Is America in Ruins?

Why do so many, especially conservatives, think America is ruined? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately. It is all over the news. Every other word spoken or spilled over the contested GOP primary references the idea. Talking heads are diagnosing where the party went wrong (I’ve done it myself many times over). Technicalities and rules are being bandied about in a way that only the most serious admirers of the arcane arts of parliamentary procedure could possibly enjoy. Establishment Republicans are tripping all over themselves in trying to strategize the next move. No matter the subject, the tone is one of lamentation and defeat. Take this comment from the New York Times article Goodbye, Bushism (itself a eulogy for Rubio’s campaign, George W. Bush’s brand of conservatism, and the Reagan revolution).

Charles, from Tecumseh, Michigan writes:

Unfortunately, Republicans have done much worse than reject George W. Bush. What they have done is vote for George Wallace over Ronald Reagan. Rubio offered Reagan’s optimism and his ideology, and Republicans have rejected that for populist, xenophobic anger. As a life-long Republican, I am deeply disappointed. The country is literally left choosing between the lesser of two evils. Do we choose Trump, who implies that all Muslims are bad, or a continuation of Obama, who insists that Islam has nothing to do with the threat we face? Do we choose Trump who insists he will (but probably won’t) round up and deport 12 million illegal aliens, or do we choose a Democrat who insists on continuation of policies that have cruelly resulted in 12 million illegal aliens living in the shadows. Do we choose Trump, who clearly has no understanding of foreign policy dynamics, or a continuation of a policy that has ceded the initiative to bullies and tyrants of the world, including North Korea, Russia, China, Iran, and the Islamic State? Do we choose Trump, whose economic prescriptions are incoherent, or a continuation of policies that have resulted in the weakest recovery in living memory? Which enemy of our civil liberties do we choose? Which of opponent of free trade do we choose? Hillary, because she is probably lying? Trump, because we have no idea what he will really do? Or Sanders, because at least he is honest in his opposition?

The choice for Charles– and many other disillusioned Republicans– is between the racism, xenophobia, populist nonsense of Donald Trump or the supposedly failed policies of Clinton and Obama that refuse to see the challenge of Islam in the Middle East, weakened the nation, flooded it with immigrants, and destroyed the economy. Lose-lose.

Is this accurate though? Does Obama really not understand how certain kinds of Islamic groups pose a threat to America? Has America really ceded control of international affairs to “bullies and tyrants?” According to every international meeting, discussion, and conflict, this seems to be false. Our allies continue to wait and follow (if often begrudgingly) our lead. Our enemies act aggressively only in areas where we lack national security concerns, boasting pridefully of their strength during these moments while shriveling up when they overstep into an area the United States has strategic or economic interests in. We disregard national sovereignty when we choose to and continue to act unilaterally when we must. Likewise, fears about illegal immigrants seem misplaced. Their numbers are roughly the same as they were in 2004. They make up just under 4% of our population (and 5% of our workforce). And they are largely the same people from a decade ago. We do need to alter this (mainly because having people live in the shadows puts them in real danger), but Republicans have rejected anything short of the implausible and inhuman “round up and deport” plan Trump has rolled out. Is our economy actually weaker than it was in 2006, 1996, or 1986? The numbers don’t back that up.

In fact, rather than having to choose between the lesser of two evils there is a clear option for you if you favor a robust, more interventionist foreign policy, a loosely regulated economy, free trade, strong national security state– you know, the main platforms of the establishment GOP since the 1970s. Hillary Clinton is your girl.

Charles left out a lot of the other things the disenchanted have been screaming about. The eroding of “traditional family values.” The invasion of privacy the national security state engages in. The racial tensions rising as decades of discriminatory criminal justice practices begin to see the light of day. How Washington is not looking out for the common man, but only for their selfish interests. These are the real reasons that the GOP faithful find it hard to swallow Hillary Clinton. She is the living embodiment of the liberal boogeyman coming to destroy “their” country.

I would challenge those who see these challenges as unique and terrifying to explain why. In what way is our current environment a greater threat to your religious views, your freedom, or your pocketbook than the world of 2004? In fact, if any of my readers can present five areas that America is appreciably worse in today compared to what we have been in our recent history because of government policies I will buy them lunch.

The truth of the matter is that there has never been a better time to be an American. White or black. Christian or Muslim. Liberal or conservative. This doesn’t mean we are perfect. Indeed, many things need to change. We need to retool for the job market of the 21st century through high-quality, accessible, and affordable education. We need a criminal justice system that does not prey upon minorities. Our urban spaces need to be revitalized. Our industries need to innovate. New business must emerge to replace old ones. We must remain vigilant against threats, particularly from non-state actors. We have to learn to live in harmony with people who have different cultures and customs. But these challenges are not unique. We’ve been struggling with them my whole life (and many lifetimes before mine). Constantly recalibrating the scales on these issues is what it means to live in a democracy. Nothing is ever “finally” settled. The same problems crop up, time and time again. This is a feature of being American, not a bug.

I have many theories as to why the right views the challenges of today in such apocalyptic terms. For one, the rhetoric and vitriol of the evangelical Christian movement has wreaked havoc on the conservative coalition and worldview. The nearly decade of angry tantrums the Tea Party has thrown over numerous grievances (real and imagined), the right-wing infotainment industry’s perpetual rage machine, the economic decline of the middle class (which the middle class only seem to have just figured out, even though it happened over twenty years ago), the nature of opposition politics (if things are not bad, why should we elect the outsiders?), and the cynicism and over-exposure the 24 hour news channels have brought to our political discourse are also top contenders. But I am more interested in knowing what actual conservatives think. Let me hear it!

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