Will the Republicans Hasten America’s Decline?

Will the Republicans (Continue to) Hasten America’s Decline?

That the United States is in decline is without question, at least in terms of what people and pundits usually mean by that.  Having risen to a peak of influence and economic and military power in the decades of the twentieth century following World War II, capped by the collapse of Soviet communism and the evolution of China towards a new hybrid of state capitalism (leaving communism now to the insignificant states of Cuba and North Korea), after the defeat of Al Gore by the votes and machinations of the right wing of the Republican Party, the structural weaknesses of America have become obvious.  Where once we were the world’s largest creditor nation, we are now the world’s largest debtor.  As Emmanuel Todd pointed out back in 2002, the American lifestyle is no longer self-sustaining.  We depend on credit and commodities from the rest of the world to maintain this facsimile of prosperity of which we have been so proud, but as the crash of 2008 demonstrated, there is no sound foundation to that prosperity.  We are all in debt, from the federal government down to the individual consumer who piles up credit card debt to sustain a semblance of the consuming lifestyle so relentlessly promoted by politicians, economists, and advertisers.  Our thinking, that we can pay tomorrow for the costs of today, was well illustrated by the Bush administration’s launching of an outsized war in Iraq while reducing taxes at home; never before in our history have wartime taxes been reduced rather than increased.

The effect of our inability to achieve our stated goals, murky and improbable as they were, in Iraq, and further in Afghanistan, has been to reduce our political prestige and influence in the rest of the world.  While we are still a powerful player on the international stage, other protagonists are competing with us for prominent roles.  President Obama recognizes this and works, as best he can given our political climate, to adapt to the new reality.  But the Republican Party, which now is the party of the far right and reactionary elements in American life rather than a truly conservative party, wants to continue to pretend that we are the world’s only hyper-superpower.  Yet ironically, Obama is criticized for doing what the Bush administration could not:  taking out Osama bin Laden, as well as other key leaders of al Qaeda.  The Republicans want to be in complete and absolute power, and they see the route to that as being the removal of Obama, regardless of the effectiveness or logic of his policies.  The Republicans believe, or at least claim to believe, that this is the surest route to maintaining American supremacy.

Yet at the same time, the Republicans continue their assault on those aspects of America that have underwritten our prominence.  They wish to reduce the power of the federal government, starving the beast until it is small enough to drown in a bathtub, even though it is only through a strong, well-financed, and effective federal government that American power and influence can be expressed internationally.  Regardless of how big a corporation may be, it is not a government and can be dismantled by governments or expelled from a country in which it is no longer welcome, and it cannot (at least not yet) raise and maintain an army or navy to protect its interests.  The vulnerability of large corporations was demonstrated when the large banks and automakers required government bailouts to survive; furthermore, it is the FDIC that stabilizes the banking system over the long term, not the banks themselves.  Likewise, only a national government can effectively negotiate with another national government (or governments) on such matters as trade barriers, international monetary policy, world transportation, and so forth.  And certainly only a strong national government can pursue policies backed up by military power.

Other foundation stones of American influence have been the level of education of our citizens and workers, our infrastructure, and our dollar.  But the Republicans have been working tirelessly to undermine and defund our public educational system (at both the national and local levels), refuse to fund infrastructure repair and building projects (which, I suppose, since they would employ workers must be a form of socialism); and, in their kneejerk opposition to regulation, apparently prefer to undermine our banking and monetary system rather than strengthen it.

But perhaps potentially the most damaging line item of the Republican agenda is the support for “states’ rights” in opposition to the size of the federal “beast.”  The attempted takeover of immigration policies by the states is a striking example of this opposition, in that it presumes to appropriate the right and obligation of the federal government to control our national borders.  But this is not surprising, given that the states’ rights movement has its roots in racism, which has always been within the purview of states (insofar as law is concerned) rather than of the federal government.  The Jim Crow laws and miscegenation were all at the state and local level, and it took the power of the federal government to break them.  Now we have the paradox of the right trying to wrest a legitimate power from the federal government and return to a new version of Jim Crow, this time directed primarily at Hispanics, while at the same time campaigning to add a new power over marriage to the federal government, in the form of the Defense of Marriage Act, which they would like to add as an amendment to the Constitution.

Reducing the budget of the federal government through tax cuts and reductions in funding for federal agencies (except, of course, the Defense Department, which is always given more money than it wants) is the preferred method for reducing its power, which will devolve more power to the states.  But the Republicans do not stop there.  They also want to reduce state budgets, perhaps because the states have in the past tended to mirror Washington in the way funds get allocated.  One might readily suspect that what they really want is more power to large corporations, and the more misguided and short-sighted of these corporations seem to want this, too.

What would be the result of Republican success in such machinations?  Whatever they may think they will get out of them, the result is likely to be a fragmentation of the country into semi-independent states and corporate fiefs, all competing for resources and power and unable to project a coherent or unified policy or response to outside factors, such as the rise of China, the resurgence of Russia, or chaos in the Middle East (thus affecting our access to oil, not to mention the financing of our debt by foreign interests).  If Europe manages to successfully navigate its current crisis and the Euro zone endures, it will emerge as a more powerful player on the international stage and will be less willing to follow America’s increasingly incoherent and powerless lead and more likely to bypass Washington as it draws closer to Russia and Asia (a shared continent in common, after all).  Britain may have no choice but to draw closer to Europe.  And Canada may wash its hands of us and turn to exporting more of its oil and lumber to China.  Large corporations may have no choice but to flee the country, leaving our economy in even worse shape.

Rather than strengthening the country, the Republicans are pursuing a strategy that amounts to administrative secession.  A country divided is no longer a country but the Balkans.  What kind of country we will be after that may be unpredictable at this time, but none of the scenarios one contemplates  include continued American prosperity and power.

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  • Mike  On July 7, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    Interesting to read a leftish view of American decline. It’s like a Mirror Universe post!

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