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A Crisis of the American Soul
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Photo: 'The Soul of America' by Jon Meacham

A Crisis of the American Soul

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WASHINGTON — January 12, 2019

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump delivered a ten-minute address to the nation from the Oval Office, whereas he typically speaks publicly at events, talking directly to a live audience, or through his famous Twitter account.

This more traditional form of address is not the President’s forte — he was more constrained, unsure of his words, instead of his usual lively speech and emotional strength. His opponents were therefore quick to call his speech a failure.

Meanwhile, the radical change of image was intended to emphasize Trump's firmness in his political position of not compromising on the budget and the border wall. He also entered territory thus far alien to him — discussion of morality. Without naming House Speaker Pelosi by name, the President responded to her characterization of the wall as "immoral,” noting that morality should apply to those within the country too, not just those without — otherwise building any fence anywhere would have to be deemed immoral, but, of course, we all protect ourselves and our loved ones with walls.

For a private America with its traditions of individualism and religious community, this is actually a strong argument. Whatever Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer say about the Statue of Liberty, calling all refugees, Americans remember perfectly well that it is a sculpture from the French sculptor Bartholdi (several copies of which are in Paris), received by America as a grant, and if America called for refugees, it was about immigrants from Europe, mainly persecuted Protestants at home. "My home is my fortress," states an old Anglo-Saxon proverb, so why can't "our common America" protect its national home with a solid wall from refugees from the South? Thus, in content, not in form, Trump was more convincing than his moralizing opponents.

Migration is destined to be the main political conflict of the 21st century for most advanced countries. It will not only replace the debate on religion’s role in society that has gone on since the 1960s, but will set off a Right-Left conflict that has been defining the structure of the political spectrum since the last century.

The parties will have to argue as fiercely about immigration quotas as they once did about a progressive tax and Social Security.

All Euro-Atlantic countries face a similar split to one degree or another, but the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution — something particular to the American system — is the main culprit behind the current government shutdown — the longest in American history.

Based on the President’s words about the border situation as “a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul,” we can say that we see today America’s “mental disorder.”

Getty/PrtSc

In the UK or Germany, even in France, the budget and domestic policy would be determined by a party with a majority in the lower House of Parliament. In the US, there may be situations where the President and his Senate-approved team coexist with the Lower House, which is dominated by the opposition party. And it is always fraught with crisis and the loss of controllability.

This happened twice in George W. Bush’s second term and in three-quarters of Obama’s presidency. Under Bush Jr., with Pelosi as the Speaker of the House, the issue of financing for Iraq became acute. The Senate opposed Bush’s course, with Joe Biden at the helm of the Committee on Foreign Relations, and with Pelosi’s full support. However, the differences were not impassable — after all, Biden and most of his fellow party members in the Senate gave Bush the green light in 2002 to use force against Saddam Hussein's regime. With joint concerted efforts, the conflict was hushed up, and Bush even received the funds he needed to increase the number of troops in Iraq.

In 2011, the conflict became much more acute: In the House of Representatives, the tone was set by the military and aggressive Tea Party movement, refusing to give the President the right to raise the bar of the national debt. At that time, the globalist establishment of both parties was first confronted with the now-popular logic of "America at first": we don't care about obligations to China if we have to pay these obligations from our people's wallets. But even in this case, it was possible to build bridges between two irreconcilable flanks of American politics — and the same Joe Biden, who moved to the Vice-President's chair, perfectly found a common language with the leaders of the conservative opposition in the House of Representatives.

Today, the situation is much worse. Neither Trump nor Pelosi with Schumer can "compromise the principles" without the risk of losing face and a considerable share of their strong supporters.

So they turn to morals, playing them however will favor their cause. VP Mike Pence tried to play the Biden role for a while, looking for an agreement with the Democratic majority, but to no avail. Everything has been reduced to approval ratings and trying to blame the other party in hopes that voters will punish their opponents with a loss in confidence, forcing the enemy to retreat.

There is only one way to radically cut the migration Gordian knot: Establishing an autocracy in America, ending the separation of powers leading the US into civil strife. Intelligent analysts such as Francis Fukuyama have long been calling for such a move, but that requires an internal consent that does not exist, largely due to the ill-fated “virtual wall” on the southern border that has 800,000 federal employees not getting paid. Today it moreso resembles the wall that once divided the Marxists and those who remained true to Adam Smith. Again, there is a fear that the conflict of power can be resolved just by power.

However, we also cannot rule out the most optimistic scenario of the opposing rulers getting together face-to-face over a glass of whiskey or wine and agreeing to terms for a coordinated retreat from the previous uncompromising positions, establishing again a negative peace. American democracy has always worked with its vaunted system of a separation of powers, which hasn’t yet managed to shake any Washington “spiritual crisis.”

We won’t expect too much from the current languid "purely American crisis", although it sometimes seems insoluble.

Author: USA Really