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James Howard Kunstler, "The Creeping Nausea of American Exceptionalism"

The Creeping Nausea of American Exceptionalism
James Howard Kunstler

History, that coy dominatrix, loves to trick the credulous human race.
In a moment when something we call "democracy" seems to be spreading
through the dodgy precincts of the world like a contagion of virtue,
the trend is actually going the other way in countries that have
practiced it for a while.

That is certainly the case in Europe, especially Greece right now,
where the mobs in Syntagma Square denounce their waffling parliament
for agreeing to a bailout deal that will make Greece a step-child of
Germany. The German voters are none too pleased with this, either,
since their country is now on the hook to pay Greece's bills. Ireland,
Portugal, and Belgium are standing by for adoption next in Europe's
Home for Wayward Children. Spain and Italy may need to become wards of
the Euro-state, too, but they are more like adults with drinking
problems who are liable to wreck the whole household if invited in.

Anyway, the Greeks rallying in Athens' central square lately are sick
of politicians and parliaments, and there is a no small danger that
they will soon rise up and dispense with theirs in the dumpster behind
the Parthenon. A man in a uniform has a certain appeal in a situation
like this. He is comfortable issuing orders in unfavorable situations,
in fact, rather thrives on it. The Germans know all about this. Their
"savior" back in the 20th century was a fellow in an ersatz military
getup who virtually ran for office by denouncing "parliamentarism" and
by the time his party occupied a fair portion of the seats in theirs,
he burned the darn thing to the ground.

The Irish gaze longingly at little Iceland, out there in the North
Atlantic now free of debt obligations from the simple act of raising
the middle finger in the direction of the London banks. Ireland is sore
tempted to do likewise, and the act would have an appealing historical
symmetry to it. They may toss out their parliament to get to it.
Staying sober is another matter. In Portugal, they are too busy having
lunch, which is a very serious affair, they will assure you, and
undertaken in spirit of absolute Iberian fatalism (that beefsteak died
for you!). Oh, for the days of Salazar when lunch was decreed eighteen
hours a day! Belgium, of course, will always be hopeless - Europe's
doormat. And what can you say about a people who slather mayonnaise on
their French fries - apart from their amazing failure to discover the
miracle of ketchup, despite being overrun by American GIs sixty-odd
years ago - and speaking a language that nobody has ever written rock
and roll song in.

Europe is held together with baling twine, masking tape, and spit. It's
been a fun half-century catering to harmless clownish tourists from
Houston, with their "big boss" belt buckles and decoupaged wives. But
lately the Chinese visitors look more like bargain-hunters at the
preview of an estate auction, sizing up the merchandise, and even the
waiters in the cafes know the score. The Grand Palace of Euroland is
closing for business. Anybody who thinks that Germany is going to run
some kind of halfway house for crackhead countries "in recovery" will
be disappointed. The compressive contraction that grips the OECD like
economic Lou Gehrig disease will be with us as far ahead as anyone can
see.

For sure, there are features of European life that dispose many of its
countries to face the long emergency on much better terms than the
train wreck across the Atlantic. They know how to get by on much less
oil - though the coming energy crisis will still be hard on them. They
have excellent public transit already in place (yes, it depends on the
energy situation). Their agriculture is scaled much more intelligently.
Their cities, too, with some exceptions. But they have a long history
of brawling amongst themselves and the recent half-century of peace and
prosperity is already taking on the shimmer of a fading mirage. Europe
is burning down financially from the outside in while the monster that
was known as the global economy lies gasping on the rocky shore of
Fukushima. The Euro and the weak political union that went with it, is
toast. You can include the outsider England in all that, since their
practical circumstances are no better than Spain's or Italy's - perhaps
a little worse, even ... poor tattered Old Blighty!

By the way, I hope you don't think the homefolks here in the USA are
all that deliriously happy with representative government either. These
days, despite all Sarah Palin's bluster about "freedom" and "our
heritage", elected officials are held in about equal esteem to herpes
viruses. Congress and the senate are paralyzed by triviality and the
President is too busy golfing to disturb the status quo - which is the
status quo of a house on fire. We won't have to wait much longer to
find out how unexceptional America actually is.

It's a darn shame, and I mean that literally, because this is exactly
what the American public is so ashamed of, and why appeals to the
repressed sense of shame based on hyper-patriotic bluster, are so
successful. It allows folks to feel great about themselves while they
sink into the ooze. It's okay, we're special. I stopped at a
convenience store at the edge of the Adirondack Mountains on Saturday
afternoon and a more frightening gaggle of disfigured mutts I have
never seen before. Has everybody in upstate New York only just been
released from prison? The tattoo craze is especially telling. It's one
thing to get some tattoos with the idea that you are artfully
expressing something. It's another thing to deploy them around your
body parts as though you were slapping decals on a 1989 beater car.
These mutts had tattoos on their necks, their boobs, the sides of their
heads, their knuckles, their ankles. The idea, apparently, is to make
yourself appear as frightening as possible - and I can tell you it is a
very successful initiative. Can lady Gaga please write us a new
national anthem: America the horror movie.