Monday
Mar142011

“Witch Hunt” – The Introduction

Note: Peter’s new book, Witch Hunt: Essays on the U.S. Auto Industry and the Blithering Idiots Who Almost Killed It, will make its debut in early March from Octane Press. In it, he chronicles the implosion and resurrection of the U.S. auto industry over the past three years. Longtime readers will recognize it as the “best of the best” from AE during that time. It is, at times, painful to relive that history, and as we often say, you would swear it was fiction in parts if you had not watched it unfold for yourself. But at the end of the day, it’s all true. Today’s excerpt is from the book’s introduction. – WG

Peter M. De Lorenzo is a national columnist who founded Autoextremist.com, a highly-regarded website devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry. He is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.This country is at a crossroads. We are now faced with a burgeoning national crisis that is challenging virtually every aspect of the American way of life as we know it, including the ability to own a home, the opportunity to have a job and even one of the fundamental freedoms that we have long enjoyed in this vast nation – the freedom of mobility.

That the domestic automobile industry has been a bellwether of this country’s looming national crisis is no secret, at least not to the learned people who understand the key role that our auto industry plays for this nation’s economic health as a whole. Detroit first faced the reality of the global economy and what it really means long before the rest of the country had to give it even a second thought.

As the economies of China, India and Russia have emerged, the demand for the world’s resources has pushed prices through the stratosphere. Everything that goes into the manufacturing of an automobile – steel, aluminum, rubber, glass, plastic, oil, etc. – has gone up dramatically in the last several years, putting tremendous pressure on the auto companies and their suppliers.

Combine that with the auto companies having to deal with health care, pension funding and labor costs in a global economy that has no time for such “trivial” concerns, and it’s no wonder that Detroit has long been “the canary in the coal mine” for U.S. economic experts.

And now, with rocketing gasoline prices pushing Detroit to the brink of disaster, and the crushing housing situation actually getting worse, this nation is facing a perfect storm of circumstances the likes of which it hasn’t had to face since the onset of World War II.

Back then the automobile industry responded to a national need unlike any other part of the manufacturing sector. From April 1942 until the beginning of 1945, no cars were produced in the United States. Detroit’s entire output was given over to producing war machines and the materials this country needed. Think about that for a moment.

Yes, it was a different time and a different era, but I would argue that the biggest difference back then was that this country was at war, but not at war with itself like it is today. Back then there was a common goal that unified this country like no other time before, or since.

Today, we’ve become a nation of warring factions hell-bent on destroying each other, even if it means destroying this country from within in the process.

Our government leaders have placed their own special interests above the overall health and needs of the country at every opportunity, even turning their backs on key manufacturing sectors – the domestic automobile industry being just one example – no matter what the long-term consequences might be as long as it was the expedient thing to do, both personally and politically.

Our public discourse has dissolved into a disgusting cacophony of unbridled near-hatred wrapped in juvenile put-downs and three-second sound bites designed to vanquish and humiliate, rather than help us illuminate and understand the critical issues facing this country, and it shows no signs of abating anytime soon.

Our national obsession with psychoanalysis that grew out of the “I’m okay, you’re okay” 70s has unleashed a firestorm that has almost crippled our modern society in a paralyzing fog of correctness to the detriment of everything else. A direct result of this is that our educational system has been dumbed-down and geared to the lowest common denominator to such an extent that we’re now faced with legions of kids growing up in a pass/fail world of no harm, no foul and no consequences whatsoever for their actions. Young strivers and achievers are not only growing fewer in number, they’re being shoved aside and mocked for their inner discipline and desire to succeed, and it won’t be long before this nation is swarmed-over by a nation of dunderheads who pride themselves on their relentless mediocrity and who aspire only to drag this country down with them.

This country needs an enema, either that or it needs to press the “reset” button and start over.

We need to go back and understand why this country was formed and why it’s important that we not only survive as a nation, but thrive with the principles of our founding fathers alive and intact.

We are now living in a world that places little emphasis on what America once was, but rather, one that’s waiting to see which America will go forward from this moment in history. And it’s no surprise that some would love to see America come to an end.

Are we going to hold those beautiful words of the Declaration of Independence close? Or are we going to dissolve into a sniveling, mewling embarrassment of a nation that once had it all but threw it away in a cloud of indifference, incompetence and rampant mediocrity?

Are we going to rekindle the ideals and the unwavering moral purpose of “The Greatest Generation” as Tom Brokaw so eloquently put it, the ones whose sacrifices allow us to live freely in this country today? Or are we going to just sit back, shrug our shoulders and let whatever happens happen, sending a giant message of “whatever” out to the world?

Are we going to be a nation of blue sky dreamers who say, “Why not?” Or are we going to be a country of sodden, lazy consumers who can only mutter, “Why bother?”

It really is up to us as a nation at this juncture, isn’t it?

But it’s going to require the kinds of words, concepts and, most important, the actions that have been anathema around here for quite some time.

Words like sacrifice, discipline, focus and commitment.

Concepts like believing in – and caring for – each other, while having our leaders put this country’s long-term interests in front of self-interests and special interests.

And actions like mustering this nation’s brilliant technical resources and mind power, and unifying it with our manufacturing expertise to forge a new urgency of purpose, with an unwavering focus on getting this country back in shape and on its game.

I, for one, strongly believe that it’s not too late for this country to get on track and start functioning as a unified nation once again. And faced with the most daunting set of circumstances in 70 years – a crumbling housing industry, an automobile industry in grave crisis and a global reality that threatens to tear this nation asunder – I really don’t think we have much of a choice.

We didn’t get this far as a nation by letting things be dictated to us. At key moments in our history we have always risen to the occasion, responding to dire threats and looming crises with a sense of unity and an overriding purpose that has transcended and overcome all challenges.

And we are now at one of those key moments again.

We’re once again being reminded of the price of our independence.

Let’s hope we’re all ready to do our part.

« And So It Goes… Editorial | Main | The 2011 Season Starts Here »