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11-03-2012, 04:10 AM #1
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The real dangers facing America are hatred, division and collapsing political system
Forget the storm. The real dangers facing America are hatred, division and a collapsing political system
By Max Hastings
PUBLISHED: 18:23 EST, 1 November 2012 | UPDATED: 02:43 EST, 2 November 2012Comments (330)
Before it hit land, one of America’s innumerable southern evangelical TV preachers proclaimed Superstorm Sandy as ‘a divine commentary upon our sinful country’.
Next Tuesday, with the Almighty having spoken in a violent voice of wind and waves, we shall discover which of the nation’s presidential candidates He passed judgment on.
An astonishing number of Americans, almost all living in the vast middle of the country, really do believe God takes a hand in their politics, just as they are sure He frowns on Muslims, gays, socialists, gun control supporters and most folks on the east and west coasts (foremost among them the citizens of that sink of liberal iniquity, New York City).
Devastation: 'Superstorm Sandy' has caused huge damage to property in New York
'Divine commentary': One evangelical preacher said the storm was God's punishment for the nation's sins
But it is unnecessary to be an evangelical Christian to see that the devastating storm may have fractionally tilted this exceptionally close election to the advantage of Barack Obama.
The spectacle of him being presidential, touring flood-stricken New Jersey and co-ordinating relief and recovery efforts, should boost the Democrats.
But the fact that such a random event could prove to be a crucial factor in who occupies the White House for the next four years emphasises the profound divisions in this country.
For more than ten years, Democrats and Republicans have glared at and abused each other across a yawning chasm.
Last Saturday, I was in Chicago’s old Hilton Hotel for the first time since I reported the bitter and violent Democratic Convention of 1968, when Vietnam war protesters battled with Mayor Richard Daley’s cops on the streets outside, and clouds of tear gas drifted into the lobby. That was also the year when assassins’ bullets killed John F Kennedy’s brother Bobby and civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
Yet, although I vividly recall the passions and turbulence, nobody then suggested that the very process of democracy was imperilled.
Passions and turbulence: Demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago's Hilton Hotel
The truth is that Americans have always taken pride in their system and its separation of powers between the Presidency, Congress and Supreme Court. Now, however, serious and thoughtful people argue that the constitution created in 1776 is cracking open at the seams.
A conservative-dominated Supreme Court routinely delivers judgments which seem partisan and occasionally even whimsical. For example, few justices display sympathy for even the mildest gun controls — though domestic shootings are a plague. Indeed, recent massacres in Wisconsin and Colorado did not prompt restrictions on weapons, but, instead, new rules in some colleges which allow students to carry guns on campus ‘for self-protection’.
Historically, the Supreme Court’s justices have been forces for national unity — for instance, on the issue of civil rights. Yet today their collective wisdom is being questioned as never before.
Even more serious is the situation in Congress.
Traditionally, the U.S. government is carried on through relentless horse-trading between the White House and the two parties on Capitol Hill — a process of which President Lyndon Johnson was a master in the 1960s. In recent years, though, bargaining has broken down.
Both parties, and especially the Republicans, behave in a way that sees them reflexively oppose anything proposed by the other. Such stonewalling has inevitably hampered action to curb the huge fiscal deficit.
Stonewalling: Each side's unwillingness to give ground to the other has led to political paralysis
For their part, most Democrats reject cuts in a welfare system that has become almost as unaffordable as Britain’s.
The Republicans, meanwhile, scorned a proposal for a bipartisan committee to address the deficit. They reject all tax increases and ignore the blatant unfairness of Mitt Romney paying just 14 per cent last year on millions earned from his investments, while most middle-class Americans pay more than double that rate.
At the same time, the poor and middle-class in America have seen their incomes shrink in recent years while the rich have become colossally richer. Official statistics show wealth divisions at a historic high.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz says: ‘Inequality in our society has become so extreme that it is adversely affecting our economy...it is no longer just a moral issue.’
This is a reality I was contemplating in Chicago this week as I looked at the glittering palaces of wealth that crowd the downtown skyline while, at the same time, beggars haunt Michigan Avenue.
This is not the only social problem.
Republicans have been resistant to raising taxes, and defended the 14per cent paid by Mitt Romney
Marriage has become a critical social divider. Around 90 per cent of the children of America’s most affluent people — the richest 20 per cent — live in households with both parents, while fewer than a third of the children of America’s poorest enjoy such stability.
I was also struck by the uniquely American election phenomenon of corporate bosses urging their workers to vote Republican.
One example is tycoon David Siegel, who created a holiday time-share empire and became notorious thanks to the documentary movie The Queen Of Versailles, which followed his wife’s attempt to build the largest house in America, modelled on Louis XIV’s palace.
He has told his 7,000 employees: ‘Another four years of the same presidential administration is a threat to jobs. If any new taxes are levied on me or my company, as our current president plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company.’
The boss of an auto parts company in Grand Rapids also warned his 2,300 workers about the higher healthcare and tax costs affecting their wages if Obama is re-elected.
For his part, Stiglitz rejects the idea that American capitalism promotes social mobility. He says: ‘While rags-to-riches stories still grip our imagination, the fact is that the life chances of a young American are more dependent on the wealth and income of his parents than in other advanced countries.’
Blinkered: Democrats reject cuts to a welfare system as unsustainable as Britain's
He says the rich can no longer justify their rewards on the basis of ‘trickle-down’ economics — the idea that their fortunes benefit everybody downstream. ‘The recent history of America, in which the rich have gotten richer while most Americans have got worse off, disproves this patently false notion.’
Stiglitz points to the erosion of middle-class incomes, and argues that a Romney victory will further widen inequality.
Romney, though, believes he can deliver economic growth. Yet his plans include slashing investment in education, non-defence science and technology, which are seen by others as vital to future prosperity.
Defending his commitment to dismantle Obama’s universal healthcare scheme, Romney says that lack of health insurance does not kill people. But this is untrue: states where the public Medicaid programme has been expanded show sharp drops in mortality.
Some say that if Romney is elected, he will abandon promised tax cuts. But it is unlikely that fellow Republicans in Congress would let him do so.
This is proof of what many fear is an example of the machinery of democracy breaking down.
- New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorses Obama because 'he's the best to tackle climate change which caused Superstorm Sandy'
- Obama back on campaign trail after Sandy says now is not time for 'petty differences' - then attacks Romney
- 'All white folks are going to hell': Explosive cry of civil rights icon Reverend Joseph Lowery at rally for Obama (who invited him to give benediction at President's inauguration)
Indeed, Republican filibustering in Congress was rewarded with gains in the 2010 Congressional elections — the result of Obama-hating voters’ love of their representatives’ wrecking tactics.
A recently published book (entitled It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How The American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics Of Extremism) despairs of this paralysis.
The authors say they thought before the 2008 banking crisis that such a seismic event would make Congress behave more responsibly. But they now realise they were wrong and say: ‘America got the crisis — what the country didn’t get was any semblance of a well-functioning democracy.’
The tragedy is that almost nobody in today’s American politics wants to meet on the middle ground, which is where most useful things get done.
The final, ill-fitting piece in the constitutional jigsaw is the electoral college which chooses the president.
The winner on Tuesday won’t be decided by a clear majority of the overall national vote, but by individual victories in the 50 states.
Presidential: Barack Obama may have benefited fractionally from Hurricane Sandy
Each state has a number of members roughly proportionate to its size, but Romney could get a majority of votes cast nationally and still lose in the electoral college, as happened to Democrat Al Gore in 2000.
Should that happen, the Republicans will claim their man has been robbed and politics will become even more poisoned.
The consequence of all this is that whoever wins next week, it will be phenomenally difficult for the president to get anything decisive done.
Even if Obama gets back, his administration will continue to be hamstrung by Republican dominance of the House of Representatives.
And if Romney wins, the Democrats — who will almost certainly retain a Senate majority — will avenge themselves for recent Republican obstructionism by seeking to block his more radical social and fiscal policies.
A very rich, very earnest Chicago woman said to me last Saturday: ‘The American people must learn to live and work together again.’
More from Max Hastings...
- The huge divide between Obama and Romney's ideology makes this election campaign the most divisive in recent memory 26/10/12
- I know from experience that the BBC is an empire of control freaks and cowards 22/10/12
- Yes, Uncle Sam’s our friend – but he’s a bully who’ll only respect us if we stand up to him 20/10/12
- Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU is beyond satire 12/10/12
- Cameron is a brave and decent man. But yesterday he gave us too many half-truths and evasions 10/10/12
- If Boris ever becomes PM, I'm on the first plane out of Britain 09/10/12
- Invasion. Genocide. An utter lack of remorse. and why there could be a terrifying new war between Japan and China 20/09/12
- The cruel reality is that we've lost in Afghanistan. So why are we still sacrificing our young men? 18/09/12
- VIEW FULL ARCHIVE
She undoubtedly meant what she said, and many of her compatriots share the same lofty ideal. But it is going to be tough indeed to make this happen, when the nation is divided by such implacable economic, social, religious — and racial — differences.
In right-wing circles, racism has become almost respectable again. Indeed, I heard an academic make a cheap crack about how ‘Obama has gotten himself a good tan’.
It is against this backdrop that Hurricane Sandy is dominating the headlines in the run-up to Tuesday’s vote.
Both candidates have done their utmost to avoid appearing to exploit the storm, but Obama could scarcely have done his duty as the country’s leader without getting some votes out of it.
In contrast, Romney, who wants to shrink the U.S. government, is on record as wanting to cut back the Federal Emergency Management Agency... which is the very department now responsible for post-Sandy recovery.
The vast majority of Americans can see that when a major catastrophe strikes, only central government can deal with the problems.
But the truth is that when this hurricane crisis has passed and this election is over, the deep divisions in American society will persist, with incalculable consequences for the nation.
I have a profound faith in the American genius. But unless the people and politicians of this great country can learn to find common purpose on big issues, its future will be blighted by their frighteningly divisive hatreds.
Read more: Superstorm Sandy - US election: The real dangers facing America are hatred, division and a collapsing political system | Mail Online
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11-03-2012, 12:06 PM #2
Please put the publication name near the top of the article near the date and author please.
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11-03-2012, 01:29 PM #3
Like communism the far left mind set is a failure concept, our public schools and media push this daily sadly in the end it will result with a civil war or other type of total breakdown in our society, signs can be seen now but I believe we're just in the first stage. The far left even the rich are an unhappy bunch and they will push middle America into a corner, hopefully I'm wrong but years of watching human nature tells me we're on a bad path.I'm old with many opinions few solutions.