I rarely read Tom Friedman any more, but he’s got this right:
Whenever you’d visit China or Singapore, it was always the people there who used to be on the defensive when discussing democracy. Now, as an American, you’re the one who wants to steer away from that subject. After all, how much should we be bragging about a system where it takes $20 million to be elected to the Senate; or where a majority of our members of Congress choose their voters through gerrymandering rather than voters choosing them; or where voting rights laws are being weakened; or where lawmakers spend most of their free time raising money, not studying issues; or where our Congress has become a forum for legalized bribery; or where we just had a minority of a minority threaten to undermine America’s credit rating if we didn’t overturn an enacted law on health care; or where we can’t pass even the most common sense gun law banning assault weapons after the mass murder of schoolchildren?
All societies rise, peak and decay, usually over a period of centuries. They accomplish great things, then stumble and begin to fade. I’m not sure when American democracy reached its zenith, but it peaked sometime during the second half of the 20th century.
In the Fifties and Sixties, it seemed that America would keep soaring boundlessly. Manifest Destiny. To the moon and beyond! That was before we learned that nuclear power cannot be safely contained, that we could produce enough garbage to pollute even the great oceans. We thought unbreakable, protean plastic was a miraculous substance — better living through chemistry. Powerful plutocrats bought politicians in other countries, not here.
I certainly never imagined the U.S. would tumble into such an accelerated downward spin. Or maybe it’s a case of the greater they are, the harder they fall. Or because everything moves more quickly now, and the rate of change is constantly accelerating. Or because capitalism contains within itself seeds of inevitable decline, since it is premised on perpetual increase, a practical impossibility.
Will the U.S. be able to defy history and reverse American decline?