The fiscal cliff fiasco proved once again that America is unwilling to wean itself off of the gravy train. It also proved that the election this past fall did not alter in any meaningful way Washington’s trajectory toward disaster. The once meager ranks of fiscal doomsayers inside and outside the beltway are recruiting new members with each “averted” crisis. The reasons for conversion post-cliff are legion: no spending cuts, no tax reform, no entitlement reform, and no leadership. The once unshakable faith in Washington’s ability to right the ship is deflating, spurring feelings of anguish and disgust.
Is America sinking? You decide. While Washington struggles through immovable stalemate steady decay has gripped Main Street. A shrinking middle class, stubbornly high unemployment and the explosion of debt levels across the board (public and private/federal and local) to sustain a falling standard of living betray the trembling voices emanating from the Obama White House that we are recovering. Signs of recovery in the housing market and strong holiday season consumption are fleeting and lack the stamina to sustain real growth.
There is a sense of calm before the storm, the feeling that America is closing in on the tipping point. The eye of a tropical cyclone contains gentle winds and clear skies, and it can stretch for nearly 120 miles. Since 2008, America has been sailing inside the hurricanes’ eye blissfully hoping that the worst is behind her. Put differently, the real problems confronting the United States, economic and political, cultural and spiritual have not been resolved.
America’s mess is one of her own making. George Will calls it “decadent democracy.” He believes that our once self-reliant Republic has fallen into a spiral of dependency—a self-destructive urge to satisfy immediate material gains at the expense of future generations whatever the costs. Basically, America’s culture of entitlement has become ungovernable. Will’s assessment captures the form of America’s decline, the substance lies in her spiritual undoing.
The United States is a country upside down. It has become a nation of style over substance where what is “politically correct” has replaced moral truth. America’s unifying culture rooted in common language and values (political and moral) has been jettisoned in favor of diversity, a doctrine of divisiveness that separates Americans according to race, gender, sexual orientation, and language under the guise of equality. Merit, integrity, and truth no longer matter—what matters is getting ahead, securing your own future, and perpetuating false ideals to do so.
Spiritually, America has become a nation of demagoguery. H.L. Menken noted that “The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.” Our politicians preach multiculturalism, socialism, and imperialism, ideas Americans know to be false but its leaders celebrate because they are idiots. The spiritual undoing of America shows a nation lacking self-confidence, social cohesion, and a clear sense of itself.
What happens next? America stumbles forward, moving from crisis to crisis until the system finally gives, and the false utopia of the “Great Society” promised in the sixties crashes on the rocks. For many, the inevitable collapse of the welfare state and the tremendous social cost that comes with it spells doom for America. On the contrary, nations can be strengthened by crisis. Sometimes crisis unearths solutions, identifies the disease, and prepares the way for rapid convalescence.
America did not collapse after its Civil War, still the bloodiest conflict in her history. Parts of the south were completely devastated, especially South Carolina and parts of Georgia, and hundreds of thousands lay dead. But the Union survived, north and south reconciled, and the United States expanded west, becoming the leading industrial power in the next quarter century.
The coming crisis is an opportunity for spiritual reawakening. America must reaffirm the bedrock principles of her national identity: freedom, self-reliance, family, community, and cultural unity. Perhaps crisis will help put things back in focus, fully exposing Americans to Washington’s upside down reality. Entitlement is not equality, diversity is not unity, and redistribution is not prosperity. America needs a healthy dose of disillusionment, and the tipping point is fast approaching.
Cameron Macgregor is a former Navy officer and USNA grad. He is currently a graduate student at George Mason University.