In 1944 the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal wrote in his influential book, “An American Dilemma,” that “it is the ‘American Creed’ that keeps the diverse melting pot of the United States together. It is the common belief in this creed that endows all people – whites, Negroes, rich, poor, make, female, and immigrants alike – with a common cause and allows for them to co-exist as one nation.”
In my view it is the erosion of commitment to this creed in the United States that explains much of our current political and social malaise. It explains the polarization of the public into self-justifying political “bubbles,” political entities unwilling to hear or speak to each other without ascribing the most base motives to the other. A sense of common cause no longer resides in the ideology of conflicting parties. What has evolved is a quest for absolute power by self-righteous combatants. There is no room for compromise!
As justification for the United States’ entry into combat in Vietnam, politicians invoked the so-called “domino theory,” i.e., that once one country falls to the Communists, it will lead to others falling like dominoes. I am convinced that the “domino theory” can explain what is happening to the political landscape in America.
First, there is the disenfranchisement of many voters by gerrymandering and other nefarious schemes, solidifying control of electoral districts in perpetuity. This process has proceeded apace in a number of states, including North Carolina, thereby assuring legislative control, despite majority votes statewide for gubernatorial candidates and other officials.
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Second, control of the judiciary follows. Appointment of partisan judges, approved by one-party legislatures, enables retrogressive legislation to be upheld. Challenges to the constitutionality of such legislation are thus doomed to failure. The federal judiciary can, over time, be transformed into a rubber stamp for an authoritarian administration.
Third, the gerrymandered electoral college allows the election of a minority administration, despite a majority of the electorate voting for the losing candidate. Thus empowered, such an administration, with cooperation of the legislative branch, is in a position to control all aspects of the federal government, including the military and justice system. Further, the independence of the Fourth Estate, the media, could be threatened severely by legislative and administrative actions.
In my opinion, we are at a point in our history where there are ominous signs of movement toward an authoritarian state. Unless men and women of conscience and wisdom, in both political parties, recognize the danger signals, we are likely to drift into a state of affairs from which there is no return.
It has been said that “you can fool all the people some of the time, some of the people all the time, but not all the people all the time.” If this is still true, there is hope; if not, I am deeply pessimistic about our future as a democratic nation.
Samuel H. Magill of Chapel Hill is president emeritus of Monmouth University.