Once again, we Americans seek progress and change in the political realm. Politics and elections can never "save us." No president or congress can ever halt the corrosive withering of heart, body and mind that now afflicts and diminishes these United States.
No matter how well-intentioned and capable, a sitting president’s "rescue program" can merely tinker at the edges of what is important. There can be increments of progress or reform, but nothing that could plausibly overcome this country's core indifference to genuine learning and education.
Real American societal renewal can never come from above, from our so-called political leaders. Every human society is ultimately the sum total of individual souls seeking some form of "redemption," and these souls can never be mended by the self-serving institutions of government or politics.
It's not complicated. We Americans now inhabit a society so numbingly false that even our melancholy is masquerade.
Today, we Americans lurch from one irremediable forfeiture to the next, content to wage partisan culture wars between Democrats and Republicans, between liberals and conservatives, while at the same time, treating virtually all formal education as narrowly instrumental. We accept political absurdities as profundities and consult literature only to “get ahead."
Every sham has a patina. ‘We the people’ should not be surprised at the breadth and depth of our national failures. The presumed requirements of wealth and success have become the basis of our broader society, not just our economy. In the current hierarchy of national values: "You are what you buy."
In these United States, an authentic American individual has become little more than a quaintly beleaguered artifact. More resistant than ever to intellect and learning, our mass society has no discernible intention of taking itself seriously. To the contrary, the American herd marches in lockstep toward ever-greater levels of conformance and imitation.
Whatever might be decided in politics, we Americans will likely continue to be carried forth not by any commendable nobility of principle or purpose, but by an altogether predictable eruption of personal and collective agitation.
‘We the people’ may at times wish to slow down a bit and smell the roses, but our compromised and self-degraded country imposes upon its exhausted people the disruptingly breathless rhythms of a vast and struggling machine. The end of all this delirium is to prevent us from remembering who we are and also who we might once have become.
Sadly, we Americans inhabit the one society that could have been different.
Once, we harbored a preciously unique potential to nurture individuals, encouraged people to become more than member of a smugly inert herd. Ralph Waldo Emerson once optimistically described us as a people animated by industry and "self-reliance."
Surely there is something more to this cheerlessly chanting country than tsunamis of hyper-adrenalized commerce and tidal waves of abundantly cheap entertainments. “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” rhapsodized the great American poet Walt Whitman, but today, the American Self is a thin shadow of national potential, a twisting reflection of authenticity under assault by rampant tastelessness and epidemic gluttony.
In the end, credulity is always America’s worst enemy.
Our stubborn inclination to believe that a wider societal and personal redemption lies in politics remains a potentially fatal disorder.
Certain tangible social and economic issues do need to be addressed by capable government, but so too must our deeper problems first be solved as individuals.
Should we continue to live in a hypnotizing cycle of false expectations, celebrating only the most vague and atrophied impulses of a primeval herd instinct, our sole remaining national ambition will be to stay one step ahead of catastrophe.
One thing is certain. Our redemption can never be found among those crowds who chant in ritualized and visceral political chorus.
A declining civilization compromises with its most threatening afflictions.
To restore us to long-term health and Emersonian "high thinking," we the people must first look beyond a futile faith in mundane politics and political leaders. Only when such a swerve of consciousness can finally become an irreversible gesture can we the people hope to heal a darkly fractured land.
Louis René Beres, Ph.D. Princeton, is emeritus professor of international law at Purdue University. He is the author of 12 books and several hundred articles dealing with nuclear strategy and nuclear war. His newest book is “Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018)