It is all too easy to get lost in the hurly-burly of contemporary politics, which is mostly about appetite, and miss larger and more fundamental changes that are taking place.
Ideas we have long been told were characteristic of the American regime no longer have any place in the body politic. For instance, the “checks and balances” among the branches of government and the levels of government no longer function. The only real “checks” upon the federal government now, besides inertia and incompetence, are the power of finance capital and of minority groups.
The idea that war is to be declared by Congress, i.e., that the people should commit themselves into war, the most dangerous of all collective human enterprises, by deliberate consent, has been abandoned. Interpretation of the laws and Constitution is now a jockeying game, resting on deception and expediency, and bearing no relation to either principle or wisdom. The prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and search and seizure are disintegrating daily. Citizens “rights” no longer have any relation to citizenship duty. The demographic, economic, and moral transformation of America, largely from the top down, that has been going on for more than half a century is accelerating and promises permanent rule. The designation “American” is now so expansive as to have little meaning. (At the last commencement I attended at my university, twenty-six doctorates in science were awarded to Asians and one to an Anglo-American.)
How much is left of what we used to think was the American spirit of independence and irreverence for Power and pretension?
American popular culture used to be middle-brow but pleasing and a true reflection of the national character. It is now completely debased or derivative.
It may be we have missed the real significance of Barack Hussein Obama’s election twice to the Presidency. He was the first President elected entirely and undisguisedly on the expectation of payoff to a large fragment of the electorate. And this has been taken for granted as a natural and good way to choose a President. Patriotism and the common good remain merely as a thin rhetorical veneer.
Most African-Americans’ ancestors came in the colonial period. Their Americanism stretches back farther than most whites except for the South and a few other pockets of Old Americans. But Obama and most of the other prominent African-Americans in recent times do not belong to that category. Obama is the child of a Midwestern white radical and a petty Kenyan chieftain. Their coming together was a product of the Cold War campaign to make Americans beloved by Third Worlders so they would not become Communists. It was an idiotic and cowardly but all too American policy. That Obama is a product of empire, that he is barely American, is a more fundamentally revolutionary thing than that he is half black.
Clyde N. Wilson is the Emeritus Distinguished Professor of History at the University of South Carolina and a Contributing Editor to Chronicles. Dr. Wilson is best known as the editor of the 28-volume documentary edition of The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the author or editor of a dozen other books—including Carolina Cavalier: The Life and Mind of James Johnston Pettigrew and Defending Dixie: Essays in Southern History and Culture—and has published over 700 articles, essays, and reviews. He is also the co-owner of Shotwell Publishing.