Throughout this series, I have speculated -- sometimes histrionically -- about the uncertain future of American democracy.
I also proclaimed that President Obama could positively transform America or, maybe, trigger radical change in our Great Experiment.
Now I want to project where we're likely to end up if we stay on our current mindless course.
Imagined Scenarios for Future America.
For analytical purposes, I will stipulate four possible scenarios for our evolving Great Experiment -- Disintegration, Distortion, Transition, and Transformation.
1. Disintegration ("Death of America")
It is conceivable, but not likely, that we could be facing disintegration of the United States -- through either peaceful or violent means -- resulting perhaps in a unitarian, totalitarian regime or a confederation of mini-states.
2. Distortion ("Amerika" or "USSA")
America also could change -- perhaps democratically, perhaps by simple constitutional amendment and statutory elaboration -- into polar, distorted versions (or something in between) of our present system. For example, we could lurch toward a majoritarian, nationalistic, centralized ethnostate -- the "United State of Amerika," with conservative ideas about freedom and right-wing cultural values. Or we could morph into a confederation of heterogeneous regions -- the "Union of Socialist States of America" -- with egalitarian ideas and left-wing cultural sentiments.
3. Transition ("American Federation")
More realistic is the possibility that we will proceed along our current course, without seriously considering the important and unsettling changes of contemporary public life. The transitional result would be the "American Federation." Our divergent, diverging populace may simply re-arrange the federal system to accommodate growing forces of democratic decentralization. Unfortunately, such accommodation may be a compromised step in an unpredictable and risky direction.
4. Transformation ("New America")
"New America" envisions a more aggressive and progressive adjustment to a fundamentally transforming America. This could be accomplished by strengthening democratic participation without changing the Republican principles of our historic national experiment. Transformation obviously requires that we rethink the democratic essence of our Great Experiment. The important question is whether we can address our problems -- consciously and rationally -- without succumbing to destructive tendencies.
Just how and where we end up amidst these hypothetical scenarios is open to conjecture. What is clear is that important societal and political developments -- democratic distemper and centrifugal dynamics -- are straining the current arrangement of American democracy.
I figure that, if we stay on our current mindless course, the United States will transition into the "American Federation" by 2050.
The American Federation.
Projecting current trends to their uninterrupted potential presents a less-than-inspiring picture -- the American Federation -- of our national destiny.
My contention -- as laid out thus far in my systemic theory and propositional observations -- is that, within a constricting environment and amid philosophical tensions, relentless centrifugal dynamics are pushing us, unwittingly, toward de facto modification of the American political system. After two centuries of generally popular centralization and nationalization, the cumulative, powerful forces of contemporary cultural and public life are reshaping American society and could necessitate serious adjustments in our national democratic experiment.
I have incorporated these projections into a diagrammatic model (see illustration) that allows us to redefine our Great Experiment within the systemic dynamics presented in this series.
Most importantly, as America degenerates into further distemper about "what America means" and "how America ought to work," the clash of historical forces and contemporary counter-forces will result in risky resorting, remixing, and rebalancing of American democracy.
My model depicts continuing systemic constraints of limited natural conditions and mixed support for national public authority; meanwhile, the philosophical civil war will dissipate into symbiotic movements of "subculturalism" (diversity, divergence, dissentience) and "neopopulism" (technologically empowered self-governance).
Our national experiment in democratic ideals will tend toward a raucous disordering of American public life with an incongruous new mixture of people, politics, and government: (a) an eclectic, divergent society, (b) a dissentient, disruptive political process, (c) a more federative government to serve a multiplicity of principles, needs, and constituencies, and (d) federal democratic ideals reflecting this splintered mix of people, politics, and government.
According to my model, basic national public authority will continue and fundamental freedoms will survive in some form and manner; but some matters and issues will be redefined, democratically, among varying jurisdictions of the re-jiggered federal system.
Many citizens and democratic theorists will be troubled; but the new arrangement may be the only way, in our projected, aimless future, of dealing with nationally contentious cultural problems such as the role of religion in civil life, affirmative action, gun control, abortion rights, and lifestyle issues. Disgruntled Americans will simply have to pursue their democratic dreams, as did earlier Americans, by going elsewhere to more acceptable environs or by engaging themselves in nontraditional groupings and experiments.
The Future of American Democracy?
I certainly hope that the American Federation is not the next chapter in the continuing drama of American history. What I have described here is not inspired, inspiring progression of American democracy; it connotes feudal disorder rather than a national democratic experiment. Furthermore, it could be unthinking, incremental stumbling toward something worse.
The American Federation may be the logical extension of our current, mindless drift; but we can do better -- and Barack Obama may be the key to a better democratic experiment.
In my next and final discussion, I will summarize this series and hazard some transformational suggestions for "New America."
Author's Note: This post is part of a series of discussions about "Election 2012, Barack Obama, and the future of American democracy." This series includes edited, updated material from my book, The Future of American Democracy: A Former Congressman's Unconventional Analysis (2002). I'm grateful to University Press of America for allowing me to borrow from that publication for my discussions on Huffington Post.