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The unconscionable state of America

Time and a perversely inadvertent bipartisan effort by Democrats and Republicans have finally transformed the USA into the Unconscionable State of America. The political system has become so polarized and radicalized by left and right extremes to render government virtually unworkable and the Constitution unfit for purpose. The FBI’s search of former President Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago and President Biden’s Philadelphia speech demonizing Trump’s MAGA supporters are unprecedented proof of the sorry state of the union.

Unconvinced? Consider this thought experiment. What part of the U.S. government is providing competent or even passable governance? It is not coincidental that at no other time in American history have the prior and current president and the current Congress and Supreme Court ever been held in such low standing by a large majority of its citizens. More than 75 percent of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Half sees a civil war looming.

The administration took a victory lap after passage of the Inflation Reduction Act as the Dow plunged 1,200 points. Both parties claimed credit for producing modest gun legislation and the Chips and Science Act. It is questionable what positive impact each will have. And this passes for governing.

How many government offices and agencies have failed to carry out their duties, from the Cabinet down to the national archivist?  The list is almost as endless as is the size of the government.  

One of the reasons for this disintegration and disunity is that for at least two decades successive administrations have appointed increasing numbers of loyalists, campaign contributors and ideologues, rather than truly competent people, to key positions. Compare the appointments of Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and George H.W. Bush with those of the last two or three administrations. Not all of the former were perfect. But many knew something about governing.

For reasons that will consume millions of man hours of future research, both political parties have been captured by extremes. In the Democratic Party, it is the far left progressive wing. The Republican party has metastasized into the Trump Party; neither left nor right but controlled by the whims of its leader and is a veritable cult.

This political metastasization has placed the Constitution in grave jeopardy. The Constitution only works when one or more of three conditions exist. One party has veto proof control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and at least five Supreme Court votes. That has never happened.

Crises, such as Pearl Harbor, can unite a deeply divided nation. But other crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, in which more Americans died than were killed in action in every battle America has fought, further divide us. The use of masks, vaccines and lockdowns remains highly divisive and vitriolic.

Compromise and civility overcame past political differences. Both are missing in action. Democrats and Republicans disagree (sometimes violently) on virtually every issue and many regard the other as evil. The conclusion: None of the critical conditions essential to a functioning constitution, and thus government, is present.

National security and foreign policy have also fallen into disarray since the second Iraq War and the 20-year Afghan debacle. The aims of the current National Security Strategy (NSS), originally derived by the Obama administration a decade ago, are to “contain, deter and, if war arises, defeat” China and/or Russia. Yet, the strategy has failed to achieve the first two aims and cannot obtain the third. Neither China nor Russia has been contained or deterred from actions perceived as threatening to America and its allies. This strategy has no off-ramp either. And nuclear war would be existential.

Because of uncontrolled annual cost growth of about 5-7 percent a year above inflation for defense, the current U.S. military is unaffordable. Even with next year’s $850 billion defense budget, annual increases of at least $120-140 billion to include inflation are needed just to stay even. And manning the all-volunteer force is proving difficult.

What can be done? Sadly, that question is unanswerable. The U.S. won the Cold War largely because of the USSR’s irrational political system. Perhaps China and Russia, beset with huge internal failings and issues, will likewise fade away. But don’t count on that.

Then, who will listen? And who will lead? Those answers will determine the future state of the USA.

Harlan Ullman is senior adviser at the Atlantic Council and the prime author of “shock and awe.” His latest  book is “The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large.” Follow him on Twitter @harlankullman.

Tags Biden China Donald Trump Inflation Reduction Act Joe Biden political polarization Russia Supreme Court Trump United States

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