As the Wicked Witch uttered those frightful words, she and all her power and purpose simply disappeared into a smoky ash. Dorothy was left there to wonder. Very much like we wonder as Americans what is happening to the power and purpose of our great nation.
Some despairing critics and politicians warn of our impending demise, comparing us to past empires like Rome and Britain. At the same time, geopolitical authors like Zbigniew Brezinski and Robert Kagan explain our future durability in “Strategic Vision” and “The World America Made.” Along with iconic voices like Clint Eastwood’s Chrysler commercial and Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball.”
The United States — fading empire or roaring revivalist — can’t be judged simply from the outside in. It’s what’s inside that’s gradually coming out that will count. If the inside is solid and holds, the rest will likely take care of itself. But right now there are symptoms of melting at our national core. Not irreversible, but not encouraging. Stripped of all the current campaign rhetoric and trappings, it is this core about which each candidate is promising us a 21st C reprieve.
Their task is historic, for we are living in an historic age of enormous transitions. As they play out, there are four traditional cores to our nation in danger of melting right now:
There has been a traditional religious core based loosely upon a Judaic-Christian ethos ingeniously maintained by our constitutional separation of church & state. Right now every statistic tells us this core is melting quickly as the number of “unaffiliated” grows rapidly
There has been a traditional economic core based loosely on the promise of the American Dream. The belief that the 99% could somehow, someday become the 1%. Right now the distance in income has become so much greater, this dream has melted so much smaller
There has been a traditional fluidity between the upper and lower classes/castes, especially since WWII when knock-offs have become available to virtually anyone with a credit card. Right now, though, each class/caste so often inbreeds, they have little to say to anyone outside “their kind.” And so the usual social bridges are melting away
When you add up these first three melting operations, it’s easier to understand why government has become a super-structure of ideological bickering resting on a sub-structure of melting ideological commonalities
The Wicked Witch never got a reprieve. In the 2012 presidential campaign, that’s all we’ll really be hearing about. How each candidate is better equipped at his core to get our cores a reprieve. It’s the right message. Now who’s the right messenger…?
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