America’s 21st Century Fork in the Road
Sunday, January 8th, 2016
By Reed Galen
Author’s Note: My chronicle of last year, The American Singularity: A Guided Tour Through the 2016 Campaign, is coming to Amazon Kindle on Monday, January 16th!
George Santayana reportedly said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” This trope is used as a warning in times of uncertainty to remind us not to repeat our mistakes. We should take Santayana’s alleged words to heart and history itself sometimes resembles itself, but its orbit is not a perfect circle. Instead, it meanders back and forth along our collective timeline, revisiting familiar points along a continuum.
There is something about the first 15 to 20 years of a new century. If we look back 100 years, we see Europe locked in one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history. The Great War itself not only killed millions, it obliterated institutions that held much of the Western world together for hundreds of years. Following five years in the abattoir, the ruling houses of Romanov, Habsburg and Hohenzollern were gone; taking the last vestiges of feudalism, hereditary monarchy and their attendant apparatus with them. In their wake, a continent stumbled into its new epoch.
Just over a decade later, the Great Depression further sank the world’s institutions. In Germany, societal instability and hyper-inflation allowed the likes of Adolf Hitler to rise — through the ballot box. The German people, tired of Weimar’s perceived incompetence and decadence led to the Nazis to come to power with promises of strength, nationalism and a return to “traditional” cultural norms.
Hilter and his government massively increased spending on the military and infrastructure alike. Putting millions of Germans back to work, reigniting dormant national pride and curbing inflation, the Nazis were able to systematically gain the acquiescence of the people, the Reichstag and the bureaucracy. In less than six years, Germany would be a totalitarian state embarking on the most destructive conflict humanity has ever known.
In the United States, Franklin Roosevelt’s 1932 election brought about the New Deal and a dramatic increase in state involvement in the economic and ultimately everyday lives of all Americans. Many of the programs that Roosevelt introduced such as control of farm prices, were not successful. Others, such as Social Security and the Tennessee Valley Authority are with us today. Despite many conservative objections then (and now) the New Deal was dramatic action taken in the course of a massive national emergency.
The idea of “getting things done” is often at the top of American voters’ minds; never more so than in the past 15 years when we have collectively seen man-made, natural and economic disasters befall us with largely ineffectual or outright disastrous responses from Washington, DC. The eight years of the Obama Administration saw no Federal budget passed, a trillion dollar “stimulus” program that needed no shovels and a strictly party-line healthcare plan enacted. After 2011, Obama and the Republican Congress were both unwilling or unable to pass any truly meaningful reform to boost citizens’ economic prospects.
When Donald Trump becomes president next week, the country will have to ask itself: Are we going to sacrifice liberty for “getting things done” or are we going to hold both our new chief executive and our elected representatives to account for their actions? In Washington, it far easier to swim with the current of new power brokers than demand leaders act in accordance with the strictures of their offices or in the best interests of citizens at large. If President Trump says, “I want to do all these things for you, the American people, but you have to let me do it my way, without any questions,” what will our answer be?
Will Congress and the sprawling Federal bureaucracy demand that Mr. Trump, his family and his Cabinet appointees disclose their financial holdings and potential conflicts of interest? Will they demand the new president take the threat of Russian aggression seriously? Will anyone in government, or within the Republican Party, hold the line against the casual way the president-elect seems to dismiss the requirements of his new position? Or will they go along to get along?
Do Americans care if their new president is dealing with foreign government in his official capacity while the Trump Organization plans a new development in that same country? Maybe they don’t, and maybe it doesn’t matter. It is rarely the sudden power grab that leads to over-arching state control of our individual lives, words and expression. It is the creeping apathy and ignorance that anything is out of place that ultimately dooms republics. On January 20th, Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States — let’s make sure he knows we’re watching.
Copyright 2016. Jedburghs, LLC.
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