Is the sky falling on this Beacon on the Hill, ending a century of Yankee dominance, crushing the greatest, most brashly exceptional nation known to mankind? Is this worldwide wonder of freedom and democracy, the intersection of divine history and human destiny, kaput, on its last legs, about to implode? Not quite, not yet, and that's no endorsement of the status quo: powers-that-be hold high trump cards.
Every generation endures end-of-the world scenarios, and we still dread last century's, nuclear holocaust. Drama -- let alone anxiety -- commands our attention and heartstrings. Pandemics, portable nukes, fiery asteroids, religious mania, starvation, rightwing nuts, and looming climate change, all threaten millions. But anxiety, even nightmare projections, do not mean Armageddon is upon us, nor that pundits suddenly clasp reliable crystal balls. Discretion is the better part of this valor.
Global warming looms, likely to cut world population and food production, but that's not extinction or end of times -- or displacing destructive capitalism. Want good news? Harvard professor Steven Pinker argues our belligerent species has cut our wartime-violence killing sprees. Are we not exiting Iraq, sort of? Life expectancies, even for the impoverished, grow annually, if you count enough people. Only 43 Americans endured capital punishment in 2011 (half the 2000 totals), mostly in W's Texas. Okay, we live in grim times but take heart: we don't guillotine yet. And most of life's simple pleasures haven't been banned, yet.
Centers hold on
No doubt, systemic cracks abound, thanks to myopic leadership blunders, not just across state and national politics but corporate's best and brightest, sports leagues, and fundamentalist denominations that turn Jesus into racist warmonger. Pedophilia, misogyny and reaction still stalk the west's oldest organized church. But even wobbly, distrusted centers, like moons and planets, can wobble in place a good long time. History testifies to the resilience of status quo, by definition adept at deflecting reform. Consider how long it took to resolve slavery (or civil war, if we have), enfranchise women (and minorities), or protect laboring children and the gamut of civil, gender, human and gay rights. Today's well-funded, defensive elite, armed with police forces, high-tech weaponry and media propaganda, so dreads systemic change that this is equated with "the end of its world."
Fortresses are designed for sieges, and things may well get worst before they get better. Yet does that justify the countless catastrophes predicted if that slick liberal, drone-friendly, Wall-Street-friendly president doesn't get re-elected? Even more earth-shaking disruption is guaranteed by fringe hysterics: national self-destruction descends if that slick liberal, non-citizen (let alone alien, socialist anti-Christ) defies divine will by staying in office. What a quandary: one election that decides which of two ways our world will end.
But anxiety aside, where's compelling data that today's enfeebled "Dying Empire" is expiring, and isn't there equivalent evidence proving retrenchment, shoring up weak spots and securing walls that resist reform? Few imagine violent domestic insurrection (despite guns galore) but many would project bloody retribution by armies of police helped by drone surveillance. Though whistleblowers are punished, gun sales flourish as do third political parties, and the Internet remains free, though gigantic computers approved by Obama violate our privacy. No doubt, were the belligerent, intolerant right to commandeer our entire government, brace for dreadful "systemic reforms." But odds greatly favor more status quo -- and 40 in the Senate trump nearly everything.