Why Is America Committing Suicide?

America is committing suicide. That’s the only explanation I have for the course followed by US policymakers in the past decade, a period in which the US budget deficit has skyrocketed beyond all reason. While we have run up deficits before, some of them considerable by the standards of the day, in 2001 – the year we launched our endlesswar on terrorism” – the deficit began to enter new territory. Whereas before it had fluctuated, going up, down, and effectively maintaining a steady state of neutral, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks this country went into debt bigtime, with the deficit climbing steadily, doubling in 2007, and nearly doubling again the next fiscal year. 

In the name of fiscal “austerity,” Congress recently authorized yet another raising of the debt ceiling, and everyone sits around waiting for the “draconian” cuts to fall – a “cut,” that is, in the rate at which government spending is projected to grow. Only in Washington, D.C., is a “cut” actually an increase – just not as much of an increase as was anticipated. As Ron Paul pointed out, if Congress had simply frozen spending at 2004 levels, we’d have more of a “cut” than we do now. 

No one is surprised by this Washington doubletalk: that’s the language they speak in the Imperial City, where murdering civilians is “collateral damage” and taxation is “revenue enhancement” instead of good old-fashioned theft. It’s silly season on Capitol Hill: so what else is new? Yet I sense a more sinister pattern in this Kabuki theater known as the debt ceiling drama, the implications of which are darker than I care to contemplate — but then again, that’s my job … 

While governments can only finance their completely non-productive (in reality: counter-productive) activities by incurring debt, it’s rare in human history to find profligacy comparable to our own. One has to go all the way back to ancient Rome, under the heel of its more depraved emperors, to find a precedent. The numbers are not merely astonishing: they are inconceivable. The figure — $14.3 trillion – must forever remain in the world of abstractions, because any attempt by the human brain to concretize it fails. How do our lawmakers imagine we can continue to spend at these levels, living light years beyond our means? 

Their recklessness is epitomized by how the military budget came out in all the deficit dickering. As it stands, real defense cuts only kick in if the “super-Congress” fails to come to an agreement on what cuts to make. Then and only then will the misnamed “defense” department come in for something approximating its fair share of cuts. Put another way: only in the most extreme and politically next-to-impossible case will Congress even consider cutting back on its overseas empire. They’ll yank your grandmother off her dialysis machine before they’ll contemplate getting rid of “foreign aid.”  

We ordinary folk live in a completely different world than the movers and shakers of the Imperial City: no one outside the Beltway bubble can really understand the mental processes that allow for such a massive evasion of reality, a kind of collective madness that infects the ruling elite in this country, regardless of party. They talk down to the hoi polloi, and use a different language when they converse among themselves, but occasionally the truth comes out. In 2004, Ron Suskind wrote a piece for the New York Times Magazine which included this quote from an unnamed top White House aide: 

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ … ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’” 

While the context was a discussion of the Iraq war, this mindset – which is dominant in the Washington of Barack Obama just as it was during the Bush era – pervades our ruling elite in all matters. Why shouldn’t they run up a $14.3 trillion debt  — after all, don’t they create their own reality? Armed  with such supernatural powers, we aren’t going to let a little thing like impending bankruptcy stand in our way – not when we can wish it out of existence. 

Except we can’t. World markets trembled this week, and all indications are that the Big One is just now visible over the horizon. Americans are waking from their decade-long dream – or is that nightmare? – to discover that the world as they used to know it is falling apart, and a new world – a poorer, more restrictive, grayer world — is dawning. Yet our “leaders” in Washington are oblivious to the crisis, as much as they posture and pose: they are, personally, practically invulnerable to the effects of the economic collapse – at least, so far – and so don’t take it seriously. Encased in their self-created bubble, and imbued with the radical subjectivism that has taken hold everywhere but in the sorely beleaguered reality-based community, our rulers pursue policies that are suicidal in their effect, if not their intent.  And I am beginning to wonder if that isn’t their intent, at least on some level…. 

I put this out there as a proposition, a speculation, based solely on evidence of the circumstantial sort. When someone habitually engages in suicidal behavior, repeating the same pattern in spite of recognizing, on some level, that their actions are self-destructive, one has to wonder if they harbor a death wish. Which raises the question: So why is the American ruling class intent on committing suicide? 

There is a theory of history, which I don’t agree with, that treats civilizations as organic entities which go through a process of maturation, progressing from youth to senility in stages roughly comparable to the life process of a human being. Could the Spenglerians be right? Is American civilization entering a new phase — one of terminal decadence? This isn’t the first time I’ve thought of these lines from Robinson Jeffers’ poem, “Shine, Perishing Republic”:

“While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening
to empire

And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the
          mass hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots
          to make earth.

Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence;
          and home to the mother.

You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly
          long or suddenly

A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains:
          shine, perishing republic.”

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].