When I was young, a guy's first car tended to be a real beater. As long as it was cheap and it ran, it was okay if it was on its last legs. You nursed it along, trying to get another year, another few months, an extra week out of it but you reached that point of no return where just to keep the thing wheezing along wasn't worth the cost.
It's a gas-guzzler and it's burning oil. The brakes are fading and the tires threadbare. Your dad won't have it on his property and, when you go to park it out on the street the neighbours give you a ton of side-eye. No girl would be seen dead in it and even your buddies would rather walk than take a free ride. It needs a lot of work, a lot of money, and even fixed up it would still be a beater.
I wonder if that isn't a metaphor for the United States today. America does seem pretty clapped out. It needs a load of costly repairs and, even then, it may still be broken. Is it worth the bother?
Of late there have been articles showing up in the world press asking the same question, is America broken? Has it gone past some point of no return? Has the beater become a junker?
I think America is broken, FUBAR, F##ked Up Beyond Any Redemption. It's gone too far. It has lost its democracy. It is now an oligarchy in the guise of an illiberal democracy. Predators abound starting with its "bought and paid for" Congress, America's deeply corrupted regulatory system and utterly rigged judicial system groomed to reliably dispense its favours on one group to the exclusion of the others, to the few at the expense of the many. Sure, Americans could elect a good president to replace an unfathomably bad president but the country is too broken to be fixed from the Oval Office.
It would be bad enough if poisoned, corrupted politics was all that ailed the Degraded States of America. But there's more, so much more at play and there's a synergy to America's maladies that each magnifies the others. The U.S. is showing most of the trends that have, in the past, heralded collapse: climate change, environmental degradation, inequality, oligarchy, complexity and external shocks (i.e. inability to control a pandemic). The United States today checks almost all the boxes.
Perhaps the worst threat America faces is internal, the breakdown of social cohesion. Abraham Lincoln is remembered for warning his countrymen that "a house divided against itself cannot stand." Shortly after that the U.S. was plunged into its worst conflict, the Civil War. A week ago, former Obama national security advisor, Susan Rice, warned that, among the many urgent threats facing America, social division magnified all the others.
Political polarization is a “force multiplier” that worsens other threats and cripples our ability to combat them. Stoked by leaders who profit from divisive politics, our polarization prevents us from effectively confronting vital challenges, from the pandemic and its economic consequences to climate change; from the rise of white supremacist groups, which account for the bulk of domestic terrorism, to reforming our immigration system.
There is nothing that will be decided on November 3rd or in the weeks and months following that will heal America's social division, now said to be as deep as it has been at any time since the Civil War. Americans are divided across many fault lines - cultural, political, ethnic, economic, it seems almost anything will do. There is no common base of trust and goodwill. A perverse form of tribalism has taken hold and some are plainly spoiling for a fight.
The world looks on in despair tinged with disgust. Even those who wanted to give America the benefit of the doubt had their hopes shattered by the spectacle of last night's presidential debate that made them confront the grim truth of the no-longer United States of America.
Thomas Jefferson foresaw that the "the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. it is its natural manure."
America has a tyrant. That tyrant has his own version of the Brown Shirts of the 1930s, who go by a variety of names: Boogaloo Bois, Proud Boys, Ku Klux Klan and more. Challenged to repudiate white supremacists, Trump refused, instead urging them to "stand back and stand by." Meanwhile, judging from the one-sided endorsements of America's police unions, law enforcement stands squarely behind the tyrant.
Tyrants, the worst of them, often have a breakout moment after which nothing is ever the same again. Sometimes it comes in the form of a coup. Some coups are violent, others are constitutional. Sometimes the tyrant falls back and creates an insurgency to destabilize the state and exploit its weaknesses. It almost never works out and normally ends badly, in ruins.
No, I don't think the elections now just a month away will reverse America's decline. I think the beater is now a junker. Good luck to us all and God bless America.
BTW, I didn't watch the debate last night, not a minute of it. If there's one thing about Trump it's that he's predictable - in a pathological sense.