America Is Now Utterly, Totally, Indisputably Broke

While election year scandals distract and deflect, the American Empire atrophies. If political dialogue is the top layer of the glacier, quickly melting away into irrelevance, then reality is the underwater river below, the one that is silently and invisibly growing. Ultimately — though no doubt sooner than anyone can imagine — this river will be the launch pad for the glacier to slide into the ocean and simply disappear.

All the blathering about small hands and big speaking fees is predictable and perhaps inevitable — not because of the lack of differentiation between the parties but because of irreconcilable differences between each campaign’s narratives. It should not have been thus. Republicans and Democrats are supposed to agree on a general framework of free markets and free trade; arguments are reserved for social issues like abortion and gay marriage. Hillary Clinton is playing by the rules but Sanders and Trump changed them. Us versus Them is now primarily about economics and not about culture.

Consider the preamble to Obama’s Congressionally mandated Economic Report of the President released this January:

We are in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history: 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ’90s; an unemployment rate cut in half. Manufacturing has added 900,000 jobs in the past six years, and our auto industry just had its best year of sales ever. We are less reliant on foreign oil than at any point in the previous four decades. Nearly 18 million people have gained health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, cutting the uninsured rate to a record low. And we’ve done all this while dramatically cutting our budget deficit.

Candidate Clinton’s speech at the DNC stretched out this paragraph, threw in dozens of zingers at her opponent’s character and tacked on her husband’s “I feel your pain” mantra. No mention of the fact that more debt has accumulated under the Obama administration than under all previous administrations combined. No mention of the five million or so jobs lost his first year in office, when Obama chose to stay the Bush course on TARP, going so far as to retain his people at the helm. No mention of American homeownership, aka the American Dream, slipping away for record numbers of families. No mention of the quality of jobs gained relative to those lost, or the role that toxic subprime debt has played in inflating auto sales. No mention of a recent Bankrate study that found that two-thirds of Americans say they would not be able to scrape together five hundred bucks for an emergency — which begs the question, what kind of emergency only costs five hundred bucks these days?

Trump may not be making all of these points, and his bombast may be a distraction, but he has offered up a reality check. Whether blamed on undocumented immigrants or trade deals negotiated by cock-eyed optimists (or, more cynically, opportunistic globalists) Trump’s narrative is the opposite of Obama’s: an America sliding into oblivion.

It is hard to argue, as Clinton and Obama have, that Trump is out of touch with reality when 70% of Americans at least agree that we’re headed in the wrong direction — about the same number that don’t have five hundred dollars.

So does it not seem odd that, among all of the Trump children and all of the Clinton victims, there was not one speaker who represented the heart and soul of America — the man or woman working several jobs just to fall further behind each month? The one who wakes and falls to sleep to the sound of debt collectors calling? The one who can’t even dream of the American Dream any longer?

Clinton publicly promises to fight for high-paying union jobs, while privately dreaming of a borderless economy. The man who left Atlantic City in shambles promises to make America great again from his triplex on Fifth Avenue. It’s such an odd, unseemly picture, don’t you think? One wonders if a novelist had written such a scenario, would the critics have found it at all believable or too crass and over-the-top?

But here we are chattering of rigged elections and pussy. Will anyone care about any of what we’re talking about on November 9th? Will anyone even remember?

Norman Lear famously said that his television shows were never controversial with the American people but rather with the people who think for the American people. The same can be said of the phony controversies that make the headlines at the moment.

Here, then, is a real one: Nine years ago, we Americans had $66 trillion in combined net worth, meaning the value of all of our assets minus our debts. This just happened to exactly match what is known as the fiscal gap — the sum of our collective obligations, mostly entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. Today we have a record $81 trillion net worth but that’s against $210 trillion in liabilities. Worse, the median household is getting poorer. The country is sinking and taking the middle class down with it. And it gets worse. Over the next ten years, the national debt alone will grow to $28.5 trillion and the fiscal gap will be an unfathomable $360 trillion, which is more than three times the size of the entire world’s economies combined.

Yes, there are real problems. Maybe sometime in the next two weeks, we will actually hear about real solutions. But probably not.

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