In previous postings, I’ve been basically pessimistic about the lack of a unifying ethnic core to the United States, and the resulting unbuffered intensity of our political conflicts. Last time, I noted the naivete of expecting our rival factions to do anything but fight when there’s no sentimental tie to hold them together. Appeals for concord will be ineffectual without some radical change in our current situation, and this post will consider what kind of change might do the trick.
I almost think I should start with an apology – the points I’ll be making are so obvious that I may seem to be insulting my readers’ intelligence. Yet these simplistic considerations seemingly haven’t occurred to many of the folks now setting the tone of our national political debate. Compromise, these days, is generally held to be out of the question. Neither the left nor the right wants it. We’re engaged in a battle for the soul of America, the pundits say, and no accommodation is possible.
OK, where’s that going to lead?
Let’s abstractly consider the case of a hypothetical country split into two bitterly antagonistic factions. These parties are perhaps ethnically based, perhaps ideological, but in any case, they can’t get along and aren’t interested in trying. There’d seem to be three ways for this situation to be stabilized.
(1) One group could exterminate or enslave the other – a method that’s been tried both in ancient and modern times. It often works.
(2) One group could forcibly assimilate the other. That is, the dominant group could oblige the others to submit to a re-education process where they’ll be stripped of their former identity and be taught to recognize the errors of their previous ways. They may have to learn a new language and adapt to new cultural norms. Method (1) might have to be used on any who refuse to conform.
(3) The two groups could divide the country between them and go their separate ways politically. Sometimes this occurs peacefully, as when the Slovaks broke up with the Czechs in 1993. Sometimes it’s a very bloody process – as when the Americans, and later the Irish, won independence from the British Empire, or when the South tried, but failed, to secede from the United States.
Those are the possibilities. Which, reader, do you prefer for America?
Method (1) is morally unacceptable. So is method (2), especially when we note that re-education essentially means brainwashing. Also, while robbing people of their ethnicity may not be as bad as killing them physically, it still means snuffing out a vital part of their inner essence. Anyway, it’s unlikely that either of those solutions could be implemented as long as America remains a democracy. Regarding method (3), it would take a dozen blog postings to list the many practical problems that would present, even if a separation were peaceful. How would we manage the economic and demographic dislocation that would happen under any plan of disunion? How would we divide up the national debt? Or the federal highway fund? Or the Social Security trust fund? Or the nuclear arsenal? And would it really be a good thing for California and Texas both to have H-bombs, on missiles, aimed at the other? Think about it.
As I observed earlier, it’s not terribly difficult to arrive at these conclusions. You don’t have to be a proverbial rocket scientist to understand that neither extermination, nor compulsory mind-bending, nor political divorce is a realistic choice for this country today. Yet if none of these options is tolerable, and if compromise is indeed impossible, the clash of irreconcilable factions can’t be alleviated. Each side might hope to defeat the other in the next election, but since the opposition won’t be eliminated, any electoral victories will be temporary. Even when a party wins power, whatever it tries to do will be frustrated by the unrelenting obstruction of its domestic foe.
Does any of that sound familiar?
In this toxic political environment, it’ll be foolish to try to pursue a coherent plan for the general public welfare. Any such plan would inevitably involve compromises, which are anathema. And it’ll be shrewd for every self-interested group to exclusively consider its own priorities, since every other group will be doing the same. To use the classical terminology, our polity is corrupt, and my greatest fear is that our democratic system may not survive. Trump is definitely the strongman type, and while his lack of couth and his incompetence may save us from the worst in his case, there will be other Trump-like characters, with maybe more ability. A despot might become necessary to stop our factions from ripping each other to shreds – or, even worse, might win power with the aim of implementing method (1) or (2) above.
I don’t pretend to have an answer for all this. The old Pagan seers would advise mutual forbearance and accommodation, but good luck with that in the current public mood. If our politicians wanted to cooperate in a bipartisan spirit – and I don’t see that they do – their respective bases wouldn’t allow them. I think our priority should be to preserve our freedom and avoid tyranny, yet we’ll be lucky to even do that. The story of the decline of the ancient Pagan republics might illuminate our predicament, and I’ll investigate that possibility in future postings.
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