Can America Save Itself From Decline? Politics, Culture, Morality

CAN AMERICA SAVE ITSELF FROM DECLINE?
POLITICS, CULTURE, MORALITY

by Carla Seaquist
can-america-save-itself-from-decline

Can America save itself from decline? Great nations throughout History have followed the pattern of rise and rise, then decline and fall. Is this America’s fate, or can we reverse our decline and rise again? In the belief that if any great nation can reverse its decline, America can—we believe in reinvention, we are not fatalists yet, but it will take stronger leadership and reform than seen to date—Carla Seaquist in her wide-ranging commentary for The Huffington Post addresses this historic challenge from various angles—political, economic and financial, cultural and moral—all in the context of the American character. In an extended end-essay, she addresses the question posed in the book’s title.

Table of Contents

  • Forewordx
  • Recovery Without a Reckoning1
  • Good Wars, Bad Wars, and Afghanistan6
  • Deep Breath, Democrats, Change Takes Time and Work9
  • Wall Street Paints a Target on Main Street’s Back14
  • The Hurt Locker: Hollywood’s Unsettling View of the Iraq War17
  • “Government Take-Over” of Healthcare? We Already Have a Corporate Take-Over21
  • Where is the Vatican’s Outrage about Child Molestation?23
  • A Mosque at Ground Zero: Desperately Seeking George Washington’s Wisdom28
  • How Democrats Can Harness the Public Anger (and Madness) for November33
  • Hope for Reversing America’s Decline: The Millennial Generation40
  • Is This a Culture That Wants to Save Itself?44
  • Define “Change”—or It’s Perpetual Pendulum for America47
  • For Wall Street: A Loyalty Oath—to Main Street50
  • Sputnik II: Relearn the Love of Learning—Now53
  • Violent Anti-Government Rhetoric Has a Target: Politicians58
  • The Dignity Revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt—and America?61
  • Fall of Spider-Man Director is Not “Stuff of Greek Drama”65
  • Republicans on Torture Post-Osama bin Laden: Defending Against Prosecution?67
  • The Mogul and the Maid: A Shift in Power71
  • Self-Criticism: A New Habit of Mind74
  • Fat Cat Pledge: “I Will Pay Higher Taxes”77
  • Critics and Other Cultural Gatekeepers: Mind the Gate!80
  • My Republican Mother Gives the Thumbs-Up to Occupy Wall Street82
  • Lost Airmen of Buchenwald: Lost Tale, Finally Told86
  • Wall Street: Brush Up Your Melville89
  • What Next, Occupy? Revise Gordon Gekko93
  • Why Can’t Art Be Instructive?96
  • Humor: There’s Funny—and There’s Symptom of Decline99
  • A War’s Premise Must Justify the Troops’ Suffering103
  • Wislawa Szymborska, Nobel Poet: An Appreciation106
  • Let’s Just Say It: As Opposition, the Republicans Are Not Loyal110
  • Not All of Us Were Mad Men113
  • In Clybourne Park, President Obama Would Be an Impossibility116
  • A Great Speech About Why America Isn’t Great Anymore (But Can Be Again)120
  • Needed: Eliot Ness, Bank Regulator123
  • Finally, the Democrats Learn How to Fight128
  • The Republicans’ No-Apology Tour133
  • Beware Theater in Politics136
  • Exceptional Nations Don’t Need to Bluster141
  • Crib Sheet for the Undecided Voter145
  • This Time, Democrats Need to Keep Control of the Narrative151
  • The Tragedy of Mitt Romney155
  • Notes on London Theater159
  • My Republican Mother Says Yes to Gun Control168
  • The Children Are Watching Us171
  • Matthew Crawley of Downton Abbey: Moral Hero175
  • Society Instructs Hollywood on “Moral Ambiguity” of Torture (or What the Zero Dark Thirty Controversy Means) 179
  • Memo to Mr. Scorsese: Women Are Heroes, Too 187
  • Get Thee to Geneva, Mr. Obama: Your Drone Strikes Make Targets of Us All194

* * *

Books for Our Times: Review Essays

  • The Unwinding, by George Packer201
  • Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson206
  • Capital, by John Lanchester (a novel)212
  • This Town, by Mark Leibovich219

* * *

  • Obama’s Principled “Red Line” on Syria (Which, By the Way, Worked)225
  • Hatred: The Republicans’ Core Problem230
  • Dear Banks: “Giving Back” in Philanthropy is Fine, But Also Give Us Back a Financial System We Can Trust234
  • Book Review: The Italian-American Experience—Another Immigrant Story237
  • The Power of Moral Action and “Breaking Good”: Nelson Mandela and Pope Francis240
  • Memo to Robert Gates: Duty, Sir, Lies in Getting a War’s Premise Right244
  • Dear Boeing: Next Time, Try Benevolence247
  • Why President Obama Should Have Prosecuted the Bush Administration for War Crimes—and Still Can (By Other Means)254
  • Distinguishing Between Can and Should: What a Superpower Should Be Able to Do259
  • America Can Still Lead the World—with Coalitions Abroad and by Getting Our Own House in Order265
  • Soccer’s Teamwork: Something That Works (When So Much Doesn’t)270
  • Immigration Reform: Go Incrementally, Mr. Obama,and Go Before November273
  • A Critic, a Play, and Do-It-Yourself Abortion278
  • Democrats Are “Disgusted” with Politics? Boo Hoo281
  • Madam Secretary: A Reflection of “Deep” Washington286
  • Torture Report: America Conducts a Moral Reckoning. Next, Moral Repair?290
  • Free Speech vs. Responsible Speech: We Need to Talk, Again300
  • Behemoth in a Bathrobe: A Dialogue 307
  • End-Essay: Can America Save Itself from Decline?311
  •    I. The Question311
  •    II. America’s political suicide314
  •    III. America’s economic and financial suicide316
  •    IV. America’s cultural and moral suicide317
  •    V. Recovering our moral voice and compass322
  •    VI. “The moral obligation to be intelligent”326
  •    VII. Appealing to the conscientious public—again327
  •    VIII. Honoring America’s foundational ideals—and reversing our decline329

APPENDIX
  • “Risk Management, According to Moby-Dick335
  • My letter to the Editor of The (Tacoma) News Tribune342
  • My letter to the Editor of The Seattle Times343
  • Forewordx
  • Recovery Without a Reckoning1
  • Good Wars, Bad Wars, and Afghanistan6
  • Deep Breath, Democrats, Change Takes Time and Work9
  • Wall Street Paints a Target on Main Street’s Back14
  • The Hurt Locker: Hollywood’s Unsettling View of the Iraq War17
  • “Government Take-Over” of Healthcare? We Already Have a Corporate Take-Over21
  • Where is the Vatican’s Outrage about Child Molestation?23
  • A Mosque at Ground Zero: Desperately Seeking George Washington’s Wisdom28
  • How Democrats Can Harness the Public Anger (and Madness) for November33
  • Hope for Reversing America’s Decline: The Millennial Generation40
  • Is This a Culture That Wants to Save Itself?44
  • Define “Change”—or It’s Perpetual Pendulum for America47
  • For Wall Street: A Loyalty Oath—to Main Street50
  • Sputnik II: Relearn the Love of Learning—Now53
  • Violent Anti-Government Rhetoric Has a Target: Politicians58
  • The Dignity Revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt—and America?61
  • Fall of Spider-Man Director is Not “Stuff of Greek Drama”65
  • Republicans on Torture Post-Osama bin Laden: Defending Against Prosecution?67
  • The Mogul and the Maid: A Shift in Power71
  • Self-Criticism: A New Habit of Mind74
  • Fat Cat Pledge: “I Will Pay Higher Taxes”77
  • Critics and Other Cultural Gatekeepers: Mind the Gate!80
  • My Republican Mother Gives the Thumbs-Up to Occupy Wall Street82
  • Lost Airmen of Buchenwald: Lost Tale, Finally Told86
  • Wall Street: Brush Up Your Melville89
  • What Next, Occupy? Revise Gordon Gekko93
  • Why Can’t Art Be Instructive?96
  • Humor: There’s Funny—and There’s Symptom of Decline99
  • A War’s Premise Must Justify the Troops’ Suffering103
  • Wislawa Szymborska, Nobel Poet: An Appreciation106
  • Let’s Just Say It: As Opposition, the Republicans Are Not Loyal110
  • Not All of Us Were Mad Men113
  • In Clybourne Park, President Obama Would Be an Impossibility116
  • A Great Speech About Why America Isn’t Great Anymore (But Can Be Again)120
  • Needed: Eliot Ness, Bank Regulator123
  • Finally, the Democrats Learn How to Fight128
  • The Republicans’ No-Apology Tour133
  • Beware Theater in Politics136
  • Exceptional Nations Don’t Need to Bluster141
  • Crib Sheet for the Undecided Voter145
  • This Time, Democrats Need to Keep Control of the Narrative151
  • The Tragedy of Mitt Romney155
  • Notes on London Theater159
  • My Republican Mother Says Yes to Gun Control168
  • The Children Are Watching Us171
  • Matthew Crawley of Downton Abbey: Moral Hero175
  • Society Instructs Hollywood on “Moral Ambiguity” of Torture (or What the Zero Dark Thirty Controversy Means) 179
  • Memo to Mr. Scorsese: Women Are Heroes, Too 187
  • Get Thee to Geneva, Mr. Obama: Your Drone Strikes Make Targets of Us All194

* * *

Books for Our Times: Review Essays

  • The Unwinding, by George Packer201
  • Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson206
  • Capital, by John Lanchester (a novel)212
  • This Town, by Mark Leibovich219

* * *

  • Obama’s Principled “Red Line” on Syria (Which, By the Way, Worked)225
  • Hatred: The Republicans’ Core Problem230
  • Dear Banks: “Giving Back” in Philanthropy is Fine, But Also Give Us Back a Financial System We Can Trust234
  • Book Review: The Italian-American Experience—Another Immigrant Story237
  • The Power of Moral Action and “Breaking Good”: Nelson Mandela and Pope Francis240
  • Memo to Robert Gates: Duty, Sir, Lies in Getting a War’s Premise Right244
  • Dear Boeing: Next Time, Try Benevolence247
  • Why President Obama Should Have Prosecuted the Bush Administration for War Crimes—and Still Can (By Other Means)254
  • Distinguishing Between Can and Should: What a Superpower Should Be Able to Do259
  • America Can Still Lead the World—with Coalitions Abroad and by Getting Our Own House in Order265
  • Soccer’s Teamwork: Something That Works (When So Much Doesn’t)270
  • Immigration Reform: Go Incrementally, Mr. Obama,and Go Before November273
  • A Critic, a Play, and Do-It-Yourself Abortion278
  • Democrats Are “Disgusted” with Politics? Boo Hoo281
  • Madam Secretary: A Reflection of “Deep” Washington286
  • Torture Report: America Conducts a Moral Reckoning. Next, Moral Repair?290
  • Free Speech vs. Responsible Speech: We Need to Talk, Again300
  • Behemoth in a Bathrobe: A Dialogue 307
  • End-Essay: Can America Save Itself from Decline?311
  •    I. The Question311
  •    II. America’s political suicide314
  •    III. America’s economic and financial suicide316
  •    IV. America’s cultural and moral suicide317
  •    V. Recovering our moral voice and compass322
  •    VI. “The moral obligation to be intelligent”326
  •    VII. Appealing to the conscientious public—again327
  •    VIII. Honoring America’s foundational ideals—and reversing our decline329

APPENDIX
  • “Risk Management, According to Moby-Dick335
  • My letter to the Editor of The (Tacoma) News Tribune342
  • My letter to the Editor of The Seattle Times343

FOREWORD

by Carla Seaquist

The notion and reality of American decline is much on the minds of the conscientious public in this post-9/11 era. But it has also impinged on the wider public, too.

According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, asking “Do you feel America is in a state of decline?,” fully 60% to 74% of respondents said Yes, with 74% saying so in 2008, the year of the financial crash, and 60% in 2014. Equally worrying, those “not confident” their children will fare better than they fared are rapidly rising in number, from 56% in ’08 to 76% in ’14.

For those of us who grew up in the bright and prosperous post-World War II years, decline still seems unfathomable. Can we restore that bright, prosperous America?

It was only with time that I realized this question of American decline was directly or indirectly driving much of my commentary for The Huffington Post, for whom I began writing in 2009. I am grateful to The Huffington Post for granting my request to pursue my ideal beat: examining the intersection where politics, culture, ethical-moral issues, and the American character meet.

This volume collects my Huffington Post commentary from 2009 through 2014. While each commentary addresses an aspect of America in these problematic years since 9/11, the end-essay confronts the question posed in this book’s title, “Can America save itself from decline?” The several columns written for other outlets are so indicated.

In addition to The Huffington Post, I also acknowledge my former home, The Christian Science Monitor, for its useful guidance for the commentary it publishes: that it abide by a bias of hope and, no matter how bleak the examination, that it leave the reader with a constructive thought or, better, an action step. I contributed commentary to the Monitor beginning shortly after 9/11, September 11, 2001, and continuing into 2009.

It is with real pleasure that I single out Dr. Joseph Bell for special thanks. Of all the thinking Americans with whom I have chewed over the questions in this volume, Joe is the stand-out. With his expertise in politics and economics, Joe has expanded my thinking about America: that it is as much a capitalist economy as it is a democracy, that in the “great game” of Capitalism-and-Democracy, democracy must “muscle up” if it is to hold its own against the power of the dollar. In innumerable kitchen-table talks and marathon phone calls, with Joe giving capitalism the edge and me plugging for democracy, we have persuaded each other on various points and arrived at a working theory, by no means unified, of America at this hinge moment in its history. It’s been intense and fun, fun, fun. And in his inimitable way, Joe can take credit for pressing me to the conclusion: “Finish the bleeping book, Seaquist!”

I would also like to acknowledge my mother, Mildred (Millie) Lofberg. While we take opposite political tacks—she is Republican, I am Democrat—I can’t help but see in her, a member of “the Greatest Generation,” the independent and resourceful spirit that made America great, through whose eyes I view much about America today. My late father, Dr. Carl Lofberg, shared that same spirit, albeit more quietly, and was my early interlocutor on Life, etc.

And as always, I thank my excellent husband Larry. A super-active member of the conscientious public, Larry served in the Washington state legislature 2006–2014 and chaired the House committee on higher education 2010–2014. As with Joe, I have chewed over with Larry all the contents of this book. Larry is my first reader and my best friend.

Carla Seaquist
February 2015
Gig Harbor, Washington

OPENING ESSAY
Recovery Without a Reckoning

How can you have a recovery if the party that caused the crash refuses rehab?

The economy is like traffic: It moves along fine if all the moving parts adhere to the rules of the road. But introduce a speedster, driven only by his “animal spirits” and his own set of rules — by definition, ethics-free rules, heedless of others — and calamity occurs. This in jargon-free essence is what happened a year ago, when the speedsters of Wall Street caused a financial collapse that led to loss and ruin, here and across the globe.

And now, after a year of whiplash borne mainly by Main Street, “recovery” is underway, or so we’re told: The Dow climbs back toward 10,000 points — the mythical number affirming health; some banks are lending again; and productivity, consumer spending, and house purchases are creeping up for the first time since last year’s crash.

Yet without a key development — an ethical reckoning on Wall Street — this tenuous recovery will be dashed. Not only that, but a Wall Street that continues unrestrained could break the entire globalized system again — for all of us, including Wall Street — thus, not incidentally, destroying America’s chance to redeem itself for causing the current global meltdown that we, or more to the point Wall Street, started.

The ethical reckoning yet to occur is the kind best expressed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his Second Inaugural Address, in 1937. Reflecting hard elemental truths refined from the nation’s suffering in the depths of the Great Depression, he concluded:

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

At present, this knowledge — about the destructiveness of excessive self-interest — appears confined to Main Street, passed on to us by parents who never forgot it (though some offspring did forget and, indulging in irresponsible consumption, piled up debt that helped break the system). Wall Street, though, remains untutored, also even more dangerous: After a year of bailouts and collapses, the institutions “too big to fail” are fewer now and even bigger.

Wall Street likes to tout its “talent” — its titans and traders “skilled” at the high-stakes risk-taking and deal-making deployed in pursuit of the gold. In truth, it’s a dubious and not a Nobel kind of talent — the spinning of paper, no-product deals — and it delivered us to the brink of chaos last fall.

Yet, spurning ethical rehab, Wall Street sends fleets of lobbyists to Capitol Hill to block formation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, that is, a watchdog to protect us from its predations. And, unbelievably, it is again trading in, and fighting regulation of, derivatives — the very financial instruments that sparked last year’s collapse (and whose complexity, and legitimacy, not even the “talent” can explain).

Most egregiously, after being rescued by hundreds of billions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars — wages have remained stagnant nearly 20 years — and in the televised face of mounting hardship on Main Street in lost jobs, foreclosures, and heart-in-throat anxiety, this “talent” — unwisely, not smart — proposes giving itself multimillion-dollar bonuses, bigger even than in 2007, the last high-rolling year before the collapse. Ethically, this is — no other word for it — obscene.

And for Wall Street and the media to caricature Main Street’s anger over this ethical breach as “pitchfork populism” is itself unethical: Fair play and fair reward are bedrock American values, and this is not fair, but wrong, what FDR called “bad morals.”

How can Wall Street be so deaf to the ethical injustice of its actions? It takes a “tin ear,” as New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin puts it. Sorkin describes a mentality that perceives itself as “survivors,” who escaped disaster by their own intrepidity, their talent if you will; and having saved themselves they don’t acknowledge, much less feel obliged to, the taxpayer — who performed the real rescue. Indeed, scan Sorkin’s new book Too Big to Fail, scan any remark from Wall Street, and you’ll find self-reference only — to “the bank,” “the company,” “the market” — and rare reference to “the nation” and none at all to “the commonweal.” The “animal spirits” surge more ferociously than ever.

Of course, in historical context what we’re seeing, in real-time, is the struggle between the two classic forces powering the great American experiment — Capitalism and Democracy. The story of how the dollar wins out over the commonweal, and how the unethical mentality pursues profit no matter social cost, has been told and retold by the great visionary novelists, like Upton Sinclair in The Jungle, Frank Norris in The Octopus, Theodore Dreiser in The Financier, Edith Wharton in The Custom of the Country — all written in the early 20th century and all tragedies. Will we in the 21st century write a new ending? Capitalism, powered by self-interest — of the financier, entrepreneur, worker alike — is no doubt the most productive economic system yet devised. The problem has always been, as FDR noted, excessive self-interest. Can we now contain that excess?

With Wall Street failing again in that regard, we look for reform to the political sphere. In his time FDR, characterizing monopoly, speculation, and reckless banking as “the enemies of peace,” harnessed the public’s anger and, acting as its tribune, forced reform on Wall Street, famously declaring of the monied interests “I welcome their hatred.”

President Obama has chosen a less dramatic path — moral suasion — calling the outsized bonuses “shameful” and going several times to Wall Street to appeal for change. It may be that this chess master’s method is first to try the carrot, and if that fails, the stick. Pragmatism, though unstirring, may yet be transformational; final verdicts, thick in the air, are far too premature. I do believe the former community organizer’s ethic is with the community. But Main Street increasingly doubts Mr. Obama’s closest economic advisors, formerly of Wall Street, and their allegiance to the public’s interest. And many wonder why those responsible for the collapse aren’t in jail.

In Congress, legislation to regulate the financial system inches its way forward. Perhaps Wall Street’s lobbyists can be resisted, sufficient to produce real reform, parallel to the sausage-making process that looks likely to yield real reform in healthcare, despite the obstructions of health-industry lobbyists. Yet Main Street wonders (and I quote): “Why can’t Congress just blow off the lobbyists — wasn’t that the deal?”

Which is why economist James Galbraith calls this a “dangerous time”: If the public doesn’t see constructive change, they may take destructive action. For me, the great peril if President Obama and the Congress fail is this: If the net yield of all their efforts is little reform and Wall Street is left to carry on its irresponsible, unethical ways, the responsible, ethical citizen will have to wonder: Why by responsible, why be ethical? And that would damage badly the commonweal — not that Wall Street cares, though it should.

In truth, however, legislative reform touches only behavior, not mentality. Not even FDR reformed the mentality of the moneyed interests. An ethical mentality is best activated when self-activated. Wall Street will reform its ethics when it sees it is in its self-interest.

So, instead of an appeal to principle, here is a prompt for the utility case for ethics: Unreformed, Wall Street could break, not just the commonweal, but the American brand. Unreformed, Wall Street could cause yet another global meltdown — and think what that would do for American business. Unreformed, the nation’s counting-house could very well zero itself, and the nation, out.

Some further prompts: Titans, visualize yourself as “the Savior of Wall Street,” learn probity, expand your horizons beyond the self to the nation. Board trustees, raise tougher questions about excessive risk and executive bonuses. (It amazes Main Street that apparently no board understands such bonuses might seem unseemly.) And trust-fund babies, read Sinclair, Norris, Dreiser, Wharton; read Balzac, who wrote that behind every great fortune lies a crime; and convene a family discussion on the topic, How much is enough? Rebel for a cause — the commonweal.

Only when Wall Street reforms itself, when it understands all of us — Main Street and Wall Street — are in the same boat together and vows not to capsize us again, can trust return to the system. Remember trust, the loss of which was lamented so ardently a year ago when the crash was crashing? In all the discussion about the present recovery, there’s been no sighting yet of trust.

Trust, ethics, Main Street: Ultimately, they’re too important to destroy.

The Huffington Post, Nov. 19, 2009

END-ESSAY
Can America Save Itself From Decline?

I. The Question

So, the question is: Can America save itself from decline?

The history of great nations has been one of rise and rise, then decline and fall—Greece, Rome, Egypt, Persia, Spain, France, Great Britain. The usual pattern entails the over-extension of empire and the over-involvement in war, with an attendant hollowing-out of institutions at home and the beggaring of the home citizenry. In America’s case, waging—and losing—too many wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq), combined with extreme political dysfunction and extreme income inequality at home, has led the nation to the cusp of decline. Some observers say we are past the cusp and are well and truly on the skids.

Wherever we are on that downward trajectory, the question—the urgent question—becomes: Does America have the capacity, and the character, and the courage to thwart the historical model and reverse its decline, to rise again?

Decline of the American enterprise is a notion that, not that long ago, would have been unfathomable to pose. America emerged victorious from the Second World War, among the Allies the most powerful and the most intact. In our economic, political, and cultural influence, the 20th century became the American Century. We were the showcase of freedom and democracy and, historically novel, a flourishing middle class. In championing human rights and the individual, we were a moral beacon to the world. Our principal rival for global influence, the Soviet Union, struggled to keep up, with its state-controlled economy, communist political system, and police state. When the U.S.S.R. imploded, in the early 1990s, America was acknowledged the victor, dubbed by international media as “the sole superpower.”

It was a short reign.

Not long after America was declared the world’s heavy-weight champion, signs of decline appeared, in the 1990s. Financial deregulation unleashed Wall Street’s “animal spirits,” leading to bubbles inflating and bursting. In Washington, give-and-take gave way to slash-andburn warfare, inaugurated by an ex-history professor (House Speaker Newt Gingrich) who might have been expected to understand decline and fall. Culturally, artists came to pride themselves on “edgy” examinations of pathological behavior; so doing, these “humanists” defined humanity downward while elevating the anti-hero and declaring moral questioning off-limits. Critics, more hip than history-minded, applauded.

Now, two decades later, American decline has become a given, a trope, a reality, with, unfortunately, a dearth of forces—economic, political, or cultural—primed and available to mount a defense.

While some Americans take offense at any mention of national decline, accusing the speaker of lack of patriotism or faith, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows a majority believes it to be true. Not the usual “wrong track/right track” question, this poll asks specifically: “Do you feel America is in a state of decline, or do you think that this is not the case?” Between 2008 and 2014, fully 60% to 74% of respondents said Yes (with 74% in ’08, the year of the financial crash, and 60% in ’14). Equally worrying, those “not confident” their children will fare better than they fared are rapidly rising in number, from 56% in ’08 to 76% in ’14. Anecdotally, in asking around, I hear the remark that civilizations come and go and perhaps it’s America’s time to go. Sadly—tragically—all this crumbling toward national decline has been self-inflicted and is not the result of external forces, such as a military invasion mounted against us or a calamity of Nature such as occurred in the Midwest during the 1930s creating the Dust Bowl.

Certainly, there was the external force of al-Qaeda, the terrorist group that inflicted the attacks of September 11, 2001 against symbolic centers of American power—New York as financial center and Washington as political-military center. But America promptly took the battle to the enemy, abroad, and decimated its leadership substantially. And now, on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, after American troops have vacated Iraq, President Barack Obama announced America will return to battle, via air strikes, to pursue and destroy an even more ferocious terrorist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Yet, while we take objective action, away from us, against this new kind of enemy, it can be said that, subjectively, we were wounded, stricken—by fear. Especially in the tremulous aftermath of 9/11, fear lodged in our hearts—and accounts, I believe, for much subsequent bad decision-making and policy (the war in Iraq, torture).

But whatever the role of fear, what is disheartening is this: Being attacked in such horrific way—images of the twin towers of the New York Trade Center on fire and disintegrating to ground are still gut-wrenching—has not brought out the best in us. Much as America pulled together after the attack on Pearl Harbor, sacrificed, and waged a common defense against the Axis powers in the Second World War, one hoped there would be a similar pulling-together, and sacrifice, and common defense in the post-9/11 period. One hoped for our best efforts and best behavior. But, sadly, that has not been the case, in any arena—political, economic and financial, cultural and moral.

Which is why our decline, diagnosed these last few years, feels like suicide.

Our decline is due not to forces “over there,” but to forces (or lack thereof) inside. It is an internal thing, suicide. And this suicide is long, slow, and agonizing.

II. America’s political suicide

Dysfunction, if it’s in effect long enough and if it continually resists amelioration—that is, if it is not “fixed”—eventually tips over into self-destruction, and suicide. Washington seems positively bent on it.

(CONTINUED)

AUTHOR BIO

Carla Seaquist is an author, commentator, and playwright. Since 9/11 she has focused on commentary, writing on politics, culture, and ethical-moral issues, first for The Christian Science Monitor and since 2009 for The Huffington Post. An earlier book of commentary is titled Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character. She also published Two Plays of Life and Death, which includes Who Cares?: The Washington-Sarajevo Talks and Kate and Kafka.

Ms. Seaquist’s earlier career in civil rights culminated with the post of Equal Opportunity Officer for the City of San Diego and appointment to the Governor’s Task Force on Civil Rights. She majored in international relations in college (School of International Service, American University) and graduate school (School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University). Long a resident of Washington, D.C., she now lives in the “other” Washington (Gig Harbor), where she served on the board of Humanities Washington. Her husband Larry, a former Navy captain, served in the legislature as a state representative (Democrat) from 2006 to 2014, chairing for two terms the House committee on higher education.

“Carla Seaquist is an essayist in the great American tradition of plain talk, common sense, strong ethics, and an understanding that one cannot understand current politics, foreign policy or domestic travel without a deep knowledge of history. Her work is informed, readable and provocative, in the best sense—making the reader think in new ways.”
Seymour M. Hersh