With the most recent NBC poll showing sixty-eight percent of Americans see the country as moving in the “wrong direction,” this represents a level of pessimism about the nation’s future, seldom, if ever, seen before. While it is true that we are immersed in a war without a discernable end, a President who is incapable of resolving national problems, and a Congress mired in endless argument, the direct effects of this incompetence are relatively unfelt by most citizens.
This in no way mitigates seriousness of the problems we face. A Middle East, where peace is a distant dream, an immigration flood with no solution in sight, a national debt beyond anything we have seen before, all confront us on a daily basis. Yet, the nation has faced equal or more severe crises than currently experienced and have met them with confidence, enthusiasm, and pride.
If this perception is correct, how do we explain the deep national depression in which we find ourselves? Having lived through the Administrations of twelve Presidents (Truman to Bush 43), I can remember no time when there was such public cynicism, while at the same time an unwillingness to participate in changing or managing the national leadership responsible for our problems.
In a recent blog, Joel Hirschhorn makes a telling comment:
“For a nation that was built on a revolt against oppressive governance by the British, something has been lost from our political DNA. We apparently no longer have the gene for political rebellion. It has been bred out of most of us. And those of us that urge a Second American Revolution are seen as fringe, nutty subversives.”
It’s not as if there were no options available to people. Ultimately, as a nation, we could “throw the bums out,” through the use of a provision of the U.S. Constitution contemplating just such a situation as that in which we find ourselves. This is the provision for a new Constitutional Convention.
Article V -- The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.
Hirschhorn argues that we are not yet in sufficient distress to make the massive effort which would be required for such a major reorganization of governance. He further takes the view that the Internet provides a “release valve,” allowing free complaint, while damping pent up demand for action.
There is little reason to doubt the validity of these arguments, but I believe that, at this point in our national experience, there is an additional element at work. George W. Bush and all who have been his ardent supporters, have introduced a cancer into the system which has metastasized to an effect on the national spirit which may prove to be fatal. This symptoms of this cancer are already manifest:
1. The Rule of Law no longer exists: The operation of any legal system requires that once a law exists, it must be enforceable. George Bush has demonstrated that breaking the law is readily achieved with complete impunity. From ending of Habeas Corpus, the politicization of the Justice Department, the treatment of prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay to the disregard for FISA protections, we see a continuing pattern and practice of failing to even acknowledge law applies to him. He is after all, “… the Decider!”
2. Congress is a law unto itself: Congress has chosen to take its own path, passing legislation which directly counters the desire and needs of the citizens who they represent. Moreover, they have failed to hold the President accountable for his winding detour from the constitution. Instead, they focus on granting amnesty to illegal immigrants, a position opposed by 80% of the citizenry. Presented with overwhelming evidence from their own investigations, they are unwilling to even issue a non-binding vote of No Confidence in the “leadership” of Alberto Gonzalez.
The defining characteristics of the American spirit are those of honor, trust, integrity, selflessness and sacrifice for others. Telling the truth, keeping promises, loyalty are the ideals which upon which all of our commitment to and pride in country are based. There are, of course some aspects of American life where these values remain constant. We see them reflected in the courageous behavior of the vast majority of our combat-engaged military.
Yet, that qualities of behavior and attitude are far more the exception than the rule. For most of us are sole experience with this nation’s leaders, be they in business or government, leads us to distrust all that they say or publish. We have been fooled sufficiently often, to have an instant response of distrust and cynicism.
That is the cancer that has spread unchecked, through the body of America. It has spread into every facet of our interactions not only with institutions, but with our personal lives as well. Do we have to look much beyond dishonesty to find the most likely explanation for our soaring divorce rate? How about the billions in uncollected taxes resulting from the cheating of average citizens? What lies abound on our resumes? Then, there is the scandal of the protection of sexual predators by church leaders. I challenge readers to identify any area of their lives where truth is the rule.
Worst of all is the spread of approval of dishonesty to our children. Do you need evidence of that? Just spend some time reading this article about a major cheating scandal by school administrators in Camden, New Jersey. While there are some educators who will forever battle cheating by their students, its rampant prevalence makes this effort a lost cause. In this kind of atmosphere, those students who seek genuine knowledge must be the increasingly few, since reward comes all so clearly to those who dishonor themselves, and choose to take the easy path.
I wonder whether this was the same mechanism that ended or diminished of the great civilizations that have gone before, Greece, the Roman Republic, and the British Empire. Those who question the threat of man’s influence on global warming point to the cyclical history of world climate. Perhaps it is inevitable that all civilizations, as wonderous and powerful as they may be at apogee, must fall into the same pattern of decline and rebirth as those that have gone before.