The crash of the industrial age proceeded apace in 2015. One reason that is not well understood is that a different, parallel trend — the onset of moral bankruptcy accompanying the collapse of American Empire — also accelerated this year, often obscuring the economic news, often by design. Whether one is causing the other, or both are caused by something else, is something for the historians to sort out, if there are any historians. Right now, both are happening too fast to analyze. But let’s focus for a moment on the moral decline.
The ethical glue that once held our culture together — the unquestioned mutual commitment to freedom and decency and fair dealings — is liquefying at a terrifying rate. This is what happens at the end of empires, when the energy of their high ideals is spent, the ecstasy of their ascent is in the past, and the agony of decline causes them — their leaders and their people — to abandon everything they once believed in.
Did we once profess that the rule of law was supreme, both at home and abroad? Today we have a president, by all accounts a decent Christian man, who regularly signs lists of the names of people to be assassinated without benefit of judge or jury. Do these assassinations often involve blowing up weddings, schools and hospitals? Shrug, “Collateral damage.” Is there any connection between the regular assassination and indefinite detention of those suspected of being enemies of the state, and the regular assassination on American streets of those suspected of being enemies of society? You bet there is.
This year, 2015, has seen the appearance of another symptom of moral sickness: lying. Not that lying appeared suddenly, or without precedent, it has, alas, always been a part of our public conversation. What was different about 2015, and has the power to destroy whatever is left of American “exceptionalism,” is that this year, pathological lying metastasized throughout society, and it didn’t matter.
Once upon a time, a politician caught in a lie would apologize, often tearfully, resign from office and vanish. Today, the politician dismisses the overwhelming proof of the lie as “just what you would expect from the media,” or a “political attack,” and then tells another whopper, causing the pliant media to yell, “Squirrel!” and dash off in pursuit of the new tidbit.
Nor have the lying eyes been confined to politics. Remember the oil revolution that was going to return America to energy independence? The conference in Paris that was going to be the beginning of the end of global climate change? The War on Cops, declared in a year when fewer of them were harmed than in almost any other year, when their occupation did not even come close to making the list of ten most dangerous? The War on Coal, blaming Obama for all the economic woes being suffered by the world’s nastiest fuel?
What is really terrifying about this is not just the scale or the sheer brashness of the political-industrial lying complex, but the fact that after it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a lie is a lie, large chunks of the American people SIMPLY DON’T CARE. Don’t try to confuse me with facts, they say, I know what I know and I want what I want.
This mindset (wait, isn’t that an oxymoron in this case?) used to be shared by a few laughable lunatic fringes in our culture, who, granted, occasionally became troublesome, as in the McCarthy Era, the Japanese Internment Travesty, etc. But this year it is being represented by most of the candidates for president of the United States. And the more brazen, deranged and unapologetic their lying, the better their poll numbers.
This will be the end of us, as surely as the destruction of our topsoil or the desertification of our farmlands or the exploitation of the last of our water or the crash of our markets. Because truth exists whether we recognize it or not, just like gravity and climate change. If we neither know nor care about requiring the objective truth in the speech of our citizens and leaders, then the truth will not set us free. The truth will kill us.