Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.
The famous refrain from Don McLean’s hit song, adjusted for context, has an ominous ring to it as America drives its Chevy, or its Volt, toward the levee of its future. There are fewer than two years to go before the United States will decide whether it intends to survive or to call it quits — a stark choice, and no doubt a simplistic way of putting it — but it’s no reductive exaggeration. To see how the process of degeneration works, we need only look across the Atlantic. America’s European parent is clearly in the throes of slow but inexorable disintegration. Fiscal recklessness owing to socialist economics and out-of-control entitlement and welfare spending, rampant multiculturalism leading to a rapidly expanding and hostile Islamic demographic, the politically correct war against truth allied with growing censorship and prosecution of free expression, virulent anti-Semitism, the transnational weakening of cultural solidarity, and a precipitously declining birth rate combine in an unholy amalgam to guarantee a desolate posterity. Beneath its cultivated facade, Europe looks increasingly moon-cratered.
Those of us who have observed the European denouement and retain some sense of history’s centrifuge know that Europe is finished. Perhaps not today or tomorrow, but certainly the day after tomorrow. The question is how much of the European DNA persists in America’s sociogenetic system. “Are we,” asks Steve Balch, chair of the National Association of Scholars, “along with Europe, drifting toward an acceptance of Tocqueville’s soft despotism?” — that is, according to the French philosopher, toward “servitude of the regular, quiet, gentle kind” which ultimately “stupefies a people.” And the answer is profoundly alarming.
For despite the exceptionalism of its founding and historical career, America remains Europe’s child. The unpalatable fact is that the United States currently suffers from many of the same infirmities that bedevil the European polity. The family resemblance is undeniable. There is probably no need to expect what Glenn Beck has somewhat extravagantly called a “Reichstag moment,” but every reason to fear the weakening of constitutional authority, budgetary implosion, and the eclipse of the sovereign individual and empowered citizen on which the greatness and uniqueness of the United States is predicated.
America’s descent from its founding principles did not begin with the administration of Barack Obama. The virus of dissolution may always have been inherent, but a modern starting point may plausibly be located in the unworldly idealism of Woodrow Wilson, who tried to make the world “safe for democracy,” an agenda which tends to make the world unsafe for everyone. In particular, Article 10 of his “Fourteen Points” for peace obligated member nations to intervene in the affairs of other countries in order to defend their independence, the forerunner of today’s invasive and double-edged R2P legislation. (See Libya.) For there is often no reliable way of distinguishing the oppressor from the oppressed. (See Egypt.) And political calculation may well target the truly endangered. (See Israel.) “The downside of allowing human rights to guide foreign policy,” remarks Daniel Flynn, “is that often human rights paradoxically suffer.” Wilson’s legacy is still with us today.
This strain of quixotic intrusiveness, both foreign and domestic, continued through a succession of presidents and their defining policies: FDR’s New Deal, which many scholars now believe actually prolonged the Great Depression by nearly a decade; Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which created a culture of crippling dependency on government programs and the emergence of an “entitlement mentality”; Jimmy Carter’s thoroughgoing ineptitude in the arena of foreign affairs, which gave us the Islamic Republic of Iran and a world on the brink of nuclear proliferation; and George W. Bush’s pixilated project of exporting democratic institutions to societies in the Muslim world where such institutions can find no historical and cultural purchase, producing a fractured Iraq, a corrupt and fragile Afghanistan, and a terrorist state in Gaza, to name only the most prominent instances of social and political delirium.
The installation of Barack Obama in the White House can be regarded as the end point of this malign declension. This is a president who has not only repeated the errors of his predecessors but seems intent on compounding them. We might assume there is no way out of the impasse and that America is irretrievably lost. But the ascendance of Obama might also be considered as the watershed event in which America either succumbs to the forces of dispersal and becomes one more failed state — or experiences a redemptive moment of national self-recognition and acts to restore itself as a viable and flourishing constitutional republic.
This is precisely what the approaching election is all about. It is not an election like any other, simply to determine which party occupies the seat of power for the next four years. It is an election in which the fate of the nation will be resolved for all the years to come. Roger Simon argues that a second administration for Obama would lead not to socialism or to a political and economic cataclysm, but to “stultifying stagnation.” We would all just fall asleep, as did Vice-President Joe Biden during the president’s April 12 budgetary address. Simon presents a best-case scenario that relies on the presumed effectiveness of a “Republican House and, most likely, a Republican Senate,” a rather debatable proposition. Obama may well be the most cloying, insipid, and insurmountably tedious president in living memory, but going to sleep is not an option.
In fact, the stakes could not be higher. This assessment is not an example of mere hyperbole to be scoffed at and dismissed as wilful scare-mongering. The United States is demonstrably teetering on the edge of the historical abyss. Will it go the way of Europe, a “demotic culture in decadence,” to cite Jacques Barzun’s magisterial work From Dawn to Decadence, a culture which suffers from both “paralysis” and “incompetence”? Have we become the casualties of our institutions and public agencies which are now “disintegrating, working against their best intentions, and unable to change”?
Or is a belated prologue still possible, a “renascent culture” and “resurrected enthusiasm,” as Barzun hopes? Will the American electorate seize the chance to repudiate the practice of autocratic decision-making — Tocqueville’s “administrative despotism,” the flagrant illegality of much of the Department of Justice’s present race-based conduct, the outrage of permeable borders resulting in festering violence and illegal immigration, the tendency to cede political autonomy to international bodies like the United Nations and the International Court of Justice in the Hague, the ongoing effort to circumvent Congress, the catering to an Islamic fifth column and its attempt to insinuate Sharia law into the life of the nation, a military establishment that condemns the burning of a single Koran but approves the mass incineration of Bibles, the pie-in-the-sky economics that ensures the massive accumulation of unpayable debt and the gradual impoverishment of the middle class under the sign of income redistribution? Will the American public reject the president’s stated, and currently enacted, promise to “fundamentally transform” the country into what is nothing less than a moribund caricature of its former self? For in the final analysis, this is a president, as Michael Ledeen writes, “who sees America as the root cause of mischief, and perhaps even evil, in the world, and is more concerned about punishing his own people than fighting our enemies.” Nevertheless, the opportunity for genuine ‘hope and change” is there.
The defeat of Barack Obama, who plainly does not have the best interests of his country at heart and oversees a degrading “state of the nation,” will not miraculously usher in a bright new dawn. The left-leaning Democratic Party, the supercilious coastal elites, the insatiable public sector unions, the vapid but insidious punditariat, and the venal, anti-republican media juggernaut will remain forces to be reckoned with. “The annoying thing about discredited gospels,” grumbles novelist John Gardner, “is that they continue, though dead as doornails, to exert their effect.” It will be a long night’s journey into day. But the early glimmer of a kind of zodiacal light signaled by Obama’s failure to win re-election may presage a new beginning. In a very real sense, it does not matter who fills the presidential vacancy, provided it is not a Democrat. Or, for that matter, a temporizing RINO. But there is a palpable desire for change in the air and there are a sufficient number of excellent Republican candidates to mine the silver lining of an otherwise cloudy future.
Failing this providential turn of events, it really will be Bye Bye Miss American Pie, leaving, in Don McLean’s words, “a generation lost in space, with no time left to start again.”