Cruelty is in -- the new American nightmare

What Has Happened To This Country?

by digby

I don't mean that rhetorically. I'm genuinely curious to know exactly when this culture took this latest turn into selfish cruelty.

Now, it's legitimate to argue that we've always been a cruel country and we have. We've always treated certain people, racial minorities and immigrants particularly, worse than others, our prison population today huge and their treatment is medieval. But I'm old and have been paying close attention for a long time and there are some disturbing social and political trends in our culture right now that are taking us waaay back to a time before most of our grandparents walked the earth.

Our history is littered with cruelty and injustice, but in my lifetime the open and widespread cultural acceptance of torture and imprisonment without trial is new. They used to have to hide these things and now we are institutionalizing them. And now this:

Though the jobs crisis shows few signs of abating and the unemployment rate continues to hover near 10 percent, Congress allowed extended unemployment benefits to expire at the beginning of June, causing so far more than 1.2 million long-term unemployed to miss checks.

During normal times, state provide 26 weeks of unemployment benefits for workers laid off through no fault of their own. Federally-funded extended benefits have given the unemployed additional weeks during eight recessions since the 1950s. If Congress fails to reauthorize the current round of extra jobless aid, it will be the first time since then that extended benefits have been allowed to expire when the national unemployment rate is above 7.2 percent.

"This is both unfair to the unemployed, who face a historically difficult situation through no fault of their own, and economically unwise as it threatens the prospect of a strong and sustainable recovery," says a new report from the National Employment Law Project and the Center for American Progress. "The consequences are obviously dire for those Americans out of work, and could be equally devastating for employed Americans who are counting on a sustained economic recovery to keep their jobs and boost their earnings."

The report shows that in previous recessions -- in 1973, for example -- extended benefits have been left in place until unemployment dropped to as low as 5 percent.

See, this is new.

And it's not just the failure to extend the unemployment benefits, it's the reasoning behind it. There is the Rand Paul/Sharron Angle "tough love" prescription, of course, which I suspect is far more common than people will admit. (I have actually heard several conversations about somebody's "lazy uncle" who refuses to take a job that he thinks is "beneath him.") And then there's the projected deficit, which throughout the Bush years of unnecessary wars, tax cuts and giveaways to their rich contributors these people said not a word, being used as an excuse to destroy the safety net. I'm hard pressed to think of a more cynical move, although the Iraq war was a helluva test run for how you can convince people not to believe their lying eyes, so perhaps this is a natural next step.

I'm guessing some of it has to do with wealth inequality and the resulting distance between the haves and have nots in everyday society. When the people who do your nails and bag your groceries and bus your table aren't fully visible in your busy world of IPods and Blackberries, perhaps you begin to think of them as pets who need training or children who require discipline. I don't know. But something has gone terribly wrong and decent people had better wake up and realize that this radical, nihilistic right wing ideology that calls itself "conservatism" is now in the process of bringing the cruelty of its racist past into the 21st century and applying it to the entire middle and working class of this country.

Oh, in case you hadn't heard the sick details, the extended benefits bill failed last night in the Senate 58-38. Snowe and Collins voted for it. Ben Nelson voted against it (along with Reid who had to for procedural reasons.) I hope he and his fellow sadists sleep well tonight.