Sunday, September 20, 2009

Blanket Statement

Not only do I pray for it, on the score of human dignity, but I can clearly foresee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union, by consolidating it in a common bond of principle.

GEORGE WASHINGTON, attributed, John Bernard's Retrospections of America

I've felt for a long time that America, as it has been in the late 20th century, the dominant economic, cultural and military force in the World, is done for. It has the march of History against it. It has staved off history, through luck and skill for a long time. The luck part is, of course, the annihilation of the Romanov line in 1917 and being first to develop the Atom Bomb in 1945. Had Russia not formed the Soviet Union and the perverse ideology of Communism mixed in with Totalitarianism not taken root in Eastern Europe and China, stagnating the growth and potential of millions of people, would America be the lone superpower today? Had Russia been the only country to use the Atom Bomb in war, and had a headstart in the development of nuclear technology, would they have come to be seen as the dominant voice in geopolitical affairs? Would Leninism and perhaps even Stalinism be flourishing now, where free elections are being held for the first time?

In terms of skill, America has had an undeniable stockpile. Capitalism, at least when the only alternative was Communism, had a competitive advantage and unleashed the creativity and vision of the 20th century's greatest minds. Industrialization, manufacturing and medicine improved the standard of living of everyone, albeit some more than others. The students of history and governance learned about the enemy and themselves: perhaps no one deserves more credit for Pax Americana than Karl Marx, whose manifesto basically let generations of economists and politicians see in advance the flaws in the Capitalist vision and adapt to them. Time and time again, America has bent without breaking: the Civil War, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbour, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights' movement, JFK, RFK, Vietnam, the oil embargo, stagflation, the W. Bush years, and now, the Great Recession. And with a mind to recent history, it's easy to think that America will keep on doing that. That America can meet any challenge, on account of the fact that, thus far, they have.

'America on Top' is the paradigm that governs this planet, and it is a paradigm that American governments have fostered deliberately. Right and left, Kissinger and Albright, have both at one point slipped up and admitted that regardless of whether mere happenstance has brought on American dominance, it should be maintained through active effort and constant vigilance. In observing the last 8 years and the discourse and development of the Bush administration, I was always fascinated by the degree to which international disappointment, disdain, disapproval of American actions was driven not only by nationalistic resentment, but also it seems, by a tacit, unacknowledged desire to see America succeed. The world has gotten use to American dominance and; with the notable exceptions of people like Usama bin Laden, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and depending on his mood, Vladimir Putin; the world wants to be run and secured by competent, American officials. America has staved off the 3rd World War...and most people have concluded (perhaps unconsciously), if it isn't broke, don't fix it.

I'll do what most are either unwilling or unable to do: that is, admit that what I foresee may be premature and perhaps an overreaction. But I do feel comfortable saying that Pax Americana will not survive another half century and it is not because of the rise of China and India, or the fall in American manufacturer or the rise of American debt, though they don't help. America is built on a firm yet faulty foundation, with two flaws that are now more than ever threatening to destroy the Union. The first is the constant moral burden of the legacy of slavery. And the second is the two-party system.

A balanced system almost always has at least three components. In Rome, there was the consuls, the senate and the mob. In Western Europe, there was France, Germany and Great Britain. In the United States government, there is the Presidency, the Congress and the Courts. The Roman republic could never have fallen had Caeser not been so beloved by the mob. The alliances between two of Europe's great powers always happened in response to the ascendancy of one of the others. The system of 'checks and balances' ensures the constitutional integrity of the American system and protects it from institutional overreach. In a system of three, when one gets too powerful, the other two unite to return the system to balance.

But despite the system of three built into the American government, American politics is dominated by a system of two. Democratic and Republican, left and right, liberal and conservative. Whereas other governments have tertiary parties to divide support, offer new ideas, innovate and add dynamism to the political system, America lumbers on between the two stagnant, ideologically opposed poles of political, legal, social and cultural opinion. They are the two prizefighters who have been slugging it out all their lives: they know all the other guys moves and they aren't going to see anything 10th round that they didn't see in the 9th.

The two party system has endured because, not surprisingly, Americans had a third party to appeal to, one that they regularly resorted to in times of crisis and doubt. On September 10, 2001, the citizens of the United States were all members of either the Democrat party (blue), the Republican party (red) or they were independent of them both (white). On September 12, 2001, as on December 8th, 1941, 99.9% of the citizens of the United States had temporarily shifted their allegiance to the third political party, the party for the Democratic Republic of the United States of America (red, white and blue). E Pluribus, Unum.

However, membership in the Democratic Republic of America party is at an all-time low. Political partisanship has always dwindled its numbers, but 24-hour profit-driven, prize-goes-to-whoever-can-shock-us-the-most-and-scream-the-loudest news media (or Mainstream Media, as Fox analysts would derisively say, because with the largest audience in the country, Fox obviously fall outside of the mainstream) has blurred the line between politics as policy discourse and politics as performance art. Americans can no longer tell when politicians are acting like they hate each other, or when they really do hate each other, and I'm not sure most politicians can tell the one from the other themselves. Their constituents progressively try to outdo their representatives in Washington in their derision and indignation at their fellow citizens across the aisle. And the politicians cater to those growing feelings of resentment, nurturing them and establishing their own credibility as a true defender of the faith, in order to get re-elected.

Aaron Sorkin wrote in 'The American President' the line that Annette Bening delivers to Michael Douglas: "How can you have patience for people who claim to love America but clearly hate Americans?" She was talking about Republicans. But their political system today is built upon the idea that a Patriot can be either devoted to red or devoted to blue, not both, and certainly not, as Barack Obama seems to be, patient and devoted to both. His pursuit of bipartisanship won't even last a year, and it is a cause that will die altogether if it bears no fruit during his Administration.

Partisanship is becoming the new American paradigm, something so obvious that it will become second nature. Tip O'Neill, the second longest serving Speaker of the House, said it best about the previous political paradigm, that in Washington, they wanted to beat you, but neither side was trying to kill you. He thought Reagan a buffoon, but they were perfectly jovial "after 6 pm". Would John Boehner be caught dead having a meal with Obama? He might as well resign from the Senate. The day is fast approaching when any attempts at public shows of bipartisanship will be equivalent to political suicide. All legislation will be made not through concession and compromise, but rather through unilateralism and antagonism. One side wins and the other side gets ignored for 4 years.

Without that NDP, or Liberal Democrat, or MoDem party to keep the other two honest, American politics will lurch from one extreme to another, pulling the threads of the star and stripes farther and farther apart. How does anyone imagine that process will end? Canada has had numerous problems with the issue of seccession, but this country has at least made one massive concession to the Quebecois in the form of the Official languages and Multiculturalism. Whether they work or not has no bearing on the fact that they represent a definite, binding, legally enshrined olive branch to the secessionists. It's English Canada's big gesture French Canada to further the idea of Confederation. America is running out of room for such a gesture. If Joe Wilson, the distinguished gentleman from South Carolina, had a gesture for his President, I imagine it would be the middle finger.

I haven't even gotten to the interesting part. The big elephant in the room (besides the GOP). Because let's face it. There are a lot of Americans who don't care a great deal about abortion. There are a lot of Americans who don't care a great deal about whether gay people should get married, or serve in the military. There are a lot of Americans that don't care about guns, or budget deficits, or drug trafficking, or illegal aliens or Afghan security; and even if they do care, they care only for a couple of minutes a week. But every American is interested in race. There are only three types of people in the U.S. on this matter: 1) the ignorant racists, 2) the people who are racists and don't want to be, and 3) the people who are racists and don't care. After LBJ's backing of civil rights' legislation, the second group became almost exclusively Democrat, the first and third groups went Republican. And since then, since that great break where the most widespread and contentious issue of all was neatly divided along party lines, the grapes of wrath have been filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage:

“Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national programme on healthcare. It’s deeper than that. I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man ... That racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country.” - Jimmy Carter

If the problem was just coastal versus heartland, or academic versus working class, young versus old, or change versus same, I wouldn't make my blanket statement. But black versus white, or I should say, non-white versus white is a terminal illness for a country in which 1) the fasting growing segment is hispanic and especially so if 2) that kind of animosity is institutionalized in the form of a political party. What would Canada look like if one major party of a two-party system was Anglo-hating francophones and the other was French-hating anglophones? If people of one party hated the Prime Minister for being bilingual, just as some people hate Obama for being biracial? It's bad enough if that kind of hatred runs in just one direction, but when it runs both ways, the end is near.

To my mind, America, despite all its history and flexibility and versatility and capability is on a political and cultural precipice. Madness, as Goyer said, is like gravity. All it needs is a little push. In a novel, they call it a trigger incident. It just doesn't seem like such a stretch that in a moment in history where Republican politicians are fanning the flames of racist rhetoric and characterizing Obama as pretty-much your worst nightmare: reverse racist, deep-seated-hatred of white people (including half of himself, a quarter of his daughters, his grandparents, and his mother), Satan, Muslim, Kenyan-born illegitimate Commander-in-Chief with his button on the nuclear trigger and his hand on grandma's life support machine, coming to take your guns, give out free abortions, marry gays on the White House lawn, open the borders, give free health care to illegal immigrants, increase the size of government while spending the country to bankruptcy and ruin - it doesn't seem like such a stretch that one of these enterprising gentlemen who have taken it upon themselves to exercise their Second Amendment rights at presidential rallies, might just take the initiative and water the tree of liberty with his blood. I really can't see how Abe Lincoln, Bill McKinley or Jack Kennedy could have pissed of as many people as Barack will in the next four years without even trying, and they all got assassinated. And they were white. Assassination of political leaders is almost as well an established American tradition as assassination of Black leaders; Barack Obama happens to be both of those things. And combine that with the notoriety and publicity that the assassin would undoubtedly get: hero to some the country, reviled by most, but known to all - the politics aside, that might be motivation enough in itself.

How much could Republicans distance themselves from the actions of that gunman? How much would they want to? How would the black community react to having their Messiah gunned down over - of all things - trying to give healthcare to the needy? How would the other minorities - particularly the most demographically significant group in the country, the Hispanics - react to the assassination of the President that put the first Latina on the Supreme Court?

Needless to say, I think that act would hasten the end of Pax Americana. Americans would have far more important things to worry about than maintaining order in the world. The cards are stacked against America as it is. I remember watching an episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex a few years ago, where they explain the history of their future, a future where the United States is a tertiary power to Japan, which had developed technology to scrub atmospheric radiation in the event of nuclear attack. The nuclear threat neutralized through missile defense systems, the American States became divided, philosophically and geographically, between those who sought to push for a new defense paradigm and those who accepted relinquishing their superpower status in the world. When I first saw it, I remembered thinking "What artistic license! That would never happen." All sorts of things seem impossible until they became inevitable. Canadians have much less to argue over and we almost broke apart. The United States fought a civil war over how much they didn't like each other. It's just a feeling...but I think a falling out of historic proportions is on the horizon.