If the United States finally fails completely, what do we get next? We've had monarchies, feudal systems, dictatorships of many stripes, fascism, Nazism, communism, oligarchy, corporatism, anarchy, the-guy-with-the-biggest-stick-ism, and just about every other variation of societal order possible. And they've all failed.
The United States was born out of a desire to "form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty." Its Declaration of Independence was based in large measure on the philosophy of the Englishman, John Locke, who had argued that government was a contract between the governed and those governing, the latter deriving their power solely from the consent of the former, and whose purpose was to protect every person's inherent right to property, life, and liberty. Eleven years later the Constitution of the United States of America was written and although amended twenty-seven times since, it remains the supreme law of the land and the primary document of this great experiment.
Technically, the United States is a federal republic. In principle, and in its posturing about itself, it is a democracy. The Oxford Dictionary of Current English says democracy is: "1. government by the whole population, usually through elected representatives; 2. classless and tolerant society." In practice, neither of those definitions fits the United States.
For Athens, where it all began, democracy meant rule by a mob of land-owning citizens. People gathered in the Agora and whoever yelled the loudest won. It didn't catch on outside Athens and it was a long time before we got to the stage where dictators and hereditary monarchs were mostly displaced in favor of elected governments; but we did get there. It was a long time before we got past the requirement to own land as a prerequisite for suffrage; but we did get there. It was a long time before we got to the point where we could let go of the democratic dream without even knowing we had done so; but we have got there.
The United States represents the first and greatest attempt at creating a society where the people truly are supreme, where what is best for the greatest number is the order of the day, where the cream can rise to the top. When the U.S. collapses, it is unlikely to go quietly and the reverberations around the globe as this leviathan enters its death throes may very well bring about the demise of all other democracies. For there are other forms of democracy around the world, with varying degrees of success; but this one was different, this one was being built from the ground up rather than evolving from something that went before. From out of the ragtag group of colonial terrorists who threw off the British yolk, arose some of the most intelligent men ever assembled in one place.
From the outset, though, these great men signaled that they did not have the faith in the people that their words claimed. Before the Declaration was even signed, they deleted phrases that would have called for the abolishment of slavery and guaranteed the rights of all people. Before the Constitution was signed, they created the Electoral College to ensure that the people are not directly entrusted with the task of choosing the President. Even before it got out of the gate, this great experiment in freedom was being constrained.
Still, the United States thrived, with a lot of start-up assistance from the French, and in short order became a major force in the world. It achieved its "manifest destiny" to fill the continent from east to west (even if not from south to north) and opened its doors to the weary and downtrodden of the world, at least to the extent that it needed cheap labor.
Today, it is the most powerful nation on earth in every sense of the word, except moral. The moral authority of the United States comes from the barrel of a gun. It is feared worldwide, even by its friends, and dismayed that others don't unconditionally love it. Yet it is difficult for outsiders to credit that even Americans love it.
Most Americans seem to think that the United States has been a monumental success. Even those who are disaffected would hesitate to say the country is failing. Perhaps it needs the eyes of people outside its borders to see more clearly what it has become and that what it purported to be was rarely achieved. Americans have deluded themselves into a failure to see the disaster they have wrought and the nightmare that is to come. The most common refrain I hear from Americans I have met abroad or who have written to tell me of their experiences outside the United States is that they had no idea what a failure the U.S. has become until they stepped outside their country and considered the other guy's perspective.
The United States is in decline; it is a society in an advanced state of decay. Its great experiment at participatory democracy no longer excites its people, who stay home on election days in vast numbers. Its love of freedom has been used over and again as the excuse for military engagement on the soil of many other countries and countless deaths among those foreign citizens. Its pursuit of personal freedom at all costs has resulted in a violent and morally bankrupt society. In its quest for power, it has blundered across the world like a colossus, always with the self-assurance of the Godly and with complete lack of concern for other people's wishes and needs.
America began with the genocide inflicted on native North Americans; it enslaved its own people and nearly tore itself apart in a cataclysmic war fought, in part, about that slavery. It has since spread its beneficence and its mayhem around the globe with casual disregard for all others. It remains a highly polarized society grouped together only by a collective fear of everyone else; within its own borders, groups of various sizes adhere only out of fear of other Americans.
The United States has relentlessly chased after the ability to annihilate its enemies with firepower beyond belief and convinced itself that it is right and just to do so.
America has degenerated into a puppet state, a puppet for the few special interests and corporate groups who long ago usurped power from the masses. We know from the experience of the 2000 elections that the will of the people is easily subverted but this is not the first time a President has come to office under such clouded circumstances; read about the Electoral College, the courts, and the state of Florida in relation to the disputed election of the nineteenth American President, Rutherford B. Hayes.
We also know that the American government rarely works for a more perfect union, or to establish justice and insure domestic tranquility, or to promote the general welfare. Significant effort, however, goes into securing the blessings of liberty for those in high places. Elected officials have as their only goal, success in the next election and for that, they need to toady up to the special interest and corporate groups who can fill their pockets.
America's Founding Fathers called their dream "the great experiment" and perhaps that is because they understood this was a gamble; it might be the last conceivable untried form of government. Perhaps they knew that the illusion of "people power" was just that, an illusion. Perhaps they also knew that if the great experiment failed, there was nothing left to try; mankind would have proved once and for all that it was incapable of governing itself in a manner that is worthy of being called "civilized."
Well, it is failing. So I come back to my opening question: what do we get next?
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