For Which It Stands: 10 Risks to the American Republic

1.  Introduction

On this 4th of July, I went to the hometown parade, had a picnic with the family, and will later on watch fireworks.  All of the standard elements of the holiday celebration are there; and yet I always try to take a little time out on this holiday to reflect about the words in the pledge of allegiance:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

 These words are said by those citing the Pledge of Allegiance, but when I repeat them as I do at the beginning of every Toastmasters meeting, it almost becomes a prayer asking God that our Republic continue to stand.  For there are certain risks to the Republic, and to the notion of our country being indivisible, with liberty and justice for all that make it a possibility that our country, this first product of the Enlightenment, may not survive, at least in recognizable form.

2.  Global Risk Report 2013–prototype for this post

The World Economic Forum puts out a Global Risk Report every year in which they rank certain risks in 5 different categories (technological, economic, geopolitical, societal, and technological) in terms of which are estimated to have the greatest impact and greatest likelihood over the next decade.

In a similar way, I decided to list risks which I feel threaten the form of government that we have today here in the United States.  I have listed the risks according to the category.


  Category Risk
1. Geopolitical Federal governance failure
2. Geopolitical Pervasive entrenched corruption
3. Environmental Failure of climate change adaptation
4. Environmental Land and waterway use mismanagement
5. Economic Chronic fiscal imbalances
6. Economic Chronic labor market imbalances
7. Societal Rising religious fanaticism
8. Societal Mismanagement of population ageing
9. Technological Cyber attacks
10. Technological Massive disinformation campaigns

Here’s an explanation of the risks.

1.  Federal Governance Failure

Since the minority party cannot by definition govern the country, they can either compromise with the majority party or try to magnify their power in a perverse way by being the “party of Nope”.  Filibusters and other tools that in normal political times prevent the minority from being run roughshod by the majority are now being used to stop the mechanism altogether, and appear to be a tool to run roughshod over the majority.  This has led to a paralysis of the government in both the Senate and the House.    Some of this paralysis is deliberate, so that rear-guard actions against individuals can be taken at the state level without interference from the federal government–that is the purpose behind the gutting of the Voting Rights Act decision recently by the Supreme Court.

2.  Pervasive entrenched corruption

The Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court went beyond the court giving corporations property rights, and gave them political rights as well.  This influx of political money several orders of magnitude larger than in previous elections has distorted the political process and made the impact of billionaire donors also several orders of magnitude greater.

3.  Failure of climate change adaptation

The strain on state governments to manage the infrastructure, that is increasingly stressed by a failure to adapt to climate change, means that many programs that help social stability are being crowded out and downsized.

4.  Land and waterway use mismanagement

The true environmental cost of fracking is not being considered when making the decision to proceed with this controversial method for obtaining shale oil and gas.  The benefits are considerable, but they will not accrue to the general public because this shale oil and gas is going to be sold overseas and will not appreciably affect the domestic supply.

5.  Chronic fiscal imbalances

The deficits in the long-term do appear to have a tendency to decrease, which is the good news.  For this reason, the stubbornness of economic theories that preach austerity measures during a recession has led to disastrous consequences in Europe.  We are unfortunately not learning the lesson here in the United States are hell-bent to copy those same self-injurious policies.

6.  Chronic labor market imbalances

Companies are reluctant to hire, but not because of any vague fears of “uncertainty” but rather the very real fear of lack of demand.  Until demand is somehow stimulated in the economy, unemployment will therefore remain high.  What little nascent demand there is in the economy could be strangled at birth by policies that try to cut unemployment benefits, and now even food stamp programs.

7.  Rising religious fanaticism

The recent bill in North Carolina designed to wipe out an imaginary threat to the Republic posed by Sharia Law has adopted some of the same religious fundamentalist language and tactics to impose some of the sweeping anti-abortion restrictions in the country.  These attempts to hijack our Republic by a theocratic mindset have grown increasingly bold over the past few years.

8.  Mismanagement of population aging

Companies who lay off people in their 50s and 60s disproportionately to the rest of the population do so because they view people as renewable resources—hey, just hire younger and cheaper ones.  The problem with this view is that the people who have been laid off now face discrimination in the workplace in being hired for a new position.  And what is the response from the solons in Washington?  To increase the retirement age so that these people will have an even harder time making it to that age at all, especially since health insurance is tied to being employed in this country.

9.  Cyber attacks

I’m talking here about the government’s attacking of the basic citizen’s rights guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment , and the toll it takes indirectly on their rights under the First Amendment of freedom of speech.  The Internet is a counterbalancing, decentralizing force in the flow of information, and for that reason the government seems determined to try to control it.  This reminds me of a saying from the game Alpha Centauri:  “Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.”

10.  Massive disinformation campaigns

Also known as “the mainstream media.”  One of the reasons why it is hard to have a political dialogue in this country is because the various factions who should be talking to each other are listening to sources of information that sometimes have no external validity, and so the debate cannot even start by an agreement on what the facts are.  The other mainstream myth is that of “centrism”, that the purpose of the press is to counter what one side says with what another side says, without doing an analysis of whether one side or the other has any factual merit to its claims and allegations.

These are risks which cause political extremism and make it more difficult for those who want to forge any sort of political compromise.    The last time political compromise broke down in this country we had a Civil War about 150 years ago; let us pray to God that we can control the forces that may lead us in a direction just as ruinous to the health of our Republic.


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