POSTED: 20 September 2005 - 9:30pm HST

Take a good look at America today...

an abandoned limousine in Long Beach, Mississippi, after Hurricane Katrina on 9/11/2005

We're about to become another country
by James Kunstler 19 September 2005 on

Take a good look at America around you now, because when we emerge from the winter of 2005 - 2006, we're going to be another country. The reality-oblivious nation of mall hounds, bargain shoppers, happy motorists, Nascar fans, Red State war hawks, and born-again Krispy Kremers is headed into a werewolf-like transformation that will reveal to all the tragic monster we have become.

What we will leave behind is the certainty that we have made the right choices. Was it a good thing to buy a 3,600 square foot house 32 miles outside Minneapolis with an interest-only adjustable rate mortgage -- with natural gas for home heating running at $12 a unit and gasoline over $3 a gallon? Was it the right choice to run three credit cards up to their $5000 limit? Was I chump to think my pension from Acme Airlines would really be there for me? Do I really owe the Middletown Hospital $17,678 for a gall bladder operation that took forty-five minutes? And why did they charge me $238 for a plastic catheter?

All kinds of assumptions about the okay-ness of our recent collective behavior are headed out the window. This naturally beats a straight path to politics, since that is the theater in which our collective choices are dramatized.  It really won't take another jolting event like a major hurricane or a terror incident or an H4N5 flu outbreak to take things over the edge -- though it is very likely that something else will happen. George W. Bush, and the party he represents, are headed into full Hooverization mode. After Katrina, nobody will take claims of governmental competence seriously.

The new assumption will be that when shit happens you are on your own.  In this remarkable three weeks since New Orleans was shredded, no Democrat has stepped into the vacuum of leadership, either, with a different vision of what we might do now, and who we might become. This is the kind of medium that political maniacs spawn in. Something is out there right now, feeding on the astonishment and grievance of a whipsawed middle class, and it will have a lot more nourishment in the months ahead.

There are two things that the newspapers and TV Cable News outfits are not covering very well. One is that the Port of New Orleans is not functioning, with poor prospects for a quick recovery, and with it will go much of the Midwestern grain harvest. Another thing that has fallen off the radar screen is the damage done to the oil and gas infrastructure around the Gulf Coast, especially the onshore facilities for storing and transporting stuff, and for marshaling the crews and equipment to fix stuff. The US is going to run short of its customary supplies for a long time. The idea that these things will not affect an economy of ceaseless mobility is not realistic.

These serious problems on-the-ground are going to affect the more ephemeral elements floating around in the financial ether: the value of the dollar, the hazard in hedge funds, the credibility of institutions. By October, the hurricane season will be ending and the stock market crash season will be underway. It is hard to imagine that companies like WalMart really believe they will keep their profits up when their customers are paying twice as much as they did a year ago to heat their houses and fill their gas tanks.

Meanwhile, does anybody remember a place called Iraq? A bomb that killed thirty people was reported on page 12 of the Sunday New York Times . That's how important Iraq has become. But, I guess, a nation can hardly pay attention to a bullet in the foot when it has a sucking chest wound.


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