of the stimulus, giving out all these no-strings-attached loans? For that matter, how about the nomination of Jack Lew?

    It’s easy to call xenophobia when people speak about closing the border, because you ignore the proliferation of the slave trade here in the land of the free because of our broken immigration policy (actually, I’m guessing you’d say “we tried, but Republicans wouldn’t let us.”) It’s also easy to point fingers at the extremists in the Tea Party because you can ignore the fact that we elected possibly the one person in the country who’s doing more damage to my children’s future than the guy that came before him. Furthermore, it’s easy watch MSNBC talk about how “far” the right is now, because you can ignore the fact that we have had the most partisan Democratic nominee in my lifetime for the past two election cycles.

    Am I allowed to point out that because of Obamacare my wife’s employer implemented spousal exclusion and we were unable to keep our plan as promised? Can I remind you that the administration failed to meet their OWN targets on the stimulus without being called racist?

    Look, if you’re just going to recite Democrat talking points, that’s fine but don’t act like there’s a lot of streamlined thought in them. Ralph Nader modern politicos are NOT.

    I read your mean-spirited comments last week about Republican women being barefoot in the kitchen-types. I’ve found this to be a growing trend among my older family members who are very partisan. In one respect their hatred acts as a shield, protecting them from challenging their own beliefs. Conversely, it has a nice faux fur lining so they be snuggled in, and comfortable with, their blatant logical inconsistencies. I know I come across as a raging Repub, being a progressive blog and all, but my wife is ten times as conservative as I am. She also has several college degrees and wears shoes to work every day. Like me, she could give a hoot about transvaginal probes and free birth control. She doesn’t define herself as a person by how much responsibility society is willing to take for her actions. I would like to have the luxury to put some thought into how these things will impact my children’s lives but I don’t. Things like the debt, Benghazi, and the border are stuck in my craw, and quite frankly their implications, right now, are far more dangerous to MY children’s future than anything else.

  11. Wow Marco…your rant is so seeped with faux noise rage that you are correct, you do come off as a raging repub. What you don’t see and will never see is that this world is much larger than your bubble. You need to leave the country for a few weeks or months to see that humans all over the world just want to live, work, eat and have a roof over their heads and replicate that to their children. What you partisan hacks don’t admit is that your world view is dangerous, self centered and pious. Good luck with that.

  12. Joann – the SPLC is a pack of Marxist whiners, who see the Klan beyond every white face.

    During the 18 month period I mentioned, the Democrats could have fixed everything the left whines about now. They could have ended the US’s bullsh*t approach to Mexican immigration, but they didn’t. They had the votes, and did nothing. There’s your party, there’s your President – they did nothing. So who’s racist ?

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