Opinion

My friend "Warren," a fiercely patriotic Korean War veteran, is one of those Greatest Generation old-timers who - unlike the 20 and 30-somethings - has the option of pretending it's still 1956 and Ike is still in the White House. Why not 1956? I mean, it's when he came to suburban Long Island, the quintessential example of the American Dream; a time when half of everything manufactured in the industrialized world was manufactured in the USA and a blue-collar worker with an eighth-grade education and six kids could afford a house in the suburbs. So why not just imagine it's still 1956?

Well, here's something else to imagine. Just imagine how Warren recently reacted when I told him that the United States - 300,000,000 polyglot dispersed over multiple time zones, climates, and geographic regions - is an ungovernable empire; that for the sake of posterity (like my 2-year-old daughter) America would be better off if subdivided into 15 or 20 independent republics. To my rescue came Gore Vidal. In the Jan. 6, 1995 issue of New Statesman and Society, Vidal suggested the following:

"Why not divide the country into several reasonably homogeneous sections, more or less in the Swiss cantonal system? Each region would tax its citizens and provide the services these citizens wanted...Washington would then become a sort of ceremonial capitol with certain functions. We shall always need some sort of modest defense system, a common currency, and a Supreme Court to adjudicate between the regions...so we are back, if by chance, to our original Articles of Confederation."

It is necessary to consider that our current economic woes are a manifestation of America's ungovernability; that the collapse of the Soviet Union was caused by many of the same problems that bedevil us today and that ungovernability is evident by the fact that, notwithstanding the fact that many aspects of our woes directly affect tens of millions of people, none of them ever became issues in the last election:

We can't give our citizens manufacturing jobs competing with those in China making $.20 an hour unless there are stringent limits on what is imported and exported into this country. We can't deem education a good investment if college students have nothing but a job flipping burgers after graduation because all the jobs for skilled workers have been outsourced to India. We can't put money back into the economy if, every year, something akin to the gross national product of a small European nation ends up in billionaire's Swiss bank accounts or gets sent home by immigrants via Western Union. We can't maintain schools, hospitals, fire departments, social services, museums, and other public institutions if we take in more immigrants and refugees than the rest of the world's countries combined. We can't get companies to re-invest in themselves and pay their employees a decent wage when the C.E.O.'s Christmas bonus is more than the average American will ever see in their lifetime. We can't keep our citizens out of soup kitchens and homeless shelters when taxes eat away more and more of their income. We can't keep a solvent Social Security system (private or otherwise) when the people paying into it don't earn enough money to make large enough contributions.

It would be foolish to believe that any governmental institution, set of policies, or legal apparatus with the one-size-fits-all approach could adequately address these problems and what these problems really are is the death of my friend Warren's American Dream. No wonder he likes to imagine that it's still 1956. But we need to talk about the future if people like my toddler will ever have their American Dream because we are now closer to 2056 than we are to 1956.

Paul Manton


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