Trout Fisting In America #55 – The Death of America

When I was growing up people started worrying if The American Dream—the idea that opportunity was available to all, that if you worked hard enough you could get ahead, etc.—still existed. The recession of the early 90’s had called the dream into question. That generation of young people, my generation of young people, looked like they would be the first generation not to do as well (‘well’ measured in terms of wealth b/c wealth is the value we value the most) as their parents’ generation. Of course for a great many Americans, that dream had never existed. Or let’s just say The American Dream has always been a hell of a lot more likely to come true if your family already had money, or if you were born white,  male, or christian.

But people have been obsessed with The American Dream (it needs to be capitalized to do justice to its hubris) for a long time. It’s the closest thing we have, as a people, to a unifying ethos. Our most representational US lit—Twain, Fitzgerald, Hawthorne, Melville, Stein, Thompson, etc.—revolves around what the dream means. And yet The American Dream has obviously been dead for several decades now and the wealthy & powerful have been shoveling dirt (more accurately, hiring someone to shovel the dirt) to make sure it never comes back to life.

I feel the need to provide evidence, as if everything leading up to this book hasn’t been evidence enough. I feel certain that no one will hear me. I am not sure, even if you heard me, that you would ever believe me.

By any metric you want to use, wealth inequality is greater than ever in the US and class mobility is basically non-existent. You have a better chance to improve your quality of live is you live in Germany, or Canada, or any of those Scandinavian countries—that’s right democratic socialism is better for The American Dream than free-market capitalism—and on some level we already know this. You’d have to be a delusional fool to think you can get anywhere in this country by working hard at your job. For anyone at the bottom of the economic ladder, 21st century US work life means incremental 10-cent-an-hour raises once a year and a never-ending string of part-time jobs. And if you’re one of the people lucky enough to get promoted—manager of your very own Dollar General!—you’ll get put on salary and forced to work so many hours that your hourly wage still won’t be much higher. And those benefits you get? Your monthly premium will eat up ⅕ of your paycheck and you’ll still be paying deductibles out the ass.

And that’s if you’re one of the successful ones. Despite all that, Americans are working harder than ever. Since the early 1970’s, productivity has increased 73.7%. The problem is our wages have essentially stagnated. All the money generated by all that hard work has gone in the pockets of the wealthy. It has stayed in the pockets of the wealthy. And they’re looking to keep even more of it.

So fuck that noise about The American Dream and does it still exist. The question itself feels offensive. The real question worth asking is if America itself is dead. We’re talking America as a concept, as an image, as an ideal. This is an important question. The USA exists more as a set of symbols than it does a country. The USA is a flag; it is a series of myths. The words we think of when we try to define America—Freedom, Liberty, Justice—are so vague as to almost have no meaning at all. I have my idea of America, you have yours, somebody else has theirs, and all of these can completely different. In fact, they can completely contradict one another. In 21st century America it feels like none of us can agree on what anything means, and that’s the defining idea of America. To some people freedom means inventing a better smartphone, other times it means grabbing a gun and shooting everyone you see until you either run out of bullets or someone shoots you dead, either way I guess you could say we’re a nation of people who aren’t afraid to dream big.

 

The point being, I guess, that these ‘uniquely American’ ideas seem ridiculous today. Justice? Liberty? Opportunity? Are you fucking kidding me? The only American ideals I see today are greed & violence. You can tell a lot about a group of people by the things they hold sacred. In 21st century America there are only two things that you aren’t allowed to criticize without repercussions. One is the police, and the other is the military. And any society that worships the military & police the way we do is one that has at least nine of its ten toes firmly dipped in the swimming pool of fascism.

We’ll get back to the f-word in a minute, but we need to focus on how depraved & corrupt this country is. What other American ideals are out there? Democracy? The USA works to make it as difficult as possible for poor people to vote. 51% of US workers make under $30,000 a year, but only 17% of those workers voted in the 2016 election. This is by design. In 2017, the USA is defined by its lack of democracy, its lack of freedom, its underfunded shitty schools, its shitty healthcare, its corruption, its crumbling infrastructure.

Opportunity for all? Our government subsidizes energy companies and megacorporations. That has nothing to do with free markets and it sure as fuck has nothing to do with capitalism, let alone America. American banks are dependent on public subsidies. If they fail, the government will bail them out. That isn’t capitalism, it’s the taxpayers assuming all the risk for someone’s gambling addiction.

Freedom of Speech? Tell that to the people facing a prison sentence for merely being at a political protest where some windows got broken—as if more property doesn’t get destroyed every time a college football team wins a championship. If we aren’t free to protest, if we aren’t free to say what we believe, to speak out against what we see as injustice, then there is no freedom of speech. And if there’s no freedom of speech then America as we once imagined it no longer exists.

I mean, what kind of free society demands that its citizens worship a fucking flag?

The United Nations is aghast at the poverty in this country, to the point of calling it a human rights violation. And I quote:

“The idea of human rights is that people have basic dignity and that it’s the role of the government—yes, the government!—to ensure that no one falls below the decent level. Civilized society doesn’t say for people to go and make it on your own and if you can’t, bad luck.”

You can almost hear your fellow Americans, your congresscritters, your elected officials, your self-employed libertarian chucklefucks, your Silicon Valley innovators, scoffing at such an idea.

This isn’t a country ‘by the people, for the people.’ This country is currently run by oligarchs, for oligarchs. They run the government and dictate its policies. That recent tax cut? 75% of Americans are against it, but that doesn’t matter. There is no economic justice in America today. And an unjust economy creates an unjust society, and an unjust society creates an unjust economy. Place those two ideas in a circle, a feedback loop, a hellish escher ramp that creates a feeling of inevitability, a deliberate breeding of cynicism & hopelessness that ensures we will never escape.

That cynicism & hopelessness will have consequences, possibly too dark to imagine. The history of this country, and esp. the events in this country since 9/11 have demonstrated that a significant number of americans will happily tolerate the murder of their fellow citizens—by overzealous policemen, by drone attack—in the belief that these murders make them, as white people, as wealthy people, safer. The death & suffering of others—the non-white, the non-binary gendered, the poor—only adds to their fantasy that they are special, that America is a good place b/c America loves them. The most patriotic among us have little more than fear & contempt for most of their fellow Americans; they hate the people who live in the country they love. That is to say they worship the state.

The future of this country is far less stable than people realize.

Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, all of us are living under a system of terror. We either live under the boot of authority, or we are passionately licking & cleaning its boot with our tongue. Some of us manage to do both at the same time.

I need to be clear about something. This country feels so utterly & irredeemably fucked, but solutions do exist. It is possible to imagine a scenario where things could get better. Protests work. There is power in numbers, in union, in solidarity. If people work together, if people make sure they’re able to vote, if we make the effort as citizens to change this country, there’s a possibility things could get better. Just because a particular future feels inevitable doesn’t mean you have to willingly go along with it. The system has always been rigged against the powerless. Organizing & activism can change this country for the better. There have been enormous positive changes in this country, even in the past 50 years.

But just because something is possible, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. And while it’s possible to imagine a scenario where things get better, that doesn’t mean it will. I mean, it’s possible to imagine a scenario where the San Diego Padres win the World Series next year, or where this book sells a million copies, or where Charles Koch is visited by three ghosts this christmas eve and decides to change the error of his ways.

The sad fact is that while it’s incredibly easy to move this country further to the right, to serve the interests of the powerful, it takes years, even decades of struggle, to win small, incremental victories for the powerless. And the process of fighting for these victories is met by all kinds of violence, injustice, suffering, and murder (see US labor struggle, early 20th century; Civil Rights movement, mid-20th century).

Even if we make it through the Trump years with our systems of government intact, a template has been established: a path to implementing fascism while convincing the general population—enough of them, at least—that they are the freest people on earth.

The truth is, all of us are fucked in some form or another. The problem is that half of us don’t know that we’re fucked, and the other half don’t know why we’re fucked. We live in a stark dystopia of ignorance & suffering. Everything around us is atrophy. To be an American at the end of the 21st century’s second decade is to be a 300lb flesh sac filled w/chemicals & lard, consumed by misplaced anger.

The future is despair. Our inheritance is death. Soon this country will be a third-world backwater that starves its citizens and electrocutes its dissidents. Or should I say, it will become more so than it already is. To believe otherwise, is to be a small child telling one’s self glorious fantasy in order to calm one’s anxiety long enough to sleep. In this sense, we are a nation of dreamers furiously scratching lottery tickets we know will never pay off, just so we can indulge our fantasy, so we can allow ourselves to imagine a better future—a better reality, a better world—than this sad sick parade of lies & injustice that is 21st century american life. Deep down we are certain that change isn’t possible. And anyone who tells you any different is trying to sell you something.

For most of us our fate is endless alleys & dust and a slow death from a curable disease. The future is blood, unfathomable amounts needlessly spilled. The country, as we have known it, as we once imagined it, is dead.

 

We’ve reached the final entry in our series of Trout Fistings. Next, we’ll be compiling the 50 best into a manuscript, making (I assume) extensive edits, and then pitching it to publishers/agents in the new year. You can check out the previous installments HERE. Feel free to drop a line at scottcreney@gmail.com.

About ScottCreney

Scott Creney lives in Athens, Georgia. He is the author of "Dear Al-Qaeda: Letters to the World’s Most Notorious Terror Organiztion".
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