I dropped out of mainstream American society in 1976 to join what I then considered America's military cult corps. I spent three years as an undergraduate in zoology at the University of Florida. Campus life was an exciting place. Kids were being given fascinating reading assignments, and the buzz around campus was filled with topics like Camus, Civilization and its Discontents, Equus, and Marat/Sade. When I returned in the 1980s, it was like the students and America had been lobotomized. Everyone had become blandly content and had exchanged literature for People magazine. Six years of Reaganesque feel-good had seemingly transformed the country. When kids did talk about a book, the topic would most often be one of Rand's books. Rand, a strident atheist, along with Reagan, was succeeding where turn of the Century robber barons had failed. They had made laissez-faire capitalism acceptable to the mainstream middle class which had no chance of achieving their Trumpian fantasies. I had returned to the world in the decade where it had become morally acceptable to declare "Greed is good."
In 2020, we are dealing with the consequences. The feel-good has become so ingrained that substantial numbers of Americans can deny climate change as the weather boldly proves them wrong. They ridicule but cannot reply to a small girl from Sweden as she wags her finger at us, telling us, "We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth." The environment is being trashed. The 2017 tax cut for the wealthy, rationalized by assertions that it would pay for itself, was widely supported by the Republican lower classes. This is despite similar cuts under Reagan and George W. running up historic deficits.
Similarly, Brownback's "Kansas experiment" nearly bankrupted his state. For decades, consumerist capitalism has only continued to thrive due to massive deficit spending by the world's richest governments, which are run by oligarchies of the ultra-rich. This year, we have been brought the lurid spectacle of a reality show president blithely predicting the end of a pandemic by April that is, instead, killing Americans at a rate of 3000 per day in December. And yet, 40% of us still revere him.
Thanks to Reagan's feel-good, we have run off the rails and have gone over the cliff. In the face of an oil embargo in 1974, Americans did not like being told to wear sweaters, so they voted for a B-grade actor. Thirty-five years later, to goose their self-image, they voted for a B-grade reality show host and business crook. The price now is an economy and environment in free fall.