The American experiment appears to be almost over. Have we been able to adhere to liberal Enlightenment principles well enough to preserve the grand design established by the Founders? No, the once-great United States, the former model and inspiration for enlightened Western culture, is degenerating into a mass of ugly contradictions as it slides ever rightward, caving in to the selfishness and mean-spiritedness of ascendant conservatism.
Once the world’s captains of industry, our capitalists have given away our productive capacity. Once the lender to the world, we are now the largest debtor. Once the center of innovation, America is now exporting intellectual capital–research and development–along with our productive capacity.
Where once there were groups of affiliated working people joining hands to demand and get decent treatment and pay from employers, those still working are now powerless to direct any aspect of their working lives, or to keep a fair share of the wealth they create.
The former urge for egalitarianism has been violated by a huge, institutionalized disparity in income and wealth. The former land of opportunity is now rife with systemic poverty and despair.
Democratic debate has given way to polarized squabble. The once-hopeful two-party political system is frozen in the grip of fearful laissez-faire on the one side and cynical obstructionism on the other.
Reasoned and articulate commentators have given way to crass, shouting, talking heads trading sound bites, and to talk-show hosts purposely fabricating outrageous lies. News and commentary have degenerated into mindless entertainments.
A nation that still harbors the best universities and sharpest minds has sunken into the shallowest possible public discourse. Public schools that were once concerned with education and citizenship are now centers for job training.
As a nation, a leader in science, yet the American public is choking on rank anti-science, anti-intellectualism, and ignorant superstition.
A population that thought it had learned in Viet Nam not to engage in illegal, unnecessary, and useless wars is now mired in two such wars. A people who believed that Americans do not engage in torture or indiscriminate killing have once again learned otherwise in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The country that was founded and populated by immigrants, and that publicly and emphatically opened its arms to immigrants, now wants to turn back the most recent arrivals and deny social acceptance to others.
A nation founded by liberals, based upon liberal principles, still populated largely by liberals, and still operating somewhat on liberal principles, now finds half the population believing that liberalism is the cause of all our ills.
All of our great cities now harbor ghettos, wherein poverty-stricken residents are blamed for their own poverty, while elsewhere the middle class struggles to keep what it has, and the wealthy get everything they can take.
All of this, whether it is the cause or the effect, bespeaks America’s descent from the sunshine of Enlightenment liberalism into the darkness of arch conservatism, a slide from Left to Right, a failure of the American experiment.