The answer to that question is -a lot further than most people realize. I suppose it’s human nature to take the constitutional freedoms we possess, and the political process that ensures those freedoms, for granted. Most of the under developed nations of the world have no such process and are, therefore, in a constant state of turmoil. Look no further than recent events in Egypt, where a 30 year military dictatorship was replaced by an attempt at constitutional government, resulting in a freely elected president. However, the man elected was attempting to establish an Islamic dictatorship, which would result in the dissolution of all constitutional liberties that had been recently established. When the people rose up in protest, the Islamist president was then overthrown and replaced by a new military dictatorship. Back to square one; but the Egyptian people are probably better off with their new rulers.
In any event, as I’ve said, most people take the political process established in this country for granted. A full 40% or more of eligible voters can’t be bothered to take the time out to vote in a presidential election. That figure rises to near 60% in non-presidential elections. We assume that the political system we have in place will always be there, even if we’re not paying attention. Duly elected future presidents would never dream of suspending all further elections as well as civil liberties, would they? The way Hitler did in Nazi Germany, which had been a functioning constitutional democracy until he became Chancellor. I guess most Germans weren’t pay close attention either, at the time. In fact, we can thank George Washington for the fact that we have a constitutional election process in the first place. Our founding fathers wanted to establish a monarchy with Washington as king, until George nixed that idea.
This is kind of a long preamble to get to the point I really wanted to make, of how low we’ve sunk in our national election system. This past week the Chairman of the Republican Party sent off an angry missive to TV stations NBC and CNN, because both stations were in the early phases of developing documentaries about the life of Hillary Clinton. How dare these stations, said the Chairman, consider programming anything that might be seen as favorable to Hillary’s chances of winning the presidency in 2016. Threatening blackmail and other dastardly deeds, the GOP said the 2 stations must stop these projects dead in their tracks, immediately. Even though they are in the earliest stages of script writing, and no one knows exactly how the documentaries will turn out. To me, this represents a new low in political mudslinging and thuggery.
Now the GOP knows that its fiscal policies of trickle-down-economics, tax cuts for the rich, and slashing Government assistance to the poor, the sick, and the elderly doesn’t sit that well with large parts of the electorate. Couple that with its social agenda of anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-immigration, and anti-gun control, and one can see how the Republicans have a problem in winning over a majority of the electorate. So to compensate, Republicans engage heavily in the politics of personal destruction and demonization. Democrats try that too; but they’re far more inept and incompetent at it than Republicans. With Democrats it’s like amateur night versus highly professional Republicans when the politics of personal destruction are employed. For example, early in the 2008 primary season, when it appeared Hillary Clinton would easily win the Democratic nomination against an unknown, black Senator from Illinois with the peculiar name of Barack Obama, the GOP mud-slinging machine kicked into hi-gear. It already started printing up bumper-stickers that said: “Monica Lewinski’s Ex-Boyfriend’s Wife For President.” You can expect the same treatment if she’s dumb enough to run for president again. With all the grief she had to endure when Bill was President, and being in her late sixties by 2016, one would think that the Oval Office would be the last place she’d want to spend her remaining years. But, I guess, one never knows.
Being president these days means having to cope with a government mired in dysfunction and polarization. The greatest amount of polarization since the Civil War. Congress is currently on its month-long vacation for all of August. It’s recuperating from the enormous burdens of having to put in 3-day work weeks, (Tuesday thru Thursday) at least 2 or 3 times a month. Who can cope with such stress? When it returns sometime after Labor Day, Republicans will try mightily to defund Obamacare and further slash social spending. House Republicans are threatening not to pass a fiscal 2014 budget, or raise the debt-ceiling unless those objectives prevail. The President, of course, will refuse to go along with defunding his signature piece of legislation. So look for a government shutdown after September 30, similar to the one that occurred in 1995. That’s when House Republicans led by GOP firebrand Newt Gingrich, refused to fund government operations unless deep spending cuts were made to Medicare. President Bill Clinton refused, and the government was shut down for 3 weeks before Gingrich finally budged. I can foresee a similar scenario occurring this year, perhaps resulting in an even lengthier government closure.
Perhaps it’s the nature of the human condition to see great civilizations rise to the apex, and then slowly crumble. Many social prognosticators have already proclaimed that America’s best days are behind her. There are those that trace the start of America’s downhill decline to the time a dingbat like Sarah Palin became prominent in American politics. But I would go back further to 1960. In the waning days of his presidency, Dwight Eisenhower warned the American people about the undue influence and power accruing to the military-industrial complex. He warned that if left unchecked, such power could destroy America from within. Coming from a 5-star general, it was a warning to be heeded. But America generally ignored what Ike had to say, and the chickens are coming home to roost. Like bloated $700 billion a year Defense budgets, and unwise American entanglements in all kinds of foreign escapades.
As I’ve said, perhaps it’s our destiny to fall after we’ve accumulated such vast power. For those of you interested, you might want to compare America’s history with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. It’s eerily similar. Those of you that have great fortitude and patience can learn more by reading British author Edward Gibbon’s classic, six volume work called “The Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire.” Because we seem to be trudging along the same path as the ancient Romans. So how far can we fall? All the way to the bottom. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to pay greater attention to the political process.