Sometimes it’s hard to shake the uneasy feeling that we are witnessing the dissolution of an idea that was once America.
The country is still a military superpower and an economic and innovation powerhouse, but so many of our institutions are proving to be either fundamentally flawed or deeply broken.
This thought kept creeping into my mind as I watched Thursday’s Republican presidential debate in Detroit. It seemed to me the zenith of a carnival of absurdity, as the candidates descended into what appeared to be a penis-measuring contest.
I kept thinking with dread, “One of these men might actually be the next president” – either the demagogue from New York, the political arsonist from Texas or the empty suit from Florida. (I see no path for the governor from Ohio.)
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In another political season, liberals might greet such a prospect with glee. But this is not that season.
On the Democratic side, the leading candidate is a hawkish political shape shifter, too cozy with big money, whose use of a private email server has led to an FBI investigation and whom most Americans don’t trust.
Her lone opponent is a self-described democratic socialist who seeks to cram sweeping generational changes – hinged on massive systemic disruptions and significant tax hikes – into a presidential term. And he says he will be able to do this with the help of a political revolution, one that has yet to materialize at the polls.
One of these people will be the next president of the United States.
And this is the country of which they will take the helm:
We are a country stuck in perpetual warfare that is now confronting the threat of the Islamic State terrorist group. The Republican candidates have proposed the most outlandish approaches to that threat, including everything from war crimes such as torture and killing terror suspects’ families to carpet bombing in the Middle East until we can see whether “sand can glow in the dark.”
Our government is broken. We have a legislative branch that increasingly sees its role as resistance rather than action. There is an opening on the Supreme Court that Republican leaders in the Senate are saying they won’t let this duly elected president fill.
But that same Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech, swinging the door wide open to allow the ultra-wealthy to have nearly unlimited influence on the electoral process.
No wonder a 2014 study found that America has effectively transformed into an oligarchy instead of a democracy.
And yet, that is an idea that most Americans are pathologically incapable of processing. We suffer from a blithe glacialism, occasionally cursing the winds that carry our demise, but mostly hoping against hope and pretending that evidence of things seen and felt is either faulty or fleeting. It is not.
We have millions of undocumented immigrants in this country, but comprehensive immigration reform remains a thing we bicker about.
Our infrastructure is in shambles, but in a country where bridges are crumbling, Republican candidates are obsessed about building a border wall. The city of Flint was poisoned as officials sought to pinch pennies.
Global warming continues unabated, most likely intensifying the severity of extreme weather, – from droughts to hurricanes to blizzards – and yet last month the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Obama administration’s rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Our educational system, from pre-K to college, serves the wealthy relatively well but leaves far too many without access, underprepared or drowning in debt.
We are plagued by gun violence and mass shootings, and yet no one is moving forward on meaningful solutions.
America’s middle class is shrinking. According to a December Pew Research Center report: “Fully 49 percent of U.S. aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, up from 29 percent in 1970. The share accruing to middle-income households was 43 percent in 2014, down substantially from 62 percent in 1970.”
Our criminal justice system has made a mockery of the concept of equal justice with its racially skewed pattern of mass incarceration. Not only is the United States “the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails – a 500 percent increase over the past thirty years,” according to the Sentencing Project, but the group also points out:
“More than 60 percent of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For black males in their 30s, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the ‘war on drugs,’ in which two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color.”
The list of woe is a mile long.
There is palpable discontent in this country among those who feel left out and left behind in the bounty of America’s prosperity.
How long can the center hold? How long can the illusion be sustained? How long before we start to call this the post-American idealism era?
The New York Times