It’s easy to decide to ignore the eurozone crisis pitting Athens against everyone else over there. It’s too far away to worry about, and too complicated — it’s, uh, “all Greek to me.” But it’s not all Greek and not too far removed from our system. A financial collapse of Greece eventually would have serious repercussions in the U.S., no matter how insular we are.
We can debate the sustainability of a European confederation and a common currency, but the truth is that the world’s economic system is so entangled that it actually operates as a fat-cat zone, which is to say that the rich control just about everything, everywhere. We know that. Beyond that, what’s so interesting is how politicians the world over, at least in democratic nations, get into power by making wild promises and then breaking them.
Let’s take the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. He has been the country’s leader only since January. His coalition is based on his campaign promises that he would end the severe austerity imposed in 2010 by Europe’s and the world’s financial empire as the price the nation would have to pay for a bailout to stave off fiscal collapse. The conditions were like a vise. Unemployment is now at depression levels. After years of it, the people were receptive to a politician who promised to unilaterally end the pain and make the planet’s money people accept his new reality.
Seven months or so later, Tsipras is groveling. He has had to beg for still more massive financial relief. His banks have shut down. Greece faces the prospect of being tossed out of the eurozone because other nations’ leaders basically have told him to shove it. So he’s being forced not only to back down from all his promises to lighten up the austerity, but also to accept more of it, which means that the lives of the Greeks will become even more bleak.
To be sure, the country is truly flabby. Tax evasion is a way of life and pension fraud and abuse are rampant, so there’s certainly a lot of scaling back that can and should be done. The fact that it got to this crippled state is a result of politicians gaining power by bribing the people. Now they all must pay the price.
How different is that pack of lies from the ones we hear every day from candidates in the U.S. of A.? Each guarantees that if elected he or she will take out the brutal Islamic militants, force Russia into line, solve the immigration crisis (some of them without being explicitly racist), etc. Somehow, they know just how to provide health care, improve education, run an efficient government, all for less money. Universally they promise to fix all these problems and so many more that are overrunning the country.
How will they do it? Why, of course, they will work with a Congress that suddenly has become pliant and statesmanlike. Simplicity itself. What’s that? You’ve heard that before? From the current president and the one before him, and the ones before? It seems that the promised brighter future is always out of reach.
Meanwhile, we continue to deteriorate. Obviously, we’re not as near collapse as Greece is. But our nation once again faces debt default later this year as our partisan hard-liners play brinksmanship games. We keep flirting with that kind of disaster. Sooner or later, we won’t be able to stop the tumble over the precipice.
How do we get out of this vicious downspin? For starters, we vote for politicians who are straight with us. It’s the only way to stop the Greek tragedy from becoming an American one.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadscast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.