The End of the Empire?

When I look at where America is headed these days, I shake my head and wonder what is happening to us. It’s as if we’ve forgotten why America became the most powerful nation on the planet.

We didn’t arrive at this place in history because of our devotion to government as the prescription for all that ails us. In fact, our Founding Fathers, in word and deed, considered government necessary to preserve order and dispense justice but otherwise inherently adversarial to the inalienable rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The Constitution established a federal republic with checks and balances to ensure that power was distributed rather than concentrated in one place, and an electoral process with finite terms of public service for our elected officials so they served solely at the pleasure of the people. The Bill of Rights was their crowning achievement, crafted to maximize self-governance by protecting the rights of the individual. Our political system requires self-governance by design in order to succeed. I don’t ascribe divine standing to our nation’s founding documents but I am amazed by the discernment and vision reflected in the words of these flawed yet courageous men.  The foresight and wisdom it took to craft the framework of a federal republic that honored the authority and dignity of the individual seems to have been drawn from a wellspring not of this world.

That is why it saddens me to see many of our nation’s leaders, the nobility of their intentions notwithstanding, steadily chipping away at the foundations of this successful experiment in self-governance. More and more of our destiny is being placed in the hands of government and the unintended consequence is the erosion of our ability and will to govern ourselves. It’s as if we are blind to the world around us.  Didn’t the collapse of communism teach us anything about the folly of a nation built around government and its elites? Our European allies, the standard-bearers for socialist republics, are mired in mediocrity, and France has turned to a conservative as its president in the hope of reviving their nation’s spirit and standing in the world. Are we watching? Why is the most successful nation in history hurtling headlong toward emulating the failures of other states past and present?

Do we have serious problems to overcome? Most certainly. Is the solution to give more power and influence to the leadership in Washington and our state capitals, irrespective of which party is in power? Is it to turn, in the words of Newt Gingrich, to the world that fails rather than the world that works? Is it to relinquish the liberty to make our own choices and forge our own path? Is it to abandon the pursuit of civic awareness and engagement to hold our elected officials fully accountable to us? Is it to diminish the time-honored nuclear family as society’s incubator for the raising of children to be responsible, moral and respectful citizens? Is it to dismiss the power of community to foster a spirit of service and shared sacrifice and bring hope and help to those in need?

The most sobering observation of all is that this is not happening at gunpoint, but of our own free will. Like the legend of the frog who sits blithely unaware of the fact that the water temperature is gradually rising until it reaches full boil and kills the frog, so we sit, demanding that government provide for us in more and more areas of our lives. One day we’ll look around and realize that our liberty has died and this great experiment in self-governance called the United States of America will be like empires past whose best days are behind them.