A Sobering Farce
After the Iron Curtain fell, history kept on going.


Conrad Black

The world is now somnambulating toward bone-cracking economic and strategic crises, sporadically and intermittently aware that grave outcomes impend, and generally aware that it is all very unsatisfactory, but afflicted by various versions of prevarication.

In the United States, it is an uncharacteristic version of mañana; the system of government to which ten generations of Americans have pledged allegiance with such fervor that omissions of the Pledge of Allegiance at anodyne public occasions have at times, as in the 1988 presidential election, been a viable political issue, has broken down. The two groups of party leaders, each controlling a branch of the federal government, are incapable of agreeing on anything, including, critically, the individual composition of the chief organ of the third branch, the Supreme Court.

Republicans are so preoccupied with defining the Constitution in terms that give effect to the Tenth Amendment allocation of unspecified powers to the states and the people that they nominate justices who have acquiesced in the evisceration of the individual-liberties sections of the Bill of Rights. The notion of the grand jury as insurance against capricious prosecution, due process, the guarantee against seizure of property without just compensation, and the promises of access to counsel, an impartial jury, prompt justice, and reasonable bail have all gone over the side as prosecutors terrorize the whole country with an absolute immunity through the hideously deformed plea-bargain system. And the Democrats put up candidates who have some regard for civil liberties but appear to regard the constitutional prerogatives of the federal government as ramifying to almost any activity. Election campaigns are crushingly expensive and begin as soon as the preceding election is concluded. Lobbyists exercise a baleful and ineradicable influence; the money of interested parties lubricates the system at all levels, and attempts at campaign-finance reform make the system worse.

It is this seething, tottering, ear-splitting tower of Babel that now governs America. Following the greatest, most bloodless strategic victory in the history of the nation-state, when the Soviet Union disintegrated and international Communism collapsed without the chief protagonists’ ever having exchanged a shot, the quality of American leadership, in the public sector and in industry, academia, the media, and the bar and bench, has eroded and the greatest and wealthiest nation in history has become, in conventional parlance, insolvent, financing colossal federal deficits by a shell game of issuing Federal Reserve notes to the Treasury, its own parent, to buy federal-government bonds representing mountainous deficit spending with all the characteristics of money-supply increases. The administration has done absolutely nothing even to suggest a method of reducing these deficits in 40 months of profligate incumbency, and the Republicans haven’t done much better. They are stentorian choirs, the one shrieking no cuts in benefits and the other no increases in taxes. It is the most colossal and prolonged failure of American federal-government leadership since the decade before the Civil War. And as this crisis ripened and worsened and pullulated, the nation has been treated to a sequence of disputes of archeological inanity, from an argument over the circumstances of the president’s birth to the allegation that the Republican party is conducting a war on women, and is trying, in the words the New York Times’s ineffable Maureen Dowd, to wrestle American women “back into their chastity belts.”

In Western Europe, it is the prevarication of misdiagnosis. The preparedness of the German government to have its pockets picked by neighbors entering a common currency based on the Deutschemark — in order to embed Germany in a cocoon of happy and grateful allies all in military alliance with the United States, the strongest possible geopolitical circumstances for the avoidance of a return to conflict — led to massive fraud in the valuation of some incoming currencies, and sharp inflation of the entrenched European overconfidence in the social hammock: ever-smaller percentages of working people; ironclad guarantees for the employed, the farmers, and the students; and luxurious benefits for the unemployed and pensioners and other disadvantaged people. The balm of Berlin’s mighty currency would turn European life into a paid vacation for most, and secure, gentle work for the comparatively hyperactive minority, the whole idyll guaranteed by the military might provided by the American taxpayer. During the Cold War, the Europeans tried to justify their free-riding on the U.S. defense juggernaut with feeble sophistries that the unequal burden-sharing was balanced by Europe’s greater risk due to its proximity to the common Soviet enemy, as if the U.S. should materially reward Europe for its geographic misfortune of sharing the continent with the Russians. Now the risk has gone and the burden is reduced, but America is assumed to be happy to bear all of it.