Back to the drawing board?
As I write this, the government of the United States of America is still shut down as the result of the Republican Party doing an end run around democracy and trying to force the President and the Senate to repeal, to defund, or to delay indefinitely a law that has been passed both by the house of Representatives and the Senate, was signed into law by the President, and was upheld by the Supreme Court. They brought bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act forty times and were defeated each time. Clearly, therefore, according to Republican doctrine, the system isn’t working.
With that sentiment, at least, most people would agree; the system isn’t working. Of course, the system isn’t working because the people who complain about the government the most stridently are the very ones responsible for its failure. The more radical members of the Republican Party – those who dictate party policy – are on record as despising the very notion of government and wanting to put an end to it; in this effort they are on the road to success. Oh, it’s not thought out, the ramifications haven’t been considered, the collateral damage hasn’t been taken into account…but that doesn’t get in the way of their determination to subvert anything that the democratic process can bring the citizens of the greatest democratic experiment in the history of the world. So the system is failing because those who decry the very existence of the system in the first place have infiltrated the system and sabotaged it from within.
At this point, whether the shutdown continues or not, whether the Republicans are successful in causing the wealthiest country in the history of the world to renege on its debt or whether default is once again avoided, win or lose, the system has imploded and the noble experiment has to be seen as a failure. The United States as a democratic nation is simply not viable.
To see why this is the case, one has to look back at the beginnings of the great experiment; we have to look at what the Founding Fathers, the drafters of the US Constitution were thinking when they designed the protocols for this experiment.
In the first place, all of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence and, later on, The Constitution of the United States of America were liberal intellectuals. That historical fact is lost upon the anti-liberal and anti-intellectual modern conservatives, but then they’ve never let facts interfere with a favourite theory. Secondly, that liberal intellectualism led them to believe in the fundamental reasonableness and decency of human beings; in that belief, they were apparently misguided. And it was that belief that led them to design a system of government tailored to human beings who were flawed, self-interested, and to some degree venal, but fundamentally rational.
The constitution was designed with series of basic presumptions in play. Among those presumptions were that both the people to be governed and their elected representative would be people of goodwill, patriotic, and intelligent; that they would be willing to cooperate in their own self-interest, and to compromise when necessary in the interests of the society they were forging. However, it seems that when conservatives accuse liberals of being starry-eyed and naïve, they might be on to something. Today’s conservatives have demonstrated that the basic presumptions upon which the United States of America were founded were overly optimistic in their assessment of the people for whom they were creating a new nation.
Those basic presumptions were critical to the form and type of government the framers of the constitution opted for. While democratic governance can take a variety of forms, the framers chose to work with a republican system and to eschew a parliamentary system, largely because of their basic presumptions regarding the nobility of their people.
A parliamentary system works from the presumption of intransigent, hardline partisanship among those vying for public office. It allows for many different parties, each with an inflexible point of view and demands that they form short or longer term alliances, coalitions, and voting blocks. These shifting loyalties enable a parliament composed of recalcitrant and uncompromising ideologues to enact legislation that represents the wishes and needs of a wide variety of people in a very pluralistic society.
In contrast, a republican two-party system presumes a degree of collegiality, and loyalty to the nation above parties. Although the notion of a two-party structure isn’t specifically mentioned in the United States Constitution, the system is created in such a fashion as to work best when everyone is in agreement with the fundamental aims and goals of the country, but there is a bifurcation of desired approaches to achieving them. But if those presumptions are off the mark, the system rapidly becomes unworkable. If, for example, one of the two parties takes the position that government itself is an evil to be eradicated, then the government cannot work. Even if one of those parties, as is the case at this point in US history, is manipulated by a minority internal faction that holds those views, the system will fail. And it has failed.
In a parliamentary system, the right’s polarised and inflexible position could have been accommodated. The Tea Party faction would have splintered off and formed its own party and won a number of seats; the right wing whack jobs would have parliamentary representation, and might even hold the balance of power. But the nation would persevere.
The United States, however, has, in all probability, failed. The country has most likely been mortally wounded.
It is difficult indeed to see how the United States of America can survive. It’s not likely to go supernova and explode in a bright, destructive ball of fire; it will go with a long, slow, whimper. The world and the world’s economy will not allow a small group of American hillbillies to hold them hostage every time they want some concession in Congress. The Tea Party strategy of threatening to tank the entire world’s economy will not be tolerated indefinitely by international power and wealth brokers who quite simply couldn’t care less about Ted Cruz’s uneducated constituents’ wishes. The last time the US came this close to a default, the nation’s credit rating took a hit. It will again. That alone is going to cause untold damage to the precarious economy.
As long as the United States is as unreliable a credit risk as, say, Argentina, it will have the credit rating of a nation that cannot be trusted to pay its debts; its financial instruments, T Bills and US futures, will need to pay out huge interest to attract investors. The US dollar will not remain the world’s reserve currency much longer. Already financial markets all over the world are considering alternatives; this latest little adventure will increase that trickle away from the greenback to a torrent.
So, folks, you heard it here first. You are looking at the first days of the rest of the life of the United States of America. By the time my four-year-old son JJ is my age, the fact that the United States was once the greatest, wealthiest, and most powerful nation in the world will be a fact only of interest to historians. They’ve had a good run of two and a half centuries, with most of the last one as a superpower and the last 2 decades as the only superpower. But ultimately, the experiment failed. And it failed because a small group of demagogues simply didn’t understand how to play nice with other kids.