"What the Hell's Going On?" It's a simple yet completely fair question given all that's happened over the last nine years. But still, there is almost no unified consensus to this question in the U.S. Try asking friends and family. Feel free to present it as a party game.
They'll probably respond with something like, "What's going on with what? Heidi and Spencer? American Idol? LeBron?" This will take you to phase two of the question "With the whole country." At this point answers like "Everyone's corrupt" or "Stupid republicans" or "Damn liberals" will kick in. Give them three points and another roll of the dice or push of the pop-a-matic for this answer. Too often we don't give enough credit to these answers in that at least they acknowledge something is wrong. They are broad and sometimes pointed at the wrong target but the level of anger and sense of things being broken is dead on. At least these people aren't on the Clueless Square right before "Go," "Baltic Avenue" and "America is Number One!"
A more dispiriting and just as common answer is the faux big-picture amateur historian perspective of "things go in cycles" or "things were worse a hundred years ago." Both points are true but ultimately play up a powerlessness which is great news for those in power who are in fact F'n things up. I would also argue that the engine of "cycles" as it pertains to law, government, economics and war is human action and choice. We don't give the guys who manage our baseball teams the "cycles" out so why do we give it to our representatives and money managers. One point and loss of turn.
"They're all a bunch of crooks" is another common answer. And it's just as powerless as the "things go in cycles" response. It usually leads to not voting and not looking for reliable sources of information and news because after all, "they're all a bunch of crooks." How come when we are robbed by an actual bunch of crooks at gun point we don't say, "What are you gonna do? They'll all a bunch of crooks." No, we call the police and demand swift action, and then we call A and E and shoot a true crime show.
This excuse is also music to the ears of the ineffective and privileged, who by all rights should have a mob outside their house or at least be hissed at every time they go out to dinner. (By the way, what happened to hissing? I haven't seen it since the end of Dangerous Liaisons. It works, and people like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and John Yoo should get a wave of it every time they enter a restaurant. That's borderline civic duty type of stuff.)
As tricky as it seems, the answer to "What's going on?" is, I would argue, actually pretty simple. And here it is:
Since FDR's New Deal, corporations and wealthy families have been non-stop finding new ways to get tax breaks, deregulation and entitlements from the government. The crush of lobbyists on Washington and purchase of the media by corporations has created a big business-run government and a worthless press leaving Americans screwed and ill-informed. The end.
Now granted, this very simple explanation of "What's Going on?" has to be adapted and modified to fit different situations. But it's pretty easy. Dick Cheney and Bush's rise to power were built on tons of money from corporations and a dulled press. The almost weekly murder suicides where someone shoots a lot of people and then kills himself are based on the NRA lobby halting even the most basic gun control. Our invasion of Iraq was tied to big energy companies and corporations that would profit from defense contracts. The lack of health care and no caps for credit card interest rates come directly from the fact that 75% of Congress is bought and paid for. Etc., etc.
Even the courting of the religious right fits this model. The corporate right fires up the religious right against gay marriage and abortion and uses their votes to push their deregulation and tax cuts for the rich. It's an old trick. The House of Saud has the same arrangement with the Mullahs in Saudi Arabia. The House of Saud gets rich, parties, and leaves the majority of the country broke and without basic resources and the Mullahs tell the people to be mad about women showing their ankles.
This is basic stuff. Ask any foreigner what's up with the U.S. and they will answer quickly and with no thrill of getting an answer right: "They got corrupt with all the corporations."
Yet turn on Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, any TV news and they act as though the whole economy falling apart is a giant mystery. God forbid they talk about regulations. God forbid they mention that the first case of Swine flu happened near a factory farm. And can you imagine seeing a piece about why corporations have the same rights as a human being? And we will never see any in-depth coverage on bias in the corporate media.
Instead they sell and push the agenda their corporate bosses want: fear, isolation, confusion, sex but scary sex, helplessness. And the ratings drop and the newspapers stop selling and music stops selling and the cars stop selling and everyone keeps wondering how this can all happen.