04 Dec America’s Identity Crisis
“America is a nation divided by economic, cultural, racial and social fissures. Americans agree that this divisiveness is self-destructive. There’s more they can agree on.” – The Lonely Realist
America is having an identity crisis. That shouldn’t be surprising. Empires like America rise and fall in cycles … and the American Experiment Empire has survived (and, in the 20th Century, flourished) for some 250 years, the normal lifespan of an empire. America’s current identity crisis consequently should not be viewed as an historical anomaly. Its causes lie in more than 25 years of political, financial, military, and social failures. Without resolution, the path America is walking inevitably will lead to an end-of-empire … and perhaps to the end of the United States as well. Preceding the ultimate fall-of-empire is defeat in battles – which America has experienced militarily in both Iraq and Afghanistan (and not-so-long-ago in Vietnam and Korea?), as well as geopolitically in its dealings with Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, China, etc. –, vulnerability to catastrophic disease, lawlessness and increasing mortality – which America is experiencing from COVID-19, the drug epidemic, daily shooting sprees, and periodic vandalism and rioting –, and fading competitiveness – evidenced by America’s rising inflation, obsolescing infrastructure, supply chain disruption, economic dislocation, and increasing social, racial, regional and economic unrest. After waxing for decades, America’s attractiveness, its educational advantages, its exorbitant monetary privilege, its economic success and its hegemonic power are waning. Americans assume that each year will be similar to the prior one, that they will be safe, that their families will be healthy, that they will be able to be together, that their lives will remain mostly as they were. That’s no longer true. Change has come to America … incrementally and materially. Much as Hemingway wrote in The Sun Also Rises (“How did you go bankrupt?” “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly”), the fall – if there is to be a fall – will happen suddenly. There will be a triggering event – a Boston Tea Party, a storming of The Bastille, the assassination of an Archduke, an October Revolution, the rise of a Hitler, a Munich. America’s fragmentation – initiated by government paralysis that began in the mid-1990s – has led friends and foes alike to be wary of Americanism, American democracy, the American “military umbrella” and ties to America. Unless there is a reversal in American self-destruction, a singularly toxic event is only a matter of time.
As Walt Kelly’s Pogo put it, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Americans have become their own worst enemies. That doesn’t mean that America also doesn’t have other enemies. China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and others are actively promoting America’s demise.
Which makes it even more surprising – as well as unsettling – that America and Americans remain actively in favor of disunity and divisiveness, supporting the further corrosion of society, of American culture, democracy and capitalism. It’s self-inflicted, not an achievement of foreign actors, and it’s progressing on several levels, most recently on an accelerating geographical one: select urban and suburban areas are attracting the affluent, creating secure havens from the less fortunate who have become social media-ized, tribal-ized and ghetto-ized. Ignored for years by politicians and governments, the disadvantaged and the extremists have banded together and, unsurprisingly, are reacting violently, their resentments intentionally inflamed by the media, culture warriors, conspiratorialists, woke-ists and demagogic wannabees who widen the gaps, furthering polarization, hostility, alienation and bitterness. It’s an All-American self-perpetuating downward spiral …, unless America makes the decision that it has to stop. As Ray Dalio has pointed out, the world has been in this movie before. Why relive the errors of the past when the outcome is a knowable disaster? A triggering event will occur. Conspiracy provocateurs will point fingers. Rational explanations will be futile. Blame will be placed on those unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. “They” must have planned this, or there were supernatural powers at work, or the event was a manifestation of God’s Will, or witchcraft or … simply the fault of the other side’s bad actors. Populism, not realism, has been running amuck and, as George Will has observed, “If America elects populists, it will have populism, not government, not solutions, not success,” spotlighting Josh Hawley and Elizabeth Warren …, although there are so many others. Populists, yes. Extremists and bad actors too.
Americans are aware that their country is sliding down a slippery slope. Media are rife with references to the fissures in government, among races, classes, religions and regions. American tribalism is flourishing. The country is not.
It must be that supernatural powers ARE at work. It IS God’s will. Witches ARE roaming America.
Democracy works. American exceptionalism is a fact. Americanism can triumph…. But will it?
A first step(?) was taken last month when a bipartisan Congressional majority passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, adding $550 billion in spending in a cautious effort to address America’s eroding roads, bridges, waterways, etc. …, a quite small and very late start to making necessary repairs and improvements to America’s decaying infrastructure, though a welcome one. The IIJA nevertheless was opposed by a majority of Republican legislators – Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN) labeled it part of “Democrats’ big-government socialism legislation” (the type of characterization ridiculed by SNL since infrastructure has been a priority for both Republican and Democratic Administrations since the 1990s). It was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who was responsible for building America’s interstate highway system, the most expensive infrastructure project in American history and a linchpin of America’s 20th Century economic success.
A second step(?) was taken on Thursday when a somewhat bipartisan Congress approved an extension of existing spending through February 18, 2022.
There are other legislative initiatives that can and should glean similar bipartisan support.
TLR previously highlighted Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) proposal to adopt Congressional term limits, a measure designed to reduce partisan political temperatures and the influence of special interests. Congress now should make that a bipartisan effort. TLR has similarly emphasized the importance of improving the American educational system. Surely common ground can be found to better-education America’s children (as Michael Bloomberg has acknowledged by pledging $750 million to prime the educational pump). Those children are America’s future!
Both Political Parties are in agreement that technology firms are too powerful. Several bipartisan bills have been introduced in Congress, though none has (yet) passed. Surely common ground can be found there as well.
Essential for America’s success, however, is its economy. For almost two decades, America has been spending more money – far more – than it’s earned, printing Dollars to cover the shortfall …, the underlying reason for today’s inflation. History shows that no individual, company, nation or empire can long survive such imbalance. Bipartisan action is required to control spending and enhance revenue, yet Congress is opposed to both because of special interest lobbying and the antipathy of voters to reelect those who increase taxation or support tax collection. It is here that common ground must be found. Without change, without bipartisanship, America’s buying power, its economic strength, and its way of life inevitably will evaporate. When a country’s economy falls apart, so too does its society.
Finally (from a good friend)