Is the United States a failed country?
That term “failed state” (I prefer “country”*) is often tossed around in news reports to describe other countries, the most dramatic of which are predominantly Muslim countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, and Pakistan (one of the three pieces of what was one country on independence from Britain).
Then there is Latin America, where two of many examples are Venezuela (an example of pure government incompetence leading to breakdown in vital services and widespread starvation) and Brazil (whose infrastructure and services are collapsing under corruption, impeachments, and the 2016 Olympics).
You know: countries with governments that can’t govern, countries riven by ethnic and ideological strife and about to fall apart, countries with leaders on the take and huge gaps between the wealthy and the impoverished, countries whose citizens can’t get along because they lack the long tradition of respectful democracy founded long ago in Europe, of which it is accepted wisdom that we are the greatest exemplar.
And Europe? Come to think of it, Germany was split in two states after World War II. Czechoslovakia split into two parts and Yugoslavia into, eventually, seven. The USSR collapsed into its 15 constituent republics. Belgium periodically looks like the Flemish and French speakers are breaking up. The UK again is threatened by possible Scottish independence and Spain by the long-standing Catalan and Basque independence movements. And Greece, the birthplace of democracy, has been undergoing a bit of turmoil itself recently.
Our distrustful Founders, in the movement initiated 240 years ago today (image above**), hoped to safeguard democracy by playing off three branches of government against each other. We have been finding out ever since then whether a tree with three equal trunks (and one of them itself divided in two sub-branches) is prone to fissure.
We are still, in Abraham Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg, testing whether a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal… can long endure.” The outcome, these days, depends on leaders many of whom don’t wish to lead and people many of whom don’t wish to vote.
You’d have to say that the United States was a failed country leading up to 1861, when an extraordinarily bloody Civil War tore it apart, with wounds that still haven’t healed in areas like race relations and vote suppression. Is it failing again?
One sign of impending country failure is a breakdown in national institutions. As pointed out in a recent New York Times article, “3 Separate, Equal and Dysfunctional Branches” by Carl Hulse, 6/23/16, our legislative branch does nothing about the epidemic of gun violence, refuses to restore the Supreme Court to full strength, and tears down the executive branch’s major principles like safeguarding immigrant parents of American citizens, while the states chip away at the Affordable Health Care Act and abortion rights long recognized by the judicial system.
The article ends by quoting Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass), following Democratic representatives’ sit=-in demanding the right to discuss and vote on a gun bill: “So we’re locked out of everything, if I am understanding the rule correctly? This is a lousy process, Mr. Speaker.”
Amid all the turmoil, one of the most divisive presidential campaigns since perhaps 1860 lurches along toward yet unknown heights of financial coercion and verbal and physical violence, making one wonder how much longer, at least under the current form of government, the American experiment can continue.
Oh, and Happy Independence Day!
* To me, a state (or a colony like Puerto Rico, or a city, or any political unit) fails if it becomes dysfunctional, stops following its own rules, does not use its resources to meet its people’s needs. A country fails if it does not meet its own expectations, if its principles are subverted in practice, if its citizens are disaffected and divided by more than unites them, if it loses the desire for consensus that holds a nation together. I am not sure that Czechoslovakia was a failed state; it was a country whose people preferred to form two states. The USSR was manifestly a failed country even while it still had a strong state. UK has (at least till the current uproar) a long-respected state, but as a country it is losing its unity; in fact, the desire to strengthen the state against foreign influence is driving its collapse as a single country.
**from Wikimedia Commons: John Trumbull’s painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress. The painting can be found on the back of the U.S. $2 bill. The original hangs in the US Capitol rotunda.