Democracy In America

It Was An Interesting Experiment

How stable, one may wonder, is the United States?

The answer would seem to be, "Exceedingly." The country has had no coups, attempted coups, or revolutions. Our only civil war came over a century ago. Political stability has contributed mightily to American success. We have avoided the internal wars, shifting governments, and dictators that have plagued the political adolescents of Europe.

Yet we are not a happy country. Below the surface lie anger and hostility that seem to have no resolution. Strains exist that we do not, may not, talk about. We hide these problems, and hide from them, hoping they will go away. Perhaps they will. Perhaps they won't.

The odds, I suppose, are against an explosion. It is as hard to imagine violent change in the United States as it was, fifteen years ago, to imagine that the Soviet Union would spontaneously disassemble. (Part of Marxist theory was that government would one day wither away. It did.) On the other hand, the country seems to me to be quietly, growingly-angry.

I wonder.

If, as a debating exercise, I were to argue for the possibility of cataclysmic upheaval, of race war, revolution, a coup, or widespread civil unrest, I would make my case as follows:

Our problems are grave. For example, we have a black minority of about thirteen percent that seethes with anger, does not seem to be assimilating, and grows in numbers. Blacks quietly gain political control of more and more cities. While their standard of living rises, their degree of allegiance to the larger society does not.

We have an equally large and growing Latino minority. To what extent Latinos will assimilate is not clear. Their children do poorly in school, which does not bode well. If they turn into a self-aware group in opposition to white America, into brown blacks, we will face a quarter of the population, and rising, hostile to the mainstream (and in all likelihood hostile to each other).

Whites back passively away, frightened in their own country, moving deeper into the suburbs, acceding to every demand. The others advance, knowing that the advantage is theirs. But it may be that this just raises the stakes should conflict come.

The racial divide is by itself every bit enough to cause disaster.

Profound division, and profound anger, permeate white America itself. Some of it follows the fault lines of partisan politics, but partakes of something deeper. It is not politics as usual. The antagonism is between the traditionally American and what for brevity may be called the politically correct. It verges on hatred.

The dispute among whites is not about details, not about the fine tuning of this or that policy. At stake are crucial, emotionally explosive matters such as the de-Christianization of the country, the ever-tightening governmental control of behavior, social decay, the replacement of merit by racial and sexual patronage, the forced mixing of racial and ethnic minorities that don't want to mix, a Latino invasion resented intensely by a majority of whites, and the relentless imposition of values abominated by the traditional America.

And there is the curious hostility between men and women. It won't erupt, but it aggravates tension. When instincts are thwarted, the limbic temperature rises. Generalized anger has a way, sooner or later, of focusing itself.

Historically, America's elastic democracy has prevented revolt by yielding to pressure. If women decided they wanted to major in chemical engineering, the country said, fine, sign here. Assimilation has been a chief instrument. If the Irish were held in disregard in one generation, in the next they moved up, blended, became generic Americans, and ceased being resentful or resented.

But-are today's resentments thus eradicable? What happens when groups don't assimilate, when nonnegotiable values of one group are inherently incompatible with those of another group?

Mechanisms of change appear to be lacking. We have two essentially identical political parties that refuse to address the aforementioned crucial questions: immigration, race, etc. Instead of looking for solutions, we hold the lid on by compulsion and censorship. It could prove dangerous. Think of Yugoslavia.

By stifling dissent, are we, as many think, giving our problems time to disappear? Or are we coiling a spring?

Further, we have cornered ourselves. The increasing centralization of government, and the increasing scope of its jurisdiction, make retreat impossible. In 1900 a town in Montana could run its schools as it liked. Washington and New York had neither the manpower, the communications, nor the interest to intervene. True, Montanans then probably had even less influence over Washington than they do now. Crucially, Washington had less over them.

Today remote bureaucracies monitor small towns and their schools, their textbooks, the racial and sexual ratios and failure rates in Algebra II, prescribe what they may and may not teach, what morality must be instilled, whether people can say "One nation under God," and send federal marshals should transgression occur.

Just as Tito held the lid down on Yugoslavia, the metagovernment prevents explosion (metagovernment being the curious amalgam of the media, academia, and their allies of which the federal government is the instrument). But Tito is never immortal. Then what?

Such are our domestic circumstances. Abroad, we face further stresses that we equally fail to resolve.

We find ourselves in a partial, half-noticed war with, depending on your degree of realism, terrorism or Islam. The country suffered a devastating attack in New York. So far, we have done essentially nothing about it. We now live in anxious expectation of further devastation. The government, flaccid abroad, reacts chiefly against Americans. Surveillance of the population grows, police powers advance, and governmental accountability diminishes.

The importance of the conflict with Islam is not easily calculated nor its consequences predicted. Will there be further attacks a la New York? A government unable to protect the country, widely detested at home, and respected nowhere is not a recipe for fealty. We are getting there. Institutions fall when they cease to work, or when people believe that they have ceased to work.

What could provoke-what? A coup? Revolution? Nothing that I can imagine. The control of communications is too great, the passivity of the white population near absolute. People have enough to eat and five hundred cable channels. The military is safely emasculated.

The likelihood, I think, is that we will muddle on, dissatisfied but not too dissatisfied, turning into whatever we are turning into, learning obedience. Yet the tension is there. Remember the LA riots. Nothing lasts forever, not even America. A fascinating question is when and how it will stop lasting.