For America to prosper it must first burn

Summary:   This is post #1701 on the FM website.  It’s a summary, guessing about the future of America based on the evidence and theories presented here (and at DNI) during the past 7 years.  The title describes the theme; at the end are links to more information.

Most modern systems are robust, so that great disasters usually require a series of mistakes plus misfortune.  HMS Titanic sank after almost unavoidable design errors, misplaced binoculars, excessive nighttime speed despite warnings of ice, calm seas (concealing the iceberg), incorrect helm orders by First Officer Murdoch, and apparent mental collapse of the Captain. 

A similar chain of events has put America on course for disaster.  Years of imprudent debt accumulation by households, businesses, and government.  A generation of unfunded promises of retirement benefits by businesses and governments.   Capture of both political parties by wealthy elites, who eroded away the foundations of our Constitutional regime.   Unaffordable expenditures on national defense at the expense of critical national infrastructure (both physical and human).  The last opportunities  for reform were:

  • during the Bush Jr. administration (the 2001 recession, the recovery, the first year of the great recession)
  • the first year of the Obama administration (change during crisis), and
  • the inevitable populist resurgence brought about by the great recession.

Major opportunities. All blown. 

  • Bush Jr. instituted no reforms following the 2001 recession, used 9-11 to incite foreign wars and a massive expansion of the domestic police powers, used the recovery to fund massive tax cuts for the rich. 
  • Obama aroused hope for change, than created cynicism by following the major policies of his predecessor in economic, legal, and military affairs.
  • The populist revival began with opposition to bank bailouts and fears about the downwardly mobile middle class, but ended with election of bank-friendly Republicans (many astonishingly ignorant) devoted to more tax cuts for the rich — funded by tax increases and benefit cuts to the middle class.

We need better leaders.  We need to become better citizens

America’s greatness resulted in large part from great leadership during national crises.  The Founders.  Abraham Lincoln during the civil war (his assassination made possible the successful counterinsurgency by the South after the botched Reconstruction).  FDR during the Great Depression and WWII.  Johnson during the civil rights movement (which probably would have been either more painful or horrific under Presidents Kennedy or Rockefeller).  This good fortune spoiled us.  Now we face a crisis with no strong national leaders (merely parodies of such, like Obama and Palin).  We’re on our own.

“… after the departure of the heroes come the clowns.”
— Heinrich Heine, Ideas:  The Book of Le Grand (1827); the full quote appears at the end of this post

We have to find leaders in our communities.  People with experience and more knowledge than gained by watching Fox and listening to talk radio.  They’ll need support, everything from money to volunteers walking the precincts.

We will need cohesion to stand together during the difficult times ahead, ignoring those seeking to retain power by dividing us against ourselves.

We will need wisdom to select the best available path to a secure future, no matter how difficult or painful.  Wisdom to know what we must keep from our past, and what to discard.

We might find our greatest enemy to be our own complacency, blinding our eyes to the approaching dangers.  Our foreign wars discourage allies and multiply enemies, yet daily reports of victory keep us on course (as it did in Iraq until the victory of Islamic theocrats and Iran).  Our governments’ fraudulent bookkeeping disguises bankrupt promises of future benefits (e.g. , underfunded employee pension plans, and a social security trust fund funded with IOU’s from the government to itself).  Our public infrastructure decays, but so slowly that we do not notice.  The great recession takes a great chunk from personal and business income, but government borrowing masks the damage.

When will we act?

At some level most Americans know these things.  Hence our feeling of disquiet, of fear, so well tapped by the Tea Party Movement.  Yet current events suggest that there probably will be no reforms until the system approaches collapse.  We will act only amidst the flames.  Then we will rebuild amidst the rubble of the current political and economic regime.  (Economic and political change need involve no material destruction, just change in social structures)

Nero imagined a new and better Rome.  But it had to burn before they could rebuild.  Today each of us is Nero.  And just as Romans blamed Nero for the fire, our descendents will blame us.  The only realistic hope remaining is that we can build a new and better America, as described in the conclusion of this post.

But life is so fatally serious that it would be unbearable without such a connection between the pathetic and the comic.  Our poets know that.  The most horrible images of human madness are shown to us by Aristophanes only in the laughing mirror of wit.  Only in the doggerel of a puppet show does Goethe dare to utter the great pain of the thinker who comprehends his own nothingness.  And Shakespeare puts the gravest indictment about the misery of the world into the mouth of a fool who is anxiously rattling his cap and bells. … after the departure of the heroes come the clowns.”
— Heinrich Heine, Ideas:  The Book of Le Grand (1827)

For more information

See the reference page America – how can we reform it?  Especially see posts about solutions, ways to reform America:

  1. Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III – reclaiming the Constitution, 3 January 2008
  2. Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008  
  3. Fixing America: shall we choose elections, revolt, or passivity?, 16 August 2008
  4. Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008
  5. Fixing America: the choices are elections, revolt, or passivity, 18 August 2008
  6. What happens next? Advice for the new President, part one., 17 October 2008
  7. What to do? Advice for the new President, part two., 18 October 2008
  8. How to stage effective protests in the 21st century, 21 April 2009
  9. The first step on the road to America’s reform, 29 May 2009
  10. Correction to my previous posts – not all citizen activism is good…, 16 October 2009
  11. The first step to reforming America (the final version), 7 December 2009
  12. Question of the Day, about reforming America, 12 March 2010
  13. The project to reform America: a matter for science, or a matter of will?, 16 March 2010
  14. Can we reignite the spirit of America?, 14 September 2010

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