Brave is the man who predicts the downfall of the USA. Such a man is Crispin Hull, a former editor of The Canberra Times. crispinhull.com.au
Just how rotten is the United States’ political system? The answer is rotten, as in it will only take a small kick for the whole edifice to fall in, let alone a big kick like COVID-19.
The idea is about as fanciful as the collapse of the Soviet empire seemed in 1987, when President Ronald Reagan famously demanded: “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Yet, a short time later, a little chink in the Iron Curtain at the Hungary-Austria border saw the whole rotten regime collapse.
Almost nobody predicted it, with the notable exception of Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik…
Charles King, Professor of International Affairs and Government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., wrote an essay in the most recent Foreign Affairs magazine outlining Amalrik’s theory of great power decay, very cleverly avoiding directly applying it to the US.
King wrote: “The ‘comfort cult’, as Amalrik called it – the tendency in seemingly stable societies to believe “that ‘reason will prevail’ and that ‘everything will be all right'” – is seductive. As a result, when a terminal crisis comes, it is likely to be unexpected, confusing, and catastrophic, with the causes so seemingly trivial, the consequences so easily reparable if political leaders would only do the right thing, that no one can quite believe it has come to this…
The underlying weakness in present US democracy is that partisanship has become so extreme that the nation is incapable of dealing with the major issues that face it. COVID-19 has illustrated that starkly, with every word and act predicated on party allegiance. Meanwhile, other problems like race, police violence, gun control, inequality, the health system, climate change and energy policy go unattended.
The motives of “the other side” are routinely vilified without evidence. The Democrats are blamed for everything. The Republicans can do no wrong. And to a lesser extent, vice versa. My side of politics, right or wrong.
In a vicious cause-and-effect circle, the imperative of winning at all costs corrodes the political process, and the corroded political process makes winning at all costs even more imperative.
The Trump presidency has made all this worse, but the seeds were there long before. He has appointed incompetent ignorant toadies to the most senior positions in his cabinet and the bureaucracy. He has undermined the Supreme Court with appointments based on politics, not law.
Tragically, American exceptionalism – “we are the first and best democracy on Earth” – contributes to the self-delusion of indestructibility. There is nothing automatically self-correcting in US democracy. Even the so-called checks and balances are not working – they are causing gridlock, rather than adding a bit of mild caution to a system that is overall supposed to be geared to problem-solving, not political point-scoring.
The system has become so warped that those disenfranchised, disempowered and disenchanted are taking to the streets, questioning the legitimacy of the whole system.
The only question is whether the taking to the streets can break these vicious circles, or whether it is just another step in the decline and fall of a great power.
Whatever happens, Australia must not go any further in the direction the US has gone in the past few decades.
Crispin Hull is a former editor of The Canberra Times. crispinhull.com.au