By James Glenn Reynolds, Author The Last Election
In the November 4 election, Americans took another giant step along the path to separation and break-up of the United States as we know it today. No person or political party is leading us along this path. Not yet. But we are now very close, in historical terms, to the edge of the chasm of our great cultural divide.
This divide is defined broadly as two ways of life. One way of life favors a strong central authority in Washington D.C. that makes rules for all in every aspect of our daily lives and undertakes to provide for everyone a basic level of education, care, and income throughout our lives. The other way of life favors a limited central authority in Washington D.C. that provides national security, a common currency, and broad rules to facilitate commerce among the states. Over the past half century, beginning with the Great Society legislation in the 1960’s, those favoring a way of life characterized by limited central control have become increasingly uncomfortable with their national government. We are now experiencing the rise to rebellion by an alarmed populace.
As this grand American drama plays itself out across our land, we would do well to focus our attention on the two over riding forces at work. The first force is the enormous power of a federal bureaucracy that we have permitted to grow far too large and far too invasive in our daily lives. We no longer seem to know how to control this monster we have created. The second force is the national debt, now approaching $18 trillion, together with another $4 trillion of unfunded pension liabilities to government employees, not to mention the unfunded social security promises to everyone. Our people are being brought into national bondage by the bureaucracy and are facing impoverishment against their expectations. An ugly day of reckoning is on the horizon. Can it be prevented?
The rise to rebellion that we are now seeing at the ballot box is popular resistance to these two great forces. It is also a resistance to the elitist notion that only our intellectual superiors in Washington can devise policies and programs for all that will insulate us from our ignorance, stupidity and greed. Resistance is concentrated in Appalachia and Dixie which are now solidly red. The resistance has also spread to the Great Plains, Mountain States and Alaska, with Iowa, Colorado and Montana aligning themselves more with their neighboring states. The vote on November 4 in over 70% of the national land mass was a resounding “No Thank You” to federal intrusion and control. “No more, please!” “No Mas!” “We’re all done!” “Leave us alone, already!” We are choosing sides, not by economic class, gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual preference. Instead, we are choosing sides by region, by state, and by community to govern ourselves more closely to where we live and work on our farms and in our factories, rather than be ruled by a central authority thousands of miles away.
However, the blue state popular majority remains in control of the federal bureaucracy, and its representative in the White House will be making more rules and expanding central control throughout the coming two years. History teaches us that power is never ceded willingly. The moneyed elite in the large coastal cities have an enormous incentive to remain influencers of a strong central authority. Their wealth grows exponentially by their ability to write the rules that will require their products and services to be purchased by the American public. The monopoly of political power is far superior to the unpredictable free market. The elite will use every resource at their disposal to maintain power.
The red state resistance rebelled at the ballot box and won control of the Senate. The Republican majority grew in the House as seats changed hands in both red and blue states. But the dilemma remains. “No mas,” is not a legislative agenda. “Leave us alone,” is not a slogan likely to win a presidential election. The red states do not want to control Washington. They simply want to shrink its authority.
There is one tool available to the legislative majority. It is the power of the purse. Funds can be denied selectively to the bureaucracy to shrink its authority. And shrinking the authority of the bureaucracy will reduce the power of the moneyed elite by lessening the value of political influence. The national debt can be reduced by spending less than revenues generated. There is some recent precedent for decisive action. The Republicans in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin took bold action when given the mantle to put their states back on a fiscally stable plane. They took the risk and took the heat. Their popularity went down….then went up. But regardless, they did what they said they would do. Will the new Congress take decisive action, or will it muddle along in wait for a new president?
We have been here once before as a nation during the decade of the 1850’s. We had created two very different ways of life. One existed on the support of an agrarian society. The other existed on a newly developed industrial base. Both fed off one another. One required the institution of slavery. The other did not. The two proved incompatible over time.
The clash came in 1850 after the Mexican War victory when the entire western portion of the continent was opened for settlement. We could not come to compromise on the matter of slavery, even though the lions of the Senate, including Clay, Webster and Calhoun, tried mightily. We muddled along for a decade, not knowing how to create harmony and fearing the collapse of the union. We elected a succession of weak presidents, enacted bad laws that made matters worse, found no solace in the Supreme Court, and in the end, frustration turned to anger, anxiety turned to fear, and respect for one another turned to outspoken mistrust. In 1860 we had a Last Election, followed by secession, a break up, and armed conflict.
Once again we are likely to muddle along, with continued growth in the national debt and federal rules until that as yet unknown cathartic date when the common thread binding us all together will have been frayed to a wisp, and whole regions will separate to their own more compatible ways of life. Then we will know that we have had another Last Election, and only then will we know that we failed to heed the lessons of history.
James Glenn Reynolds has been CEO of a privately held business for more than 30 years, following two successful careers as an attorney and an officer in operations and finance of an NYSE-listed corporation. He has served on numerous public, private, educational, philanthropic and industry boards. He is the author of “The Last Election.”