The Decline of the Republic

By Michael P. Riccards

Arnold Toynbee, the historian of comparative civilizations, once noted that nearly all of the great political systems have fallen not from external threats but from internal decay. He appears frighteningly close to explaining what is happening in America. 

Since before the World War, we have carried a disproportionate burden for defending the West and for setting upright its economic order with the Marshall Plan. Winston Churchill once called it the most magnanimous act in history.  Maybe so, but great nations or even struggling ones are not characterized by gratitude. 

We have spent trillions on waging stalemated wars and now are being drained by the Ukraine situation. No matter how much we give Zelenskyy, it is never enough, and it is probably not to fight one of the superpowers. But the needs that are present at home are mounting, and they are not just financial. They are deficits of the spirit.

A recent Wall Street Journal poll has found some disturbing trends. Just 38% of Americans say that patriotism is very important to them, down from 70% in 1970.  About 27% of Americans believe that their community is very important to them, down from 62% in 2019. 

The traditional American religious ties are frayed. The Pew polls show a marked increase in secularism, and yet only a third of our parents consider it important to pass on their religious values to children.

It has been some time since we suddenly discovered that Americans do not join social organizations or rich country clubs. The author of the study called it “bowling alone.” In place of the joiner mentality, which was much satirized in the past, we have become totally alienated from each other and from our work, church, and community. 

The onslaught of COVID and the official prescriptions of staying away from each other only added to that feeling of separateness. People are increasingly angry if their jobs have to be done in the office. They don’t care that they are losing the interpersonal relationships that make work so advantageous. 

Religions, especially Western ones, are in decline. When I was a boy, 70% of Roman Catholics went to Sunday Mass; now it is 20%. Many traditional staid Protestant religions have hollowed out their congregations. The only increases we see are Hispanics in the Catholic church and fundamentalists in the Protestant sect. And a substantial number of bishops and fundamentalist pastors abandoned their Gospel and supported Donald Trump, the very epitome of what is wrong with the nation of our time.

If in fact, we do not believe in patriotism, in our religious faith, in our communities, and even in our own families then what holds us together? We talk about the need to make America great again. Mussolini promised to make Italy great again in the 1920s, and he left it in shambles and without hope. John Kennedy’s admonition that we should ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country rings hollow a generation after his death. We have abandoned civic virtue, the value the Founders treasured so, for the con men, the fast buck artists, the stylist models who never had a patriotic idea in their airheads.

Michael P. Riccards, a former college president. is the author of 30 books, including a two-volume history of the presidency, The Ferocious Engine of Democracy, and the recently published Woodrow Wilson as Commander-in-Chief. Riccards wrote this article for the Jandoli Institute.

Categories: Jandoli Institute, Media, Michael Riccards, Politics

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