America is divided, not broken

I see opinion piece after opinion piece, like a column by Andrew Coyne and this one in the Globe and Mail, that all say “America is broken.” America has been even more deeply divided before, so deeply divided that it fought a long and extraordinarily bloody civil war …

… to sort itself out. Then it went on from one achievement to another:

America was, indeed, “broken” in 1861. Britain was broken, two hundred years earlier, in the 1640s, but it repaired itself and …

… went on from one success to another (the American Revolution (1765 and 1783) was, in large measure, about achieving for Englishmen in America what Englishmen in England had taken for granted since the Glorious Revolution of 1688), became a beacon of democracy, and, between about 1600 and 1900, acquired (conquered) the greatest empire the world has ever seen and was, for almost a century, the primary guarantor of global peace.

America is deeply divided, as the ongoing election results demonstrate. As I write, over 70 Million Americans have voted for a “soft-left,” socially progressive and ‘green‘ candidate while nearly 69 Million have voted for a sui generis illiberal radical or, I suspect, for anyone but the “soft-left,” socially progressive and ‘green‘ option.

Many of the division in America were there over 100 years ago, but from Teddy Roosevelt (who was politically active from the 1890s until 1920) onwards, until Donald J Trump, most Americans agreed to be increasingly socially moderate, resoundingly but regulated capitalist, free(er) traders and global peacemakers. The changes, began to occur in the early 1960s and they accelerated, decade by decade, as American strategic sagacity declined and globalization took its toll:

Donald J Trump is not the cause of those divisions, nor is he even a catalyst for them, he is just a consequence of them. Almost 70 Million Americans would rather have Donald Trump than another iteration of whatever they imagine that John F Kennedy was all about.

America is in relative decline, as Andrew Coyne suggests, because the world has changed radically since 1960. Russia, once a great and threatening power, is now in what I suspect is an irreversible decline into chaos, geo-political division and socio-economic irrelevance for the European bit that remains. It will be too Eastern to be part if the West and too Western to join the East: a buffer state between Asia and Europe. But, China is now a rising great power and it has the the population and geo-strategic position to be a hyper-power. The combined GDP of the ASEAN states* ($9.3 Trillion) and Australia and New Zealand ($1.6 Trillion), Japan ($5 Trillion) and South Korea ($1.6 Trillion) is almost $(US) 17 Trillion. That’s about equal to the post-Brexit EU and it approaches the USA’s GDP of over $20 Trillion. East Asia still has to grow a lot to be be equal yo either Europe or America in per capita GDP, but it is growing, steadily. In other words, Asia, not just China, is rising and it is doing so at the expense of America, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France and Germany and so on. The 19th century belonged to Britain; the 20th century was America’s, despite challenges from Germany, Japan and Russia. The 21st century seems likely to the Asian century. (Will the 22nd belong to Africa?) America (like Canada) needs to adapt to new geo-strategic realities.

But, America remains the world greatest creative power. Your Apple or Google smartphones may be made in Asia and the underlying technologies may have been (were, actually) developed in Israel, but the ideas were American and the profits flow to America. China’s Huawei‘s ability to develop new products is impaired by US trade restrictions because technical creativity is so much stronger in the USA than in either Europe or Asia. Despite all the complaints about the US education system, the USA remains a creative hotbed and that is a huge strategic plus in this century.

Why do so many well educated, thoughtful people, including so many American scholars, assert that their country is broken? Simple: they refuse to “see” that about half of all Americans do not share their world-view; they refuse to see that there even is another possible world-view. Too many of them cannot, intellectually, even see that there might be any other view but the one they hold.

Anecdote: I had an argument, back in the 1970s with an American who was doing his graduate degree in one of Canada’s better universities. He was hectoring me for being a soldier and he hauled out the (then recent) Mai Lai massacre as an indictment of the military. I responded that Mai Lai was his fault …

… I made it personal. Lieutenant William Calley, the person who, deservedly, bore most of the blame for the massacre, I said, should never have been an officer in any army, but, in the 1960s, the US Army was scraping the bottom of the barrel because the class of people who, traditionally, provided the combat leadership for American armies, well-educated, middle class young men just like him, had dodged the draft. But there were hundreds, more likely more than a thousand platoons in the US Army and Marine Corps in Vietnam and each needed a commander. Since the right people were dodging the draft, using student deferments, as he had done, and even, as he was doing, coming to Canada to avoid serving, the US Army did the best with those who couldn’t find a way to avoid serving … and people like William Calley ended up being in a position to make dreadful decisions ~ a position into which they should never have been placed. Calley will serve his time in jail, I said to him, but you and your fellow deserters will never live down the moral shame for what he did and you should have prevented, by being there.

Hot on the heels of Vietnam, that same “class” of people ~ largely the parents of the Vietnam draft dodgers ~ made the economically sensible but socially devastating decision to “hollow out” the American heavy industry sector (the same thing happened in Europe, too) and move steel production and auto production and even TV production to Asia. The creative aspect of most things remained American but the good jobs went to lower wage countries, including, especially, in the 1970s and ’80s, Japan and South Korea. The America singer-songwriter Billy Joel warned us, in 1982, about the consequential social problem in “Allentown.” But we ~ society and large ~ didn’t listen. That, the draft dodging and “Allentown,” is where the deep, deep divisions in American society intensified and, finally, in this century, in 2016, exploded and gave us Donald J Trump. President Trump is, actually, a creation of progressive America; the class divide is real and the progressive upper-middle class, which largely voted against Donald Trump, created the ever growing precariat which voted for him.

The American precariat is no more racist than is America at large; nor is it any more misogynistic or anti-immigrant. In fact, many American Trumpians, who, I expect, will vote for Nikki Haley in 2024, are female and/or people of colour and/or immigrants. The American precariat is large and growing, and the sad thing is that the progressive left and the mainstream media and much of the Democratic Party refuse to even acknowledge that it even exists, much less that they created it and that Donald Trump speaks for it.

Yes, there are deep divisions in American society, just as there are in Canada, but America is not broken, and neither is Canada for that matter. But it will take bipartisan effort to repair the breaches, in both countries, and that will not happen until the progressive left, the mainstream media and the centre-left and left leaning political parties are able to understand that the precariat exists and it needs to be helped out of its predicament and that they, as much as anyone, created the precariat and the current socio-cultural divisions.


* Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

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