The persistence of American carnage
President Trump would like you to know that despite all the naysaying from outside his administration — and apparently from within it as well — he is making this country great again. He has gone so far as to suggest that the American economy, thanks to the recent decline in unemployment and the precipitous increase in the price of tech stocks, is better than it has been in decades, "booming like never before," in fact.
The president might be right about this. But if he is it tells us how little "the economy" matters when we assess the common good of a people.
It is true that there are fewer Americans looking for work and unable to find it than there have been in two decades, and that the number filing for unemployment claims is lower than it has been in half a century. I am happy to admit that lots of us are employed. But it is all too often in two or three ill-paying jobs.
Wages have been stagnant since Dark Side of the Moon was released, but the rich have never gotten richer faster. We may be only a few years away from seeing the world’s first trillionaire. Meanwhile, many of us have no job in the traditional sense but are slaves to the gig economy, driving strangers in our own vehicles for less than minimum wage. Much-vaunted new manufacturing jobs are concentrated in Southern states, where pay is low, benefits non-existent, collective bargaining virtually prohibited by law, and safety conditions appalling. Meanwhile Ford is on the cusp of laying off thousands of workers in Michigan.
This is to say nothing of a thousand other non-economic measures, some of them more tangible than others, that suggest that America is not booming like never before. Millions are poisoning themselves with drugs; more of us die of overdoses each year than were lost in the whole of the Vietnam War. Anxiety and depression are ubiquitous. Children are cutting their bodies to pieces, taking their own lives and those of their classmates and teachers. A sizable percentage of the population now believes that schools are so dangerous that teachers must arm themselves at all times and be prepared to shoot their students. The elderly are abandoned to squalor while profiteers rob their families and the public purse. We are becoming appallingly fat. Real cooking is now a luxury, even and indeed especially in those parts of the country where most of our food is grown. The cost of health care is bankrupting what is left of the middle class. Single Americans stay in bad jobs because making more money will mean that they lose subsidized access to their medications. Former students hold a trillion and a half dollars of debt. The average family cannot spare $1,000 for an emergency. In many parts of this country more black babies are being aborted than born.
From this hell Americans find solace in pornography, in video games, in the tawdry mysticism of crystal healing and "essential oils." They gorge themselves on junk food or else make an idol of exercise and fitness. They pretend that someone — loud obese racist morons who deserve to have their Medicaid taken away, snowflakes pissing themselves in avocado diapers on college campuses where they earn degrees in genderqueer Marxism — is the enemy and that the country can only be saved when this enemy is destroyed forever by someone or something else — a vague entity called "the Blue Wave," the goon living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Forgive me for suggesting that one number that a few hundred economists can make sense of means almost nothing set against all of this. The truth is that the "American carnage" decried by Trump during his inaugural address shows no sign of abating.