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The Challenge the U.S. Faces (Big Picture)

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posted on May, 10 2006 @ 08:31 PM
Every so often, a modern society finds itself in a rut. The institutions and laws, the economic, political, military, and diplomatic policies that have worked reasonably well for the past however-many years, no longer function properly in the face of changing circumstances. When faced with such times, America must redefine itself. We have entered that maelstrom three times in the past. We do so for a fourth time now.

The first time happened in the late 18th century. America had defined itself as a string of British colonies, possessed of considerable de facto independence, but technically subordinate to the British Crown. The population and social development of the colonies had reached a point, however, when that relationship and self-definition were no longer tenable. Britain sensed this and attempted to assert sovereignty; America felt it also and resisted this attempt; the end result was a war for independence, the formation of a new nation, and the framing of the Constitution. Emerging into the 19th century, America defined itself in a very different way, as a federation of independent states bound by recognition of political principles and self-interest. The transition from colonies to independent states took less than 20 years, from 1773 (the Boston Tea Party and Punitive Acts) to 1789 (the seating of the first U.S. Congress and the Washington administration).

The second time was in the mid 19th century. In the struggle between the industrial interests and the landed planters, with slavery as the fiery central issue, the self-definition of America as a federation of independent states died. It died along with a great many American men, from the north and south. The slaughter and destruction of the Civil War were so terrible that few balked at strengthening the federal government, and weakening the states, to prevent it ever happening again. Approaching the turn of the 20th century, America redefined itself again, no longer as a federation of states, but as one nation, in which industry had triumphed completely over the planter elite, and in which slavery was not tolerated anywhere. This transition also took less than 20 years, from 1860 (Lincoln's election and the secession of the South) to 1878 (the removal of the occupying troops from the former Confederacy).

The third time was in the early-mid 20th century. In the breakdown of the industrial economy, followed by the most terrible war in history, America's self-definition as a strictly capitalist nation, with an isolationist foreign policy and a deliberately weak military, broke down. Socialist-leaning reforms had to be implemented, workers' rights and those of investors protected by the government, and the military retained at a high level after the war to prevent another Pearl Harbor. From a purely economic power that idolized the free market and the privileges of capital, the nation redefined itself as a military superpower with a mixed capitalist/socialist economy. This transition, again, took less than 20 years, from 1929 (the onset of the Great Depression) until 1945 (the end of World War II).

So much change in so short a time was, in each case, wrenching. Those with no living memory of those times (myself included) have a hard time imagining what it must have been like.

We now face such a trial again. Our self-definition as a mixed capitalist/socialist national economy cannot be maintained in the face of a global economy that transcends the authority of the U.S. government. Our self-definition as a military superpower cannot be maintained in the face of the economic disruption we face as a consequence of that regulatory failure, and the concurrent natural resource crisis we also face. We must, again, redefine and restructure.

The Bush administration is failing to do this. Its aggressive foreign policy is an attempt to cling to the superpower definition, and its economic policies are a pandering to those corporations that exploit the new global reality rather than any attempt to actually deal with it. As usual, we must hit the wall first before facing reality, and likely will have to suffer the equivalent of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, or the Great Depression before we see sense.

There is both good and bad in the fact that this is probably not long away.

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