From time to time, I still run into the online meme of the "end of empire" -- referring to the United States and its faltering dominance in the world. I have long challenged that premise.
The American Empire is by no means ending; if anything, it's been revitalized since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and today the Imperial USA is as strong or stronger than it has ever been. It has shown itself to be remarkably adaptable to a changing world and has taken advantage of the changes to extend its influence, power and reach without necessarily putting more boots on the ground (though there is no lack of them).
What we've been seeing instead is the "end of the Republic" -- such as it was. It was a pretty anemic Republic all along, riven as it was with factionalism and dominated by the interests of money. Oh. Well.
Today, we are constantly bombarded with the message that "Washington doesn't work." What that essentially means is that the Congress is paralyzed by factionalism, the White House is unable to pass and institute its or any agenda and government operations are being run into the ground -- when they aren't going completely rogue.
And nothing can be done about it. In fact, the futility of the whole apparatus of governing in this country -- national, state and local -- has become a meme almost as commonplace as the "end of empire."
It's a form of conditioning, I believe, that will ultimately make it that much easier to institutionalize an Imperial governing model.
A tiny and shrinking moneyed elite will be the "representatives" operating a government that is instituted for the benefit and convenience of that elite, and which essentially ignores the public, the seething masses, the rabble. The Congress most likely will continue to operate, much as the Roman Senate did for hundreds of years after Augustus disabled it, but it will have less and less and ultimately no governing power at all. The most recent government Shutdown has -- I believe -- catalysed an Inner Party movement to make it impossible for Congress ever to do that or anything like it again. The power to do so will be removed, and that means the Congress will not have the power of the purse any more. That will no doubt be transferred -- as so many powers and authorities already have been -- to an executive "commission." They will decide what the purse consists of and how it will be disbursed and the Congress will be allowed to approve. But it ultimately will not matter whether they do or not. They will have no power to do anything about decisions already made. Congress is practically at that point now.
The executive will be transformed into an even more authoritarian institution than it already is. But unless the rabble seek to rise up against it, the executive will have less and less interest in the People -- who more than likely will be ruled directly and openly by private sector interests. The rabble will become dependencies of corporate/finance/owners -- serfs or slaves in a word, under private sector control. We're already very close to that point now with the enormous expansion of debt peonage among the population. It was through the extension of debt that Roman citizens became serfs and slaves to private individuals and institutions and much the same is happening right before our eyes today.
The courts have already been folded in to the executive, their "independence" an illusion as they serve the interests of the executive and the owner class exclusively.
This sequence of transformation is happening at every level of government as well as at the Palace of Versailles. Americans are by and large oblivious to or accepting it without comment or question. It's just the way things are.
The meme is that as long as they have their flat screens, games and take-and-bakes, Americans are content to do nothing about what's happening to them and around them.
Unfortunately, the only people who are making much of a stink about this transformation are libertarians -- who by and large seek to profit from it and ultimately to rule in place of whoever holds power -- who is not of their ilk (or "tribe" as it were.)
As I see it, these developments -- or reversions, depending on perspective -- are built in to our anachronistic and unrepresentative governing system; in other words, the constitution and what's been built on it is the fundamental problem. Combined as it is with the two-party winner-take-all electoral system, the situation we're in is inevitable.
Changing it means rethinking the whole apparatus. In other words, starting over.
That's part of what I see Ian Welsh and others thinking through over at Ian's place. It's a necessary exercise, and at the moment, it seems to be the most extensive one on the internet. Much of the discussion is dense, some is not germane, and there are plenty of diversions along the way, but for the most part, I've been impressed with both the sincerity and the insights of those participating. Ian has made a point of promoting Jerome Armstrong's comments to independent posts, mostly because of the historical insights he provides. Armstrong was a "player" after all, in what became the Netroots phenom, and in subsequent online activism. Others who are participating over at Ian's -- and Ian himself -- were in the vanguard of a nascent online "progressive movement" that seems to have lost its mojo, to coin a phrase.
If its mojo is gone, I suspect it's due to the fact that it turned out to be easy to buy the "movement" off, and to dismiss the importance of and deny the influence of anyone who wouldn't yield to the Powers That Be. The allure of money and a semblance of power is ALWAYS enticing, especially to those who have none.
The other factor is the inability to define "progressive" and to carry it forth as an ideology. This is due, I think, to the influence of libertarianism in the "progressive movement" -- an influence which seeks to disable any competing philosophy or point of view, ultimately leaving only libertarianism as the default position. Of course, in practice libertarianism is no different from corporatism or for that matter fascism. "Liberty for me to do what I will to thee (without the interference of, but with the enforcement of, government.)"
That's not very progressive.
So. Rethinking our apparatus of government, not so much rejecting it as thinking through alternatives and developing coherent positions around them, is something I've long thought was necessary. It looks like there may be a serious effort under way over at Ian's place.