Wednesday, November 24, 2004

America Fails: reasons for pessimism

The 2004 election looks to me, and to many people, as the moment when America failed as the world leader. In particular the failure has a finality to it because it is a failure of the American people. And it looks to be a defining catastrophe, rather than just some reversible bungle that we can somehow muddle through.

The incomprehension which the result gives rise to stems from the double-whammy of America denying both its own values and its own interests. I have difficulty with a people who can make such choices as these:
  • the ratification of torture
  • the abandonment of sound finances
  • the ending of the principle of emancipation
  • the smearing of a war hero
None of these are new. But this time they have been chosen, together, deliberately, and exalted as though they are God's mission on earth. There will be consequences.

These consequences are hard to fathom. If America fails, the implication is that America will break, which suggests secession. That can only happen if it is business-driven, no-one is going to secede for the benefit of women, blacks or homosexuals. The world just does not work that way.

Another suggestion is that America becomes a nazi state. History suggests this. But at the moment such an eventuality is signally lacking its fascisti or brownshirt movement. For a totalitarianism to be total, it must impinge on personal safety in everyday life. And geography is on America's side - it's a big place for a nazi government to get round to everywhere. The Soviet Union managed it, of course, but they could use Siberia as a prison.

Which brings me back to secession. I think there is a fast and a slow variety of secession, just as crime was once described as 'slow rioting'. The fast version happens if , for example, Maine decides to join Canada or California decides to go it alone. These ideas seem loopy, which means they are a whole paradigm shift away.

But slow secession is more likely. There will be greater and faster social polarisation. Read Richard Florida on the role of creativity in the economy, and the countless commentators responding to Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas (full disclosure, I haven't read it) on how the response of the "Heartland" to the loss of its brightest and most creative is to resent and retreat from the challenges of modernity. In such an atmosphere, secessionary activity, such as a campaign of refusal to pay federal taxes, can happen and therefore probably will, and probably in a "militia state", one of those that would be most hurt by the very break-up they would promote.

And one issue is dynamite. The last states to secede would be left holding the federal debt.


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