It might appear that the U-S-of-A has gone bonkers. So let me clear up any confusion that you might have: Yes, it has!
Yet, it hasn't. More on that in a moment.
First, though — whether looking at the "tea party" congress critters who've swerved our nation's political debate to the hard right, or at the peacocks of Wall Street who continue to preen and profit atop the wreckage they've made of our real economy — it's plain to see that America is suffering a pestilence of nuts and narcissists in high places. These "leaders" are hell bent to enthrone themselves and their ilk as the potentates of our economic, governmental and social systems, and they are aggressively trying to snuff out the light of egalitarianism that historically has been our society's unifying force.
Bill Moyers, America's most public-spirited journalist, summarized the state of or nation in these terms: "The delusion is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe to sit at the seat of power." Symptoms of this national insanity include these examples:
— We can't even keep the doors of our government open. In October of last year, Washington's tea party Republican faction, unable to win the budget cuts it had demanded, threw a procedural fit to get what its acolytes wanted. Their stunt literally shut down the nation's government for 16 days and bled $24 billion from the U.S. economy. They won nothing except the widespread public scorn they earned for being self-aggrandizing political fools.
— Lloyd Blankfein, bankster-in-chief of Goldman Sachs, runs a financial casino that has bilked its own customers, been so reckless that it took a $10 billion taxpayer bailout to keep it afloat and lobbied furiously to kill regulatory reforms that would've reined in its ongoing destructiveness. So has this wrongdoer faced prosecution and jail? Ha! Blankfein continues to reign, retaining his CEOship at Goldman and hauling in $23 million last year in personal pay.
— A narrow, five-man majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has decreed that corporations are "persons" with the right to spend unlimited sums of their shareholders' money to elect or defeat whomever they want — and to do so secretly. This year, in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Court also overturned the campaign finance rules limiting individual's contributions on aggregate federal campaign contributions — thus enthroning a tiny elite as America's ruling electoral power.
— Big Money's control of politics gives it control of public policy. Thus long-term joblessness and underemployment rage on unabated, middle-class income is plummeting, the majority is finding upward mobility roped off, labor unions are being systematically disempowered and our social safety net is being shredded.
— From retail workers to adjunct college professors, the new normal for workaday people is poverty-wage, part-time, temporary, no-benefit employment. At McDonald's, the world's biggest burger chain with 860,000 U.S. workers and $5.5 billion in profits, typical pay is only $8.20 an hour and "full-time" jobs amount to only 30 hours a week. McDonald's business plan: Shift the bulk of its labor costs to taxpayers and workers themselves. The top executives calculate that employees will subsidize their gross underpayment by finding second jobs, and then get health care from emergency rooms and go to welfare offices for food and other basic needs.
All this (and more) explains the popularity in America of this bumper sticker: "Where are we going? And what am I doing in this hand basket?"
Most people know that things are screwy, that this is not the America that's supposed to be. And therein lies the good news: The USA hasn't gone crazy — its leaders have, and they can be changed.
In opinion polls, tea party Republicans are becoming less popular than swine flu, while solid progressives are on the rise. Such undiluted populist voices as Elizabeth Warren's and Bernie Sanders' in the Senate, Alan Grayson's in the House and Mayor Bill de Blasio's in New York City are shifting the debate from the corporate agenda to the people's.
The anthem by rocker Patti Smith sums up where we Americans are — and where I think we're going: "People have the power — to dream, to rule, to wrestle the world from fools." Ordinary folks are awakening to the realization that the fools have seized power, and the folks are now making moves (and movements) to seize the fools by their short hairs and reclaim our dreams.
To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.