Maybe America Wasn’t Such A Good Idea After All

Time and again over the past several years I've lamented the scope of government dysfunction in America. Noting that the country's political process is defined by gridlock hardly counts as a novel observation, but my contention is that the country has no functioning government to speak of. What sets my assessment apart from the dire accounts of the country's fracturing democracy is the absence of hyperbole and the dispassionate cadence. When I say the country has no functioning government, I

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12 thoughts on “Maybe America Wasn’t Such A Good Idea After All

  1. Narcissism has become a vogue descriptor for “others” the past few years in the United States no thanks in part to the NPD tendencies of a certain former president. I myself have encountered several narcissists in my life and have often wondered how widespread this mental illness is. With the growing social media platforms it is becoming more clear to me that we are largely a society built by narcissists for narcissists. The idea of “dunking” or “owning” speaks to a competitive view of interactions, that you can somehow “win” at anything. This is a viewpoint that narcists often take. That they have to always be winning and that anything they do has a winner/loser outcome. Keeping up with the Jones’s is a great example of a veiled view that you can somehow “dunk” on your neighbors or beat them by owning better stuff than they do. Nihilism and narcissism are often associated mental disorders, what we have with the two parties is a combination of them. The one party thinks it can win and it is better than the other party but also doesn’t care about anything that isn’t important to it. Minorities being murdered in the streets doesn’t matter to people on the right but fetuses being aborted is murder that requires immediate attention. Joblessness and blight in the Midwest due to major manufacturers abandoning communities that relied on them for everything don’t matter to people on the left because they don’t live there. Humans are only humans if they agree with the side you’re on. And if we bomb a family somewhere we don’t live for the cause of “fighting terror”, well things happen. That is to say we as a society largely don’t care about those people we murdered because they aren’t Americans on the correct side of a political fight. The great irony of the war on terror is that we went over there to fight terrorists and ended up creating more of them than had ever existed before by wiping out innocent people. Now we have thousands of people who feel so much contempt for the United States for killing their loved ones that we are certainly going to have to worry about terrorism around the clock for the rest of our lives. I agree, maybe this place was a terrible idea.

  2. I can remember back when George W was elected, and Gore lost, a family friend told me that it was a good thing because we don’t want someone who’s too smart.

    At the time, that statement baffled me, but I let it pass because you know, who can say why people will say stupid things. In retrospect, it was a harbinger of things to come.

    Now this question regarding democracy is a bit disturbing. If it’s not democracy, then what’s the alternative?

    I have to assume, that our original democracy, with greats such as Jefferson and Madison at the helm, would not be suffering some of the problems that we are now.

    I am thinking of the following quote by Isaac Asimov

    “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

    Maybe the problem is not democracy, per se — maybe the problem is just that our specific leaders are morons. We need a modern day Jefferson at the helm.

    1. The election of 1800 (which resulted in Jefferson’s election) was a fraught affair riven by the worst kind of scurrilous allegations and factionalism. (It also ended what remained of the friendship between Burr and Hamilton and set the stage for their duel three years later.) The still-young constitutional system survived, barely, and would be tested many more times (1824, 1860, 1876, to name a few) over the next hundred years. At the risk of sounding like a cynic, one might say it’s a feature of the system rather than a bug.

    2. I mean the alternative which we are accelerating towards is Neo-Feudalism. A return to a landed aristocracy which owns everything and installs an effective ruler as their servant to keep the population in line. Facism it would seem is too much to hope for, a big bad which somehow we will manage to surpass. Citizens will have regressed to consumers and then to serfs, chattel slaves tied to the land or worse yet a new Romany people in north america. The clock is running out on anything else and all the real power is pushing in that direction.

  3. Most of the Founders feared the mob (aka democracy) and had no interest in extending the suffrage to anyone other than white men of property. We’ve come a long way in 24i years, and have a ways to go, but I believe we’ll get there.

  4. When I went to college in the early 1960s my school had such a dominating fraternity system that not being a member somewhere meant you had no place to sleep. Fortunately, geeks like me had an option, a chapter of one of only two totally democratic fraternities in the country. All votes for governance, membership, and other important transactional policies were decided by a simple majority vote of the members. As my four years proceeded I got a great lesson in how easy it is for democracy to unravel. In 1965 two of us ran for the presidency of the house for ’65-’66, myself and a very nice, smart, pre-med guy who was also in Air Force ROTC. The election process, campaign and vote was a disaster. Neither of us who were running cared whether we won or the other guy did. Turned out our classmates decided they didn’t like either one of us so we both lost to “no name.” I forget who was finally chosen in the second election; I actually couldn’t have cared less. That fall, I met the woman who would be my wife for 54 years and we had other things on our mind so we let others do their thing. As it happened that whole year was a metaphor for life in America for the last two or three decades. Democracy is very hard. For it to work we need the population to be composed of good people willing to give up many minor rights to grease the wheels of government. Much research in group behavior now shows that will never happen here. We are the most selfish of all the developed nations.

    To get a view of our future I suggest people review the history of 20th century Italy. A fragmented country, barely able to govern or manage itself, tried to find a cure for its troubles by choosing to be governed by a “lovable” fascist autocrat, Benito Mussolini. He turned out to be about as flaky as you all know who so after WWII the country tried a hybrid form of elected parliamentary government. Because none of the Italian people could seem to let go of their petty personal interests, since the end of the war the county has had 66 new governments, 1.14 new ones per year!! To quote an HG Wells movie title, this transition to madness may well carry a more universal look at “Things To Come” in our deteriorating democracy.

  5. Humans have spent much time on managing species. Domesticated animals come to mind. However, we’ve never come up with a good way to manage ourselves for probably ten thousand years. Every new system tried brings celebrations in the streets which, before too long, become riots. I see no reason why American democracy is different and everything happening now confirms it isn’t.

  6. Democracy in the US is failing BECAUSE we are all so different. Republicans want “traditional values” where white men ruled the roost and the wife was home barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen having dinner ready at 6pm sharp. Democrats are the big tent party trying to be all things to all people and end up being nothing to everyone as they simply cannot agree on anything and there is a problem with how to approach everything! The Venn Diagram of these two parties could not be further apart!

    Democracy works when there are common threads that guide our actions like decency. We could disagree on the path forward on an issue but we all had a baseline understanding that something needed to be done… Now we can’t agree on anything and both sides are so caught up in “dunking” on the other to the point that they are willing to let the whole thing crumble just to say that it was the other sides fault.

    Maybe we are reaching a stage that infighting has become too big a problem to progress of any kind and we do need a leader with a 8-12 year vision of how we move forward. Then we focus on the tactical steps on how to get there with a set of options but doing nothing is not an option.

  7. Good article and good comments. I fell American politics is a bad marriage between 2 dysfunctional people. Each is waiting for the other to step up and be the grownup in the relationship. That doesn’t mean these 2 parties are equally bad, but it means they are both behaving badly. I think things are going to have to become
    quite unstable for this situation to change.

  8. H. L. Mencken said it all about Trump and his supporters in 1920..
    “On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts desire at last, and the white house will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron.”

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