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As I See It by Columnist Jon Huer: Is the end of America inevitable? – The Recorder

JON HUER
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What if we witnessed the fall of Rome or other great events of history, up close and in person? To our astonishment, we are about to witness one: The End of the Great American Republic, in which we, its ordinary citizens, are both witnesses and players in the unfolding of this historic drama.
One night last week, Steve Schmidt, the former campaign manager for John McCain, was asked by MSNBC’s Brian Williams how close he thought America’s democracy was to its midnight end. Schmidt did not hesitate: He said, “15 seconds to midnight.”
Democrat from California Adam Schiff was more urgent and said democracy in America was already at “midnight.”
Many other worried observers of American politics and society have been tolling the bells of warning for the American republic: That its vaunted “democracy” is close to being replaced by an entirely new political system, strongly resembling fascism, spelling the end of America as we know it. With the half of America’s population, mostly white, entrenched in their political fixation, the U.S. has never been so hopelessly fatalistic with its inability to solve its national crisis
It just so happens that I declared a similar warning in a book entitled ”The Dead End” 44 years ago (1977). A rather eager sociologist fresh out of UCLA at the time, trying to form his intellectual perspective on American society, I came to the shocking realization that the U.S. could not survive as a nation: As an entity and as an idea, the American nation, originally created by the enlightenment, and dedicated to the proposition of individual freedom, had neither the external unity nor the internal discipline that is required of all surviving democratic nations. No society could endure when self-interest was at the center of their reason for being.
But post-1776 America is history’s only nation created to promote selfishness (morphed from self-interest), albeit in the name of “freedom” and “individualism,” that multiplied in the post-World War II affluence and deregulated consumerism. Both in logic and in experience, such a nation could not survive very long. In the early ‘70s, rather at the peak of America’s global power and dominance, I saw a nation on course toward its slow but certain end that could not be reversed. Like the Roman Circus being the sign of its imperial decline, not its strength, America may have looked great outwardly, but internally the nation was decaying.
Historically, America had been conceived and created as a philosophical experiment, not as a lasting nation-state. I described America’s melancholic demise this way in the book’s closing lines:
“No civilizations have ever died, although many of their representatives have. The Roman Empire died but not the civilization it had created. The declining hold of the United States on Greco-Roman-Western tradition will undoubtedly be claimed by the more aggressive and visionary Soviet Bloc, willing to wait and sacrifice. Whatever contribution the United States has made to human civilization, it will survive. Whatever does not survive will be a negligible loss to mankind which will surely continue to exist, or even excel, without the benefit of what history may flinchingly call ‘American Culture.’ The American fade-out from its hitherto accustomed eminence will be a lesson — though a costly one — for men and women seeking privatization and comfort as their collective commitment. And this is no small consolation.” (I did not foresee the Soviet demise, to be replaced by Russia, its heir-state, and China, the new challenger, are ready to pick up the windfall benefit from America’s internal breakdown).
Almost with the zeal and calling of an awakened prophet, I was quite unhesitant in my central argument: Every nation on earth teaches its citizens to place the whole above the self. But, in the U.S., the world’s only nation created by design, not by tribal origins, we are encouraged to place self-interest above the whole. Can such a “society” without its substantive “community” or “humanity” survive the rigors of nationhood, constantly under attack from the selfishness embodied in individualism and consumer freedom? My answer in “”The Dead End” was sorrowfully (because of my deep love for Jeffersonian America) but unequivocally No (because of my duty to sociological objectivity).
TIME magazine, somewhat surprisingly, agreed with me. The Dead End appeared in its June 9, 1980 issue whose cover question, “Who Will Fight for America?” found its answer in my book. The editorial writer, Lance Morrow, called ”The Dead End” “(A)n important and often brilliant book,” and the TIME Editorial went on to summarize the book thusly:
“University of Alabama sociologist Jon Huer has written in his book The Dead End (that) ‘in the absence of a total nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, it is the social character of their citizens that will determine the outcome.’ The social character of Americans has atrophied like a limb that has spent too long in a cast. Citizens degenerate into mere consumers; they wall themselves ever more anxiously into the small fortresses of their individual privacy; the American dream itself (individual prosperity and security and liberty) has always been potentially antisocial in its logic. If all society is a tension between the rights of the individual and the needs of the collective, Americans have used their immense endowment of natural wealth to buy the individual out of his social responsibilities. Now they can no longer afford the price; to go on behaving as if they could amounts almost to a national death wish.”
So, today, 40-some years later, after three generations of deregulated and concentrated pampering of self-indulgence, America’s “national death wish” has come true. Witness: fascism threatening and liberal democracy crumbling. Our insatiable addiction to entertainment as our new opioid of mental death. Our national unity crippled by racial hate and fear. White men, once empire-builders and wilderness tamers, flailing between reality and fantasy, destroying themselves in suicides, drugs and alcohol. Rampant distrust in America, among citizens and with institutions. Americans as a whole desperately out of kilter, isolated and digitalized, living daily in anger, confusion and depression. With protection from the world’s largest military, its citizens still scared to death of each other more than of terrorists. Do we need more evidence?
Never before in American history, have we witnessed two successive generations who cannot be counted on to perform their simplest functions as democratic citizens. I know not whether to laugh or cry.
Jon Huer, columnist for the Recorder and Professor Emeritus, lives in Greenfield. His book, The Dead End, is available in digital form. Contact [email protected] for a free copy.
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