MacIntyre: A nation of people, not ideology

The media have been covering for Joe Biden’s disastrous presidency by running comically propagandistic headlines about the success of “Bidenomics.” The average person may be struggling, but nothing can stop the American Politburo from publishing stories about new record harvests with the kind of fervor that would make a Soviet commissar blush.

While the media’s shameless partisanship for the Biden administration makes their distortions more obvious, this denial about the true quality of life in the United States is hardly new. Both parties have prioritized the victory of their ideological preferences over the well-being of the American people. Narrative victory has become far more important to our ruling class than understanding the real condition of the average citizen.

In his essay “Chartism,” Thomas Carlyle raised what he called the “Condition of England Question.” Carlyle was watching as the Industrial Revolution radically transformed the lives of the working class in Brittain. He was particularly concerned with the ruling elite’s new obsession with data collection and economic theories.

Carlyle referred to economics as the “dismal science” because it attempted to quantify everything about human experience and solve all of society’s ills through statistical analysis. The human experience is incredibly complex, nested in a thick web of traditions and folkways that are not easily displayed on a spreadsheet. Carlyle warned that this focus on impersonal and cold measurements would allow economists to lie about the true condition of the people by manipulating data. The reign of quantity, data, and experts would not free people from governance but would instead make them subordinate to inhuman forces which would act in their own interests.

The current leftist push to portray America’s tenuous economic position in a cheerful light only demonstrates the truth of Carlyle’s concern. Spending has run rampant, inflation is out of control, and the only answer that Democrats have to offer is even more government programs and outrageous deficits. As evidence, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) recently boasted how the Inflation Reduction Act allowed for the planting of nearly $75 million in trees across New York. Democrats have no interest in how inflation impacts the average American; politicians only care about how the situation can be used to further their ideological goals, and they are more than happy to manipulate data to ensure that outcome. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman went so far as to claim that if you remove housing, cars, food, and energy, it appears that inflation has been largely defeated.

Yes, as long as you remove everything humans need to live, the average American is doing just fine!

While it is easy to focus on the absurdity of the current leftist regime, Republicans are just as guilty. For decades, conservative commentators told middle Americans whose jobs were being shipped overseas that economic conditions were improving because new and better jobs would arise from the creative destruction of the free market. Young families who could not afford to purchase a home due to skyrocketing residential prices were told to get an extra job and stop eating avocado toast. Young married couples who could not afford to have children due to prohibitive health care costs were told that everything was fine because flat-screen televisions from China were very cheap.

Free trade, mass immigration, and cheap money were supposed to allow the nation to innovate its way out of any problem. The party of family values did not seem to care if family formation was increasingly out of reach as long as the GDP line went up.

The Republican Party has been a cheerleader for corporations that worked hard to destroy American culture, push a woke agenda, and make the dream of raising a family on one income impossible. The conservative establishment might talk about the importance of the church or community, but it eagerly endorses the economic forces that regularly tear apart those same communities.

In its ideological push for small government at any price, the GOP forgot what made small government possible in the first place: a robust network of families and community organizations that provide mutual aid for those in need. The drive for a Beltway libertarian version of radical individualism was painted over with a thin coat of family values to disguise its destructive nature, but it was dismantling the very structures on which those values stood.

This obsession with economic ideology did not just damage the country socially but also materially. During the pandemic, many Americans were shocked to discover that the obsession with higher profit and cheaper products had moved production of critical medical supplies such as ventilators and antibiotics entirely offshore. In a time of crisis, the United States was totally depending on very same hostile nation that had fostered that crisis for essential supplies.

Any nation that was thinking about the well-being of its people would understand that having some degree of domestic production for those items is critical, no matter what the cost. But our leaders have learned nothing from this crisis, and little effort has been made to create any emergency production capacity for these essentials.

The condition of the American people is not a cold statistic that can be derived from data. The nation is vast; it contains many different regions, cultures, and traditions that can only truly be understood by living in them. America’s gross domestic product or the price of consumer electronics does not tell the story of how people live their day-to-day lives. Man cannot live on affordable flat-screen televisions alone. The Biden administration has been shamelessly rearranging economic indicators in the hope of papering over deep societal problems, but it is far from the first. It is much easier to abstract people into easily manipulatable data points than to actually walk their communities and understand their problems.

Americans are facing a crisis of meaning. The elderly move across the country to die alone in nursing homes. Career strivers suddenly reach middle age and find they have nothing beyond a soulless corporate job to bring purpose to their lives. Young people search for real communities of belonging but find only digital simulations of what was once a central part of human life. Stock values can increase all they like, but none of these problems will ever be solved by robust economic development.

Our modern minds have been trained to trust the quantifiable. We have been trained to believe that the opinions of experts and the authority of data hold priority over all other forms of knowledge. But if we are to solve the social and spiritual problems our nation now faces, we must learn to view our countrymen as humans, not boxes on a spreadsheet. To understand the condition of America, leaders must view the United States as a people with organic needs and ways of being, not as an economic zone which can be optimized through social engineering. Until our rulers see the nation as a people, not a temporary staging area for their pet economic ideologies, they will never be able to truly address what ails the country.

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