Surely I'm not the only one who feels as if we're in a spooky interlude, an intermission between bad and, perhaps not worse, but much of the same bad for a very long time. Or, something... A zone of circumstance lying somewhere between an asteroid strike and the widespread sense of peace and prosperity, however misplaced, of the 1990s.
Consider that wealthy Republican Willard Milton "Mitt" Romney stands a very good chance of becoming president. Despite all the damage that should have been done by the ongoing revelations of his destructive work at Bain Capital, duplicity about his tenure at same, and refusal to release his tax returns — a potential chief executive with accounts in the Caymans and a Swiss bank account — despite all this, he barely trails in the popular vote and cannot be counted out in the Electoral College. How can this be? Is it simply because Obama has lost so much of the white vote? That the right has so rewritten the narrative of the past 12 years that millions don't actually know what the hell happened?
If you thought they were The Party That Wrecked America the first time around, just wait for the first Citizens United presidential election.
Consider that the nation has become a big Interstate that suddenly divided into three lanes. Some are doing as well or better than ever after the official end of the Great Recession. I look around me in Seattle and see plenty of them. But over on a different ramp are millions more just holding on; these are the people who have barely seen a real gain in wages for years and experienced a 40-percent drop in their wealth with the crash. Still, they're employed. Maybe they inherited some wealth from their parents.
On a third ramp, really a separate lane running beneath the "haves" freeway, are the unemployed, the working poor, the desperate. The feds have been fudging unemployment stats since at least 1994 to understate joblessness. Even so, we've gone above 8 percent in the official rate since February 2009, a sustained level not seen since the Depression. But here's the kicker: The wider, more accurate rate of un- and underemployment is 22.9 percent in June. This is an astounding national wound from which millions will never recover.
Maybe that alone explains why a fearful, hurting people are willing to toss the (black) man out of the White House and take another roll of the dice. But Romney? Really? And in train an ultra-reactionary Republican Party aching to put into law and national policy ideas for which there is no real-life precedent...
Israel was supposed to have attacked Iran by now, but it hasn't. North Korea is always a favorite black swan, but Marshal Kim Jong-un may have a taste for miniskirts, never a bad thing (Hitler was a prude) — or is this misinformation in the manner of Yuri Andropov being a secret liberal because he allegedly liked jazz? In any event, peace has held. For now.
The eurozone hasn't broken up yet, despite predictions of only days left by very smart economists. The (second) Iron Chancellor has gotten very good at kicking the can down the autobahn whomever her French partner is. But it can't last forever and there's no easy way out. Austerity certainly won't do it. China is slowing down and one always wonders if the nation is really due to rule the planet (Napoleon: "Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.") or break up in a messy implosion. For now, the once-a-decade leadership change, amid the Bo Xilai scandal, is enough uncertainty. One always wonders, who controls the People's Liberation Army Inc.? Between that, Chinese nationalism, extravagant claims over international waters and the determination of some powerful Americans to make China the new enemy...may you live in interesting times.
Oil and gas lies under those waters, hence the tension between China on one side, and Japan, Korea, the Philippines and (speak, ironic muse) our new ally, Vietnam. A great effort, backed by copious pseudo-research and the mainstream media, is being made to assure the American people believe that a second golden age of cheap oil is upon us. New Spindletops everywhere! I get the grifter's impulse intersecting with the popular desire to believe anything, no matter how wrong, as long as it means we can keep our old living arrangements. A smidgen of critical thought shows this is a sham.
So much is ticking: The reality of our energy future, the still-dangerous financial system, the pressure on the middle class, the madness of the GOP, Iran, North Korea, the looming failures in Afghanistan and Iraq. And what comes next. Still, life goes on. It is, to be sure, mighty hot this summer. But the weather's always changing, right?
I was talking to Richard Florida about our situation. He calls it an "interregnum" where the old order has irretrievably collapsed — no matter how much we try to recover it — and a new order has been put in place. It can take decades, he said. All true. But at the moment, things are too quiet, almost Gary Condit quiet.