Monday, April 19, 2010

Hoping for a slow news day

It's April 19th, and in the latest of a string of Tea Party-style demonstrations, today will feature an "armed march" on Washington D.C., in which gun fanatics—I'm sorry, Second Amendment advocates—will march on the Capitol with firearms proudly displayed in a symbolic gesture asserting their constitutional right to bear arms.

I wrote a much lengthier post on this subject, and on the paranoia infecting anti-government groups and their media cheerleaders on Saturday afternoon while invigilating an exam. I'm shelving that one for now, as it was turning into a much broader commentary on the paranoid style. I'll satisfy myself today with just observing that the criticism of the broader Tea Party movement as irrational, paranoid, hysterical, and racist has been broadly accused of cherry-picking the fringe elements and tarring the entire movement with that brush.

I have no doubt that, to a certain extent, this charge is true. I also have no doubt that a great many people flocking to the many, many various protests over the last few weeks and months are genuinely angry, and concerned over government spending. There are many points of valid argument to have here.

But when a protest involving weapons is scheduled on the anniversary of Timothy McVeigh blowing up the Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City? At that point it becomes difficult not to do a whole bunch of tarring with a rather big brush.

A few interesting articles:

I hope everyone joins me in wishing our American brethren a monumentally uneventful April 19th.

1 comment:

Fred said...

Not being American, I find I have no real insight into the cultural divisiveness generated by the current situation and the formation of the Tea Party Protests. But at its heart, one of the issues is the extension of government expenditure. This raises for me a question concerning the relationship between government expenditure and community.

Is community only possible in this day and age through government expenditure? Now, I suppose we all have in the backs of our minds some Rockewellian image of community that is self-sustaining (in a dystopain fashion, so do most survivalists)and well ordered. Ideologically, community implies order, security, interaction and freedom within its boundaries--community is where we daily enact our relations with others we share identifying characteristics. The construction of areas for gathering and interacting is the basis of community--Portland (Oregon) is a good example of urban community on a large scale.

Historically, governments from Herod the Great to (pick any) government leader, have spent taxes on public projects designed to foster or improve the experience of community. Usually, these are large scale building projects, centred within cities, and focused on infra-structure, such as buildings, roads, bridges--Herod's great acheivement was the Second Temple, proof that infrastructure can also have deep cultural and religious import to its citizens for many generations. But while this may promote the growth of the city, does it truly promote community? And can community successfully exist without the redistribution of tax dollars from one region to another? Do we tax the countryside to uphold the residents of a city?

Why is this question important? In the course of this year, the U.S. debt will exceed their GDP (already it is bumping at 100%). Now some countries, like Japan have debt well in excess of annual GDP and seem to be functioning quite nicely. But no one knows how a shift in U.S. debt to levels above annual GDP, and continued growth in future debt due to entitlement spending will affect the long term stability of the U.S.. Short term rises in interest rates to attract foreign holders of U.S. bonds will occur, causing a shortage of available money for U.S. investment (governments will find themselves short of funds for community spending, as above). Equally, disparities in wealth between regions in the U.S. will emerge in starker contrast, and a severe crisis in debt management (say with another financial crisis as we experienced recently) may show cracks in the stability of the U.S..

National failures to pay on debt obligations is nothing new. Spain went through a serious period in the 1500, and in the nineteenth century nationally defaulted seven times. We know the stories of Latin America, but also India defaulted in the 60s, and Africa is defaulting frequently. Can or might the U.S. be a future national defaulter? At present, no. But that doesn't mean at present the level of debt will not impact government's ability to fund community projects, and if community is based on funding, what does that mean for the well being of community. Is the condition of community in New Orleans an early warning of the failure to fund?

The Tea Partiers have a large agenda, and whether or not they are offering soultions is debatable. But some of their fears taps into a general public fear of the prospect of tomorrow not being as economically good as it was yesterday. Right now Tea Partiers still believe that the future is in their control, but what happens when American sentiments shift to a less optimistic view? What happens when foreigners' views of America shifts to a less optimistic view? Are the great building projects of Rossevelt and Eisenhower over? And if so is community?

Finally, we must ask, if community fails, what happens to national identity? What happens when attempts to preseve community trumps national identity? Are the Tea Partiers already making that shift, expressing as national agendas, local or regional interests?