One of the interesting aspects to politics today is how divisive it has become. Certainly politics has always created divisions and disagreements, but the heated rhetoric and distrust around us today is unique in my lifetime. The closest parallel I can see to today's conflict was during the Vietnam War.
Each side sees the other as a force that’s undermining the country, but history puts that debate in a different light. There are definite factors we can point to that led to the ultimate destruction of once great civilizations. Before you ask, yes, we can see some of those forces at work in our country today. Interestingly, those factors are, by and large, not partisan issues. The big problems keep getting worse, regardless of which party is in power.
Outsourcing to Other Nations
The declining birthrate in America means that the nation has to find our future labor elsewhere. That means either shipping jobs overseas or allowing immigrants into the country to fill those jobs. Regardless of how carefully we screen those wishing to come to the U.S. to work, they are not invested in the future of this country. If immigrants working here don’t like living in the U.S., they always have the option to return home. Immigration also becomes a political issue. But if we stop people from coming into the country on work visas, that still doesn’t manufacture new labor. Companies will then ship those jobs overseas. Yet, as many industries have discovered, outsourced labor, whether working here or abroad, does not necessarily share our values.
Spending Too Much on the Military
It’s interesting that military spending has become an issue on the campaign trail. According to PolitiFact, the U.S. spends more on our military than the next seven (or eight, depending how you count it) nations combined. We spend over half of the federal budget on defense and defense-related expenditures, but only about six percent on education. We could spend half what we currently do on the military, and still have the largest, best equipped and most advanced forces in the world.
This is definitely an issue that crosses party lines. Ever wonder how pharmaceutical companies get away with gouging you on medication prices? Or ponder why wildly profitable energy companies still qualify for tax breaks and subsidies? You and I would call it corruption, but in Washington they call it “how business gets done.” Corruption has become so routine and commonplace that we’ve accepted it as part of doing business.
This is another area of political gridlock, as we have one party that won’t cut spending and another that won’t raise taxes. What we get is budget gridlock that sees our investment in infrastructure decline in real dollars, while our budget deficit continues to increase. Our roads and bridges are crumbling, our passenger train system is a global joke, and our investments in new technologies are far behind other nations. Even if we raised taxes to address the debt, that leaves us short of what we need to invest in infrastructure. Congress has kicked the budget can down the road so many times that, both figuratively and literally, we’re running out of road.
Accumulation of Enemies
The invasion of Iraq, the destabilization of Syria and our continued use of drone bombing as an anti-terror tool multiplies our enemies. It’s hard to remember a time in the last 40 years when we weren’t bombing someone. Every bomb, every missile, no matter how precise, leaves behind grieving relatives and inspires a new generation of enemies, and not just in small countries. Russia and China, though we could rightly crush either one in a stand-up fight, continue to be militarily provocative, which is exactly how the Cold War got started.
We have to diminish our dependence on military power and start using our economic power to greater effect. Without serious changes the United States is in danger of going the way of the Roman Empire and other great nations of the past. While an outright collapse is unlikely in our lifetimes, if we keep squabbling over taxes and neglect infrastructure investment, we’ll be in for a long, sad slide to global mediocrity and irrelevance.