Back when students were taught American history, they learned about the isolationism into which the nation retreated after World War I. It did not turn out to be splendid. Nobody would accuse us of that now: We're fighting undeclared wars on three continents, maintaining hundreds of military bases in scores of nations, policing the global commons of trade and oil transit with the U.S. Navy, going to great and disadvantageous lengths to manage China's peaceful rise to global power, trying to keep Israel, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan from starting World War III and carrying all the burdens of soft empire.
Yet we have entered an isolationism every bit as dangerous as its predecessor in the 1920s and 1930s. It is an isolationism of the national mind.
How else can one fully explain the vanishing act of climate change from the national discourse? No other event, not even the latest marital/divorce saga of the newest invented celebrity, will more adversely affect life on this planet short of a major nuclear exchange. But the growing costs and enormous future consequences of climate change are absent from our policies and politics. Meanwhile, one of our two major political parties, the Republicans, has been captured by extremism and madness. But the major media, where most Americans get their "news," won't truthfully discuss it. What happens to such a nation?
This was seen in the successful revisionism by the right of the causes of the Great Recession and our ongoing economic troubles. No, no, it wasn't deregulation, wild speculation on Wall Street, irresponsible behavior by the banks and money-captured regulators and politicians. It was minorities and poor people getting mortgages from Frannie and Freddie. The stimulus wasn't too small or improperly deployed. It was a further manifestation of the socialism of that (black) man in the White House. Regulation is killing "the job creators." Debt is the nation's biggest problem. None of these things is true, but they are widely believed by enough people to make the difference in elections. They also believe evolution is a myth and we can hasten Jesus' return by nuking Iran.
A mad rush is on to frack, baby, frack, for natural gas and heavy shale oil. This made fuel products one of our biggest exports last year. A reality-based people might look at this with horror. First, whatever fossil fuels we extract — at a huge environmental cost and requiring large "inputs" of additional fossil fuels — will merely be sold on the world market. This should kill the Keystone XL pipeline, even if it didn't also present a threat to the largest aquifer in the lower forty-eight. More importantly, it represents more greenhouse gases to send the planet into calamity. But, no. America watches, if it does at all, with cow eyes.
Back to the Republicans. The spectacle of the debates shows us that the blend of theocracy, libertarianism, fear-mongering and lie upon lie is a new GOP. Agree with it or not, it is a radical program at odds with anything seen before in a major American party. The media have dutifully covered it as if nothing is wrong, nothing has changed. Mr. Obama has been a shameful domestic failure, a catastrophe for progressive policies. One of these neo-fascists in the Iowa caucus may well replace him.
Unfortunately for us, reality does matter. It can't be wished away, yelled aside or hidden from with television and video games. The time to turn things around grows short.