Sunday, October 12, 2008

THE LATE, GREAT, UNITED STATES

I've thought a lot about this post, and I've probably written pieces of it before. But what I want to do here is try to summarize these thoughts into something that is at least somewhat coherent. It could be long, but probably not long enough.

I think historians will see 2008 as a "perfect storm" of events in the history of the United States of America; game-changing events in the course of world history. Much has already been written along these lines by authors much more knowledgeable than I; however, this blog is my outlet to the world, my one chance to put something out there that a few people - or many - might read, thus putting my marker onto the pages of history. So here goes.

I've often said that the United States is a post-developed nation. George H.W. Bush said, when the Soviet Union collapsed, that the United States had "won the Cold War." We didn't win that geopolitical ideological conflict - the Soviet Union lost first. I believe that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the beginning of the decline of America from the world's remaining Superpower to where we are today, a crumbling power with an uncertain and uncharted future.

What are the symptoms of this decline? They are many, and I'll list only a few that quickly come to mind:
  • erosion of individual freedoms
  • a straying from the rule of law towards authoritarianism
  • outright violations of the Constitution by elected officials
  • a decline of morality - both institutional and individual
  • a decline in civility between people and between nations
  • a marked crumbling of infrastructure: bridges, roads, water and sewage treatment, etc.
  • an over-reliance on and over-extension of military resources
  • an inability to respond to and rebuild from natural disasters.
What are the causes of this decline? Again, there are many - here are a few:
  • greed, of the pure unbridled kind
  • corruption
  • hate, particularly of "the other:" immigrants, women, people of color, homosexuals
  • fear, and the use of fear by people in positions of power as a means towards their ends
  • meanness and rudeness
  • resistance to change, and unthinking clinging to the old ways
The above causes perhaps more aptly are attributed to individuals, but I think they inform the actions of our public and private sector leaders and the institutions they control. One need only examine the recent directions of our laws and courts, our foreign policies, the measures implemented in the guise of "security," the misguided and often patently illegal actions of government to understand the new directions this country has taken. Our government spends colossal sums of money on unwinable wars under the battle cry of "we won't surrender; we will fight on to victory." And "victory" is both undefined and unattainable under the present world view of our government.

The United States of America is a nation adrift in a sea of change. We are barely a united country - just look at the red and blue map of the 50 States showing the presidential voting pattern. We are increasingly a nation of camps; red and blue, left and right, native and immigrant, elite and "Joe six-pack." We are leaderless in a time when leadership is the only thing that will save us.

The world around us, the sea of nations and changing cultures upon which we are adrift has tides and currents and swells and tsunamis of change that we must understand if we have any chance of charting a new course towards the future. The present contest between political parties, being fought by John McCain and Barack Obama, represents a game-changing decision by Americans. Obama represents the recognition that America is adrift in uncharted seas; McCain represents the inability and refusal to recognize that things are different now, and we only need to maintain a steady hand on the tiller to stay the course on which we've been.

This is not to say that the election of one man over the other will change the game. The reality is that the American consciousness needs to change from a pre-twenty first century view to a view of the future. It's the old business mantra of looking through the windshield at the road ahead, instead of watching where we've been in the rear view mirror. As citizens of the United States, we need to understand, to truly internalize, that things are different now, the game has changed, the rules have been rewritten, and we are no longer guaranteed the spot at the top.

What is the United States of America of the future? Will we be a relic of global power, still trying to rule the world by throwing our military might around? Or will we be a new kind of super power in a new world? We Americans are a remarkable and strong-willed people. Our diversity strengthens us. Our founding principles underly our basic goodness, even though we often stray from it. Many, if not most people in the rest of the world want to be more like us than they want to be less like us. We have to lead by example, not brutal strength.

I'm not hopeful about this kind of paradigm shift change happening. I do think that the only slim chance we have is if a new national leadership emerges that openly and honestly confronts the state of the world and our role in it. We need a national discussion about who we are and who we want to be, a discussion that permeates the every day lives of every citizen, of all ages. And we need leaders who can articulate the terms of the discussion, draw out the threads of reason, and build the framework of a new America. It's a tall order - is anyone willing to take it on?

If you read this far - thanks. Comments are welcome.

1 comment:

emma said...

Paul- I just wrote a GREAT comment and then lost it as I was forced to navigate away from the page and create an account. At least I remember that I was appreciating your "cause and effect" points. We have lost our independence and individuality to an authoritarian gov't with whom we have no input or control. I was so disheartened when W was re-elected and we keep asking ourselves, 'whats the point?' Our input is totally disregarded and as you said the constitution flaunted. Egads, please be right and give us some integrity back in the American government. It is embarrassing-
Vote Obama!! Mary Turnock
p.s. have a good trip!

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