The United States’ political and economic systems are broken.
They have been broken for years.
But no one in authority or of influence bothered to ask anxiety-provoking questions about big banks and the competence of the U.S. government when residential real estate prices were soaring and the bond market was rosy.
Now, virtually everyone has a friend or relative who has experienced prolonged unemployment, had trouble paying their mortgage or credit card bills, lost their health insurance, or helplessly watched their IRA and 401K retirement accounts collapse after a decade of flat returns.
The traditional American “can do” culture has been replaced by a “can’t do” gridlock of DC lobbyists, special interests, and “paid for” ideologue politicians who are simply not really interested in the truly perilous and complex challenges confronting our country and world.
From the beginning of our nation’s nominally democratic republic, a citizen’s civil liberties and well being have depended on reasoned civil discourse, rational thinking, and a slight nod toward the common good.
There were exceptional periods in our nation’s history when leaders and the electorate were able to more readily accept the painful disruptions of technological and social innovation as part of the inexorable march of progress.
Our national philosophy and psychology were ones of pragmatism.
American elites and members of the broad middle class prided themselves as people who could look adversity in the face and then systematically figure out how to improve the situation, while realizing that no solution was perfect or unerring.
At its best, American political culture questioned the status quo, experimented with new ideas and organizational forms, and non-violently integrated both small and large changes into the fabric of society.
Our continued progress in basic scientific research, medicine, education, and creative culture depends on the embrace of Enlightenment values.
The core belief of enlightened thinkers of any century is that the scientific method, rather than revealed religious scripture, is the key to human advancement. And that all topics under the sun are available for reasoned, ongoing debate.
Here is a brief litany of potentially life threatening problems that confront the U.S.:
- Crazy states with atom bombs like North Korea and Pakistan, and possibly Iran.
- A pronounced pattern of global warming that could lead to devastating droughts, famines, and the flooding of populous coastal cities.
- A precarious global economy drowning in red ink and debt “derivatives” that billionaire Warren Buffet termed “financial weapons of mass destruction.”
- A medical system that could bankrupt the country on its own during the next 20 years, and still provide health care that is no better (and often inferior) to the outcomes of European and Japanese models that provide effective care at roughly half the price.
- Barely contained environmental disasters like the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, and the spectacle of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig spewing a seemingly endless stream of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
- Super Political Action Committees sanctioned by the Supreme Court; whereby, corporations and labor unions can legally and anonymously donate unlimited sums of money to partisan political candidates.
- Unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have killed or maimed tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers, and cost the American taxpayer more than 3 trillion dollars and growing.
- The Patriot Act that severely curtailed the traditional civil liberties of American citizens and made torture legal.
- A pervasive hostility to immigrants, who historically have made the country richer and did much of the dirty work that the established citizens wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.
Oddly enough, all of these problems are the unexpected and unintended results of the Western world’s largely successful drive for the domination of nature, desire for longer and more secure lives, and search for real answers to the most basic questions of our existence on a cosmically inconsequential planet.
These terrible dilemmas are ironic testaments to rising worldwide living standards, broad dissemination of advanced technologies, and the mass migration of uneducated rural populations into the teeming but hopeful mega-cities of the Third World.
The material salvation of humanity will require even greater technological innovation and a more scientifically informed public policy. Otherwise, billions of our fellow humans will be dumped into the ash heap of poverty — and this could include tens of millions of Americans.
For well over 200 years, the United States of America has been a beacon of human freedom and opportunity. The country attracted many (if not most) of the ambitious and energetic of the world’s poor and oppressed. For the most part, these immigrants and their children improved their lot in life and contributed significantly to our nation’s prosperity and might.
In hindsight, it is a historical tragedy that President Nixon instigated a “southern strategy” in the 1960s. It unleashed the racist and anti-modern monsters of the rapidly industrializing agrarian Southern states. After President Johnson and the Democratic Party rammed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress, Republican politicians and loyalists fanned racial fears among a large, frightened and humiliated base of white Democratic voters, herding them into their fold — where most remain to this day.
A cynical, self-satisfied, and largely Eastern conservative establishment validated, celebrated and pandered to the indigenous fundamentalist Protestant theology and “Dixiecrat” antipathy to any progressive social agenda instigated by the federal government.
Republican politicians and pundits also fanned the last smoldering embers of anti-New Deal and anti-FDR sentiments in the remaining rural areas of the nation.
It is both ironic and sad that what once was the party of Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller, John Foster Dulles, Everett Dirksen, and George H.W. Bush has became a freak show owned and operated by crony capitalists and a largely failed corporate elite.
The big question is whether these red party monsters of irrationality, arrogant ignorance, and slightly veiled bigotry, will continue to polarize and paralyze the body politic in the face of overwhelming national and global challenges.
As a middle-of-the-road independent voter without any deep party affiliation, I would gladly cast my ballot for a sane, seasoned, and sensible Republican candidate for president or high office.
But there simply aren’t any — with the possible exception of Mitt Romney. And he is ultimately at the “beck” and call of an increasingly radicalized and uncompromising right-wing grassroots electorate.
At least the Democratic Party doesn’t repudiate Charles Darwin’s scientifically verified theories of human evolution and natural selection. Or base their Middle East foreign policy and attitudes toward homosexuals on biblical prophesy and literal interpretations of Bible stories.
For that, I can be minimally thankful — and so, my gentle reader, can you!