Often accurately praised as a deft and almost idealizing satire of religion, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle also can serve as a fictional examination of political science.
Central to the politics of the novel is the fabricated tension among military, government (dictatorship), and religion (Bokononism):
“But people didn’t have to pay as much attention to the awful truth. As the living legend of the cruel tyrant in the city and the gentle holy man in the jungle grew, so, too, did the happiness of the people grow. They were all employed full time as actors in a play they understood, that any human being anywhere could understand and applaud.” (pp. 174–175)
The U.S. has existed for much of its history on a similar tension between democracy and capitalism, but other tensions have been incredibly important also, many of which are as fabricated as the one in San Lorenzo: the U.S. versus [insert foreign country/enemy], capitalism versus communism (McCarthy Era, arms race with Soviet Union).
With the election of Trump, many have raised concerns about the creeping threat of fascism, and then, some have countered that with arguments that Trump is not a fascist threat.
Lost in that debate, I think, is a very real and present danger: Trump is the logical consequence of the manufactured tension between corporate America and “government” (here, well represented by Bokononism).
For much of the existence of the U.S., the ruling elites of corporate America have created a public demon, “Big Government,” and used that mischaracterization of the democratic purposes of government to meet the very narrow needs of business leaders.
While fanning the flames of the general public’s hatred of the evil Big Government, corporate America has remained mostly unscathed, and then, as a result, the rise of Trump may be about fascism, or it may not be, but it is clearly about the ultimate triumph of naked capitalism and the end of democracy, even as weak as democracy has always been.
The problem with this is that we are now fully committed to an amoral way of being as a people. The rightful tension between capitalism and democracy, what was essential to our becoming a free and equitable people, depends on the moral imperative of democracy to guide the essentially amoral mechanisms of capitalism.
Government as a moral lever has ended slavery and child labor; has expended voting and marriage to all adults; and has corrected innumerable unethical and abusive elements that were created and sustained by naked capitalism.
Left without a moral barometer, heroine sales would be shaped by market forces to respond to heroine addicts; the same if true of snuff films, and the most abusive forms of pornography.
There is no market that would not be shaped by capitalism in ways that are “right” for that amoral paradigm: heroine priced at the level the market will bear, and so on with snuff films and child pornography.
Without the collective moral imperatives of a people — government — people become mere consumers at the whim of the Invisible Hand — and some become sacrificed along the way (slaves, children, women, etc.).
And here we are: Trump is the embodiment of naked capitalism, in which no moral standards exist, just ratings — the crassest reduction of market forces.
Trump’s administration is not a reality show, but an infomercial on replay, a shitty product that depends on the force of overstated (and false) claims that simply have to convince enough people to buy in to not only survive, but thrive.
But Trump has not caused this ugly erosion of a people; he merely represents who we are.
And who we are is a culture in which millionaire pro athletes enjoy the necessary tension between labor and billionaire owners through unions while the rest of the country sits by after electing Trump who is marshaling in the very real possibility of a national right to work law — a federalization of erasing the necessary tension between labor and owners.
All decent people should fear and work against the rise of fascism, but right now, the U.S. is experiencing the real and horrible consequences of abdicating our moral and ethical boundaries to the naked capitalism that is Trump, that is us.
We have become lost in very garbled ends and have completely ignored the means.
Government is rightfully the collective will of the people, a necessary moral and ethical check to the amoral forces of the free market, in which the “free” is not about liberty but about being free of any ethical concerns.
And thus, I see no need for fascism because there is no resistance; the fall of democracy in the U.S. serves the same interests whether by fascism or the slowly creeping cancer of naked capitalism.
The fall of democracy in the U.$.A. is about a people freely admitting we have no soul, no real concern for anyone except “me.”
The branches of government be damned; we have the Home Shopping Network, the foma of a lost people drunk on crude oil.