Lately I've had this vague sense that future generations of historians will look back at this era and say that the United States had the misfortune to face a number of threats to its existence at the very moment that it was least equipped to deal with any of them. One party is trying to govern, the other is opposing nearly everything that party does, and independents apparently don't have enough faith in either one to give them more than a year or two to produce results.
In the electorate, the body that's been charged with the not insignificant task of choosing our leaders, it is almost impossible to make out anything meaningful in the cacophony of what passes for debate today. The media has transformed politics into a spectator sport, where you score points by kneecapping your opponent, not by governing. Yes, politics has always been, and always will be, a necessary feature of the process of governance. It's inescapable. But it has become an absolute monster, devouring time, energy, and money, and leaving our elected officials with time for little else.
Most of us alive today can't remember a time when the United States wasn't going strong. Even in our rough spots, we were better off than pretty much any other country on earth. Economic slumps came periodically, but the economy always bounced back, stronger than ever. Even our biggest foreign policy setback, the Vietnam War, bloodied our nose, but it didn't knock us down. To some extent, America is a victim of its own success. Our track record has given us a collective sense of invincibility. Indeed, there is a shocking degree of complacency among Americans today, a sense that it's all right to ignore the facts and vote with a gut full of misguided rage at the changes we're all living through, because we'll all muddle through in the end, because we're America.
But that's not how it works. We don't get to win just because we're America, and the American Century didn't happen by accident. History isn't some scripted drama, where the United States sails through various crises, always destined to emerge victorious and lead the world, no matter what else happens. In every major crisis we faced and emerged from, the outcome was in doubt, and without strong leaders, we might not have come out on top. We got to where we were at the end of the 20th century through sound policies and solid leadership, not by taking our cues from talk radio and Fox News.
But Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are the symptoms, not the problems. Maybe it's a failure of education, or maybe the amount of information that we're saturated with on a daily basis has left us largely incapable of abstract thought. Or maybe the pace at which the world is changing scares people so much that they reject the uncertainty of meaningful inquiry and cling to political dogma and the comfort that it offers. Whatever it is, it is frightening and widespread.
Let's not kid ourselves. We're looking at a devastated economy, a strong and resilient Taliban, and an Al Qaeda that is still very much a threat. In short, we are facing a national crisis, and the United States has become borderline ungovernable. Yes, we're America, and yes, we tend to come out on top. But we might not win this one.