The Coming Malaise

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Remember President Carter's 1979 Malaise Speech? Americans were losing faith in the country's future, he said. They were closing the door on America's past. President Carter wanted to turn things around. He warned that rising materialism would not "fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose." He said it was a crisis of American spirit. In response to this crisis, Carter wanted the authority to ration gasoline, form an "energy mobilization board," create a bureaucracy to guarantee that we would "never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977," set oil import quotas and develop solar power. "These efforts will cost money," Carter explained, "a lot of money...."

The country rejected President Carter's call, and subsequently enjoyed three decades of prosperity. Carter's policy was rejected because the American people didn't want a lower standard of living. They didn't want to forfeit their economic freedom. The American people cling to material happiness with a ferocious animal cunning. They do not believe in giving up, or giving over to obstacles. They want a good life. Their materialism is fundamental, and so is their comfort. They will reject any politician who tells them bad news. They will reject any policy based on pessimism. This is the lesson of the 1970s, taught by the great teacher of the 1980s - Ronald Reagan.

What we are seeing today is reminiscent of the 1970s. First, there is dollar inflation, understated by government statistics. Then there is the stagnation in the U.S. economy. An old depressing pattern has appeared again. We see an American president discredited and the presidency weakened; an unpopular overseas military commitment; rising oil prices; increasing government regulation and higher taxes. We know what happened at the end of the 1970s. American weakness and malaise led to aggressive Communist moves in Africa, Latin America and Asia (Angola, Nicaragua and Afghanistan). Then came the humiliation of the Iran Hostage Crisis.

The trauma of the 1970s ended with the appearance of Ronald Reagan in the White House. Weathering a severe recession with steady optimism, Reagan shepherded the United States toward a period of sustained prosperity and apparent victory in the Cold War. As we look ahead to next year's presidential race, however, we don't see anyone resembling Ronald Reagan. The likely winner will be a Democrat and the Democrat philosophy isn't the philosophy of Reagan. The Republican Party has been wounded by President Bush's failed Iraq adventure. In recent days the polls show the three leading Democratic candidates beating the top Republican candidates. Furthermore, an economic downturn is expected by the end of the year and the party in the White House generally gets the blame. So instead of getting a Ronald Reagan, the country would be getting something else - though nobody is sure what that would mean.

The Republican candidates haven't found their footing. They haven't found the right things to say. Attempting to mimic Reagan won't work, because the public mood has shifted and the Democratic candidates can also mimic Reagan. Underneath the surface, the country has been changing. It is more self-absorbed and more cynical. It seems that community interest has been gradually surrendering to fanatical interest groups and their politically neurotic adherents. The United States is no longer a healthy republic.

Perhaps I am alone in thinking that a monster has been growing inside America. It is the monster of political passion, misguided ideology and moral confusion. It is a monster born of a consumption culture whose intellectual and moral standards have been falling. There is every reason to believe that the political criminals of the future will pose as do-gooders. Their urge, however, will be to reduce the people to subjection while pillaging the economy. The clever demagogue knows how to divide and conquer. He creates and exploits the dividing line between rich and poor, black and white, immigrant and native. Listen carefully. Notice whether a presidential candidate appeals to goodness and justice or resentment and envy.

It is not a good thing when resentment and envy gain the upper hand in political discourse. Those who seek prosperity at other's expense easily imagine that wealth is a matter of theft. Through the repetition of this theme, people may gradual come to accept an evil idea. If this idea hardens into a universal belief, the political arena can degenerate into gangsterism. The political cynicism of our time, in which all political leaders are rated as criminals, logically leads to the assumption that crime pays. Once this generalization gains common acceptance, everything is transformed and the United States becomes an Asiatic country.

I will end with a quote from Gustav Le Bon: "Our epoch ... can be understood only by grasping the role played by the mysticism of the people and their leaders." He further stated: "One cannot govern a people with true ideas but only with beliefs accepted as truths."

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About JR Nyquist