Historical Ignorance: Creeping Feudalism?

Some people bristle at the idea that there is something special about the United States of America. They cringe when someone says the United States is exceptional. Yet, the United States is special and exceptional. It is not perfect, but the good it has done in the world far outweighs the bad.

The United States was founded some 238 years ago as a democracy.1 Critics of democracy predicted it would never survive for any number of reasons. Yet, it has survived and flourished. Unfortunately, its survival is not guaranteed.

The country’s survival is not endangered due to any problem with the original concept. It is not imperiled due to mistakes made in the past. It is not imperiled due to external pressures or attacks. Instead, it is endangered by the impatience, apathy, emotionalism, lack of integrity and historical ignorance that is rapidly becoming the rule instead of the exception.

These elements are prompting some powers within the country to move in a dangerous direction. It is a direction, which seems to resemble the feudalistic societies of the middle ages. If left unchecked, this movement or shift in the way the U. S. is governed could lead to a country few alive today would recognize.

Some might say the last sentence above is hyperbole at its worst. Others might say this is impossible, and that sort of change could never happen here. Still others might wonder how such a change can take place.

It can, and is, taking place for the reasons mentioned above. It is the historical ignorance of the voting public that allows the impatient and the dishonest to sell their plans to the nation. It is the apathy of others that allows changes to be made incrementally because they do not see the need or have the motivation to voice their concerns.

The principles upon which this country was founded and governed worked for more than 200 years. Those principles give the states of which this country is composed certain powers guaranteed to them in the constitution. The federal government also has certain powers granted to it under that same constitution. The constitutional nature and limitations on these powers are the reason the country has existed as long as it has.

Some critics of the United States are concerned about the pace at which the government must operate. However, that pace was built into the system intentionally. Major changes to the constitution and laws take time in the United States. The country’s founders designed it that way. They were all too aware of the dangers posed by a government which could make changes quickly, and at the whim of a small group of people.

The deliberative nature of a government such as this is too slow for many people. Some people in political office and many citizens want changes, and they want them now. When one adds this impatience to the apathy of the general population, the emotionalism of certain factions and growing lack of integrity in the country, it is a recipe for disaster.

It is likely some readers will begin to think this essay is directed at the current president or others with his political views. That is only partially correct. This movement started decades ago, and has been advanced under all administrations to some degree. The steps taken by President Obama to further this shift in how the country is governed are too fast for some and too slow for others.  Some feel his actions are too constrained and others think he is out of control.  Whatever the truth, he is moving along the same path presidents have trod in one way or another since FDR at least.

The incremental centralization of power has taken place with both Republicans and Democrats in office. The political structure in the two houses of congress made little difference to this growth. Those interested in increasing the power of the central government have done so, one step at a time.

Every little step was made for the best of reasons. Possibly the motives of all involved were not pure, but the intentions were good. One example of this was covered in “Paved With Good Intentions: Interstate Highways.”

Washington’s incursion into ground transportation began with the best of intentions. The resulting Washington behemoth now known as the U. S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) still claims to operate with good intentions. Unfortunately, it succumbed, as do many governmental entities, to the impatient elements within society. To meet their demands for immediate change, USDOT found ways to circumvent the constraints placed on the Washington politicos and bureaucrats.

USDOT was one of the pioneers in federal coercion of state and local governments. The coercion was well meaning and meant to benefit and protect the country as a whole. Yet, the collateral damage of the well intentioned takeover of transportation by Washington, D.C. has been significant.

The interstate highway system did lead to some great benefits. The unfortunate collateral damage included the disappearance of many small towns, the end of railroads as a major form of transportation, the destruction of millions, possibly billions, of acres of natural beauty and the nation’s growing dependence on fossil fuels. It also led to increased federal mandates in many areas normally controlled by the states.

The United States is approaching a tipping point.  In the not too distant future, that point may be reached, if changes are not made soon.  When, and if, that point is reached, the slide to the bottom will be short and painful. The federal government will no longer need to bribe, cajole or persuade state and local governments to do things Washington’s way.  The order will come down and compliance will be demanded.   On the other hand, if one is in favor in Washington, rewards will be plentiful.  Maybe Jerry Brown will get his bullet train from nowhere to nowhere after all.

© S. E. Jackson – 2014

 


1. Technically, the United States is not a pure democracy. It is a form of democratic republic or constitutional democracy, depending on which source one wishes to believe.

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