The American Train has Jumped the Tracks
By: Ron Lipsman
Unlike virtually all other countries, the United States of America was founded upon a set of ideas. Its people did not coalesce around a religion, race, ethnic heritage, language or geographical area in order to form itself into a coherent, recognizable nation. Rather the US was constituted by an amazingly astute and prescient group of Founders who created an entity that would maximize individual liberty and endow the people with the greatest chance to have a life of freedom, justice and prosperity. The ideals that undergird this nation, unique in the annals of world history, are enshrined in its founding documents â€“ the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. To be an American is to subscribe to and strive to embody these ideals.
The founding documents laid out the track that Americans were to follow in order to preserve our freedoms, our just society and our unparalleled prosperity. Alas, America has jumped the tracks. It is my purpose here to explain the derailment more concretely and to pose an overarching strategy for returning to the rails.
In fact the tracks have three sets of rails as the American experience is grounded in three fundamental strains, all of which are crucial to the ongoing success of our grand experiment. The strains are political, moral and idealistic.
Political. The Founders established an unprecedented political system that has retained its uniqueness to this day. The Constitution provides for a federal Republic, whose government derives its powers purely from the consent of the people; it is made up of distinct branches with carefully delineated, complementary powers, replete with checks and balances â€“ between the branches and between the national and State governments. The system was designed to establish a national government of VERY limited powers that would maximize individual liberty, establish the rule of law and dispense equal an unbiased justice. Moreover, it was intended to do so in perpetuity.
Moral. By placing the onus for the continued success of the American experiment on the peopleâ€™s shoulders, not the governmentâ€™s, the Founders understood that the desired success would depend upon the maintenance of a high moral fabric among the people. The system would only work if the people were generally â€œgoodâ€ â€“ meaning that they had a clear understanding of and could distinguish between good and evil, just and unjust, honesty and dishonesty, responsibility and irresponsibility. If the people made the right choices when confronted with moral opposites, the system would work well and the nation would thrive; if not, then corruption, vice and malfeasance would surely follow, with tyranny the ultimate outcome. The people would learn to make the right choices because they were embedded in a society that prized strong families and communities, charity and good works, universal education, a powerful work ethic and the fear of God.
Idealistic. The Founders also understood that they were creating something unique and revolutionary. They expected that their descendants would guard it zealously and hold it up as a beacon for the peoples of the world to emulate. In short the Founders were the first believers in American exceptionalism. They saw the American people as the â€œnew Hebrews,â€ a people chosen by God to provide, by their example, a light unto the nations in regard to how a just and free society should be organized and governed. Without that type of faith and pride to complement their upstanding morals, the Founders feared that it might prove difficult to sustain the experiment in limited government.
Americans rode those rails for more than a century. But beginning in the so-called Progressive Era a century ago, continuing through the New Deal and the Great Society, and culminating today under the Prophet Obama, the American people have been abandoning these tracks. In all three strains, the train has been diverted onto a route that bears less and less resemblance to the path laid out by the Founders. We might ask:
1. How and why did this happen?
2. The loss of which track poses the greatest danger to the Republic?
3. How can we get back on the rails?
How and why? It didnâ€™t happen by accident. Inspired by ideas imported from Europe, â€œsocial reformersâ€ at the turn of the 20th century decided that Americaâ€™s founding philosophy was flawed. These statist revolutionaries envisioned an America where: fairness trumped liberty; equality of result is more important than equality of opportunity; a benign yet powerful government could achieve more for the health and welfare of the people than individuals could achieve when left to their own devices; change and progress is more important than stability and tradition; order and security outweigh freedom; morals are relative, not absolute. They also argued that there was nothing wonderfully special about a nation that condoned slavery, practiced genocide against its Native inhabitants and imprisoned its own (Japanese-American) citizens in camps.
The progressives and their philosophical offspring, through a relentless assault on many fronts, captured the media, academia, the legal profession, foundations and libraries â€“ indeed, almost all of the opinion-molding organs of American society. The result is a brainwashed electorate that willingly â€“ and unwittingly â€“ aids the progressives in their goal of remaking America into a society that would be anathema to our Founders.
Which track is most important? I warrant that if one queried a progressive in 1905 as to this question, his answer would have been unequivocally #1. He believed that the fundamental political structure of America was wrongly conceived and that it had to be radically altered. He probably felt that going to church was a waste of time and that pride in America was silly; thus he might not focus on the latter two tracks. It was the levers of American governmental power that he sought to control, not the inclinations of the American heart or mind. Alas, to the misfortune of our beloved Republic, there were more astute progressives who understood that the Left could never achieve the political power it sought unless it first undermined the moral and idealistic foundation that made possible the American experiment in freedom and limited government.
The bastards succeeded. Look around. The debauched American culture, the ruptured American family, the President who grovels before and apologizes to world tyrants and miscreants for American misbehavior; all these bear testimony to how far off the second and third rails we have fallen. It is not surprising then that the people are insecure and without confidence, and that they look to government â€“ rather than themselves, their families and communities â€“ for the succor that they seek.
In summary, the first track is the key to controlling society, but the Left realized and acted upon the fact that one had to subvert tracks two and three first in order to achieve their dastardly goal of derailing society from the first track.
Can we recover? This is a grave question with enormous consequences. (For a glimpse into whatâ€™s in store if we donâ€™t, the reader might have a look at Mark Steynâ€™s dire predictions in his brand new book After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. Itâ€™s very scary.) In fact, there have been only three previous attempts at recovery in the last century that bear mentioning: Coolidge, Reagan, Gingrich. Coolidge focused almost exclusively on the economy â€“ with great success. But actually, the nature of the nationâ€™s economy is determined as a consequence of the three tracks. As long as America was steady on the rails, it was inconceivable that it would implement any economic system other than free market capitalism â€“ an economy that is most compatible with the tents of the three tracks. Indeed I think that Coolidge had no inkling of the assault on tracks #2 and #3. He probably believed that he and Mellon had undone the damage of the Progressive Era, but he did not appreciate the magnitude of the assault that America faced.
Reagan understood. But he only engaged on tracks #1 & #3. Like Coolidge, he had significant success: restoring Americaâ€™s pride and military strength, defeating Soviet Communism and jump starting the economy. But, perhaps because he didnâ€™t address #2, and perhaps because too much of the country did not yet understand the extent of the nationâ€™s surrender to the Progressive assault, his successes proved ephemeral. Gingrich was a total flop. He might have understood, but he and his minions were co-opted before they ever got out of the barracks.
The rise of the Tea Party movement shows that a significant portion â€“ albeit still a minority â€“ of the people is coming to understand the nature of the radical assault on America, and what its consequences will be. Is it too late? Can we reverse course â€“ at least on some of the tracks? I believe that the experience of Reagan proves that we can recover only if we counterattack on all three tracks. Thatâ€™s the overarching strategy promised at the beginning of the article. More concrete details will be presented on another occasion.
Ron Lipsman, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, Former Senior Associate Dean College of Computer, Math & Physical Sciences University of Maryland