Two Views of America’s Predicament

Those who harbor misgivings about the nation’s predicament, which is the result of leftist policies, do so from two completely different philosophical perspectives, with two radically different understandings of the fundamental causes of the predicament and two mutually exclusive recipes for redressing them. No, I am not talking about the left-right divide in America, but instead a less well understood schism found in the center-right.

National polls reveal that a substantial majority of Americans believe the country is “headed in the wrong direction.” Consumer confidence measurements persist at low levels. The electorate oscillates wildly back and forth between left and right and the public holds our national leaders in astonishingly low esteem. Movements like the TEA Party on the right and Occupy Wall Street on the left suggest that the discontent is broad as well as deep. Furthermore, it is common to hear the opinion that this current trough in American self-confidence is unlike previous instances of national disquiet in that Americans have always believed that we could overcome our problems and maintain our status as the strongest, freest and most prosperous nation on Earth – whereas this time many Americans fear that if we don’t right the ship very soon, the nation is doomed to permanently lose its strength, freedom and prosperity.

While this feeling is widespread, I will argue here that those who harbor it do so from two completely different philosophical perspectives, with two radically different understandings of the fundamental causes of our predicament and two mutually exclusive recipes for redressing them. No, I am not talking about the left-right divide in America, but instead a less well understood schism found in the center-right.

Most studies of political/cultural/social philosophy in the United States divide the population into three broad categories: (i) those on the left, aka liberals or progressives; (ii) the cohort on the right, aka conservatives (usually including libertarians, although that inclusion is somewhat problematic); and (iii) the center consisting of moderates or independents. I have argued recently (in this blog) that, since the respective visions for America in the 21st century promulgated by the left and right are so radically at odds with each other, those in the middle are straddling an untenable fence. The two visions are so irreconcilable that there is no viable middle ground between them and any attempt to maintain such a position is tantamount to a “non-Solomonic splitting of the baby.” Nevertheless, the middle exists and, if anything, seems to be growing as more and more voters identify themselves as Independents, while fewer and fewer subscribe to one of the labels Republican or Democrat.

I have also argued (in the previously referenced post, and in another, longer piece in this journal) that, for decades, the leftist vision has been conquering the nation while support for rightist ideas atrophies. Witness:

  • The federal government has grown to gargantuan proportions; the federal budget now consumes a quarter of GDP (historically, it’s rarely exceeded 18-19%); the federal deficit has ballooned to $15 trillion – roughly equal to GDP, and continues to grow at an alarming rate that foreshadows a cataclysmic debt crisis; and federal regulations, which have exploded in number, complexity and scale, are choking the life out of businesses, large and small.
  • The military is shrinking and our standing in the world is in decline. In a misguided effort to replace hard power by soft power, we coddle dictators and abuse our allies.
  • Our culture is saturated with pornography, banality and immorality; the marriage rate is down; the out-of-wedlock birthrate is skyrocketing; drug use is mushrooming; and traditional values are threatened.
  • Our leaders are obsessed with peripheral and specious issues like climate change, diversity and gay rights, but they ignore critical problems like illegal immigration, a failed educational system and anti-Christian bias.
  • Our economy is beset by permanent slow growth and chronic high unemployment.

Now amazingly, the massive discontent that we see on the left – typified by the Occupy Wall Street movement – expresses itself by asserting that we have not pursued strongly enough the leftist policies that are already subverting America. In particular, they say: we have not closed Guantanamo; same sex marriage is not universal; unions are not sufficiently powerful or ubiquitous; Roe v. Wade is under assault; the internet is not yet regulated; fossil fuels have not been banned; the pledge of allegiance still contains the phrase “under God”; 10-15 million illegal aliens have not been legalized; corporate executives make too much money; and, horror of horrors, Israel still exists. To me, these are the rants of a deranged bus driver who is guiding his vehicle straight toward the edge of a precipice over which he will plunge if he doesn’t stop, but his only concern is that the speed of his vehicle is not sufficiently high. I discount the leftist view of America’s predicament – the success of the left is precisely America’s predicament.

It is the folks in the center and on the right who have a better appreciation for how the developments of the last 80 years have placed our nation in mortal danger. But within that broad group – although there is wide agreement that the country has slipped off the tracks and is in danger of an existential calamity – those who recognize the danger manifest two fundamentally different ways of understanding the predicament.

One group, with representatives largely from the center, but many also from the right, sees the matter in purely a technical way. They believe: the government spends too much – it must spend less; there is enormous waste, fraud and mismanagement in the government – it must be run more efficiently and transparently; climate change is a diversion, if not a hoax – the government must focus on more serious problems that we face like energy shortages; peripheral issues and groups (gays, illegal aliens, Muslim minorities) receive too much attention – we must do a better job of addressing mainstream concerns; we don’t save enough, don’t drive carefully enough, take too many drugs and eat too much – we need to have our schools focus on teaching our children better habits; we shouldn’t coddle our enemies abroad – we must engage our allies more effectively in an effort to isolate our enemies more cleverly; our system of federal taxation/regulation is too onerous – we have to streamline it.

In short, this group does not see that the fundamental character of America has been altered. Instead they see too many extreme and ineffective policies – the answer to which is not to go to opposite extremes, but instead to find pragmatic solutions by careful assessment, more prudent management, and more skillful political actions by the government. With the exception of Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party – since Coolidge – has been nominating people with such an outlook as its candidate for President of the United States. Some have won, some haven’t. But which of those who won has made the slightest progress in reversing America’s slide toward socialism? And now that we are on the verge of being destroyed by our problems, the GOP is poised to nominate yet another one.

The other group, comprising mainly those on the right, but also some centrists, sees the issue not as one of poor management, but rather rooted in the political/philosophical changes that have occurred in the country. They believe that the US has strayed in a major way from the principles of its founding documents, that we are barely a constitutional republic under the rule of law, and scarcely dedicated to maximizing individual liberty, adhering to free market capitalism, pursuing the moral values that animated our forefathers. Instead we have morphed into a Euro welfare state, a soft tyranny in which a bloated government usurps our God-given rights, subverts our free market system, and imposes a secular humanist agenda on us – and especially on our children in government-run schools. The solution is not better management of the government, but a return of the country to the founding principles that accounted for our strength, freedom and prosperity. In order to do so, we need not only a president who understands our predicament in this way, but also legislators and jurists, religious leaders and media moguls, educators and generals. Only then will we restore America to its constitutional moorings and resolve our current predicament.
This article also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative at: