Washington and the media are up in arms about any number of so-called scandals, but in my own opinion, while the American republic may be in some danger, the danger lies less with the trench warfare in Washington and its attendant noise than with the trends now facing us that persist whatever party is in power.
Most specifically, we are in the process of creating a nation in which.the traditional distinctions between the state and private sectors are becoming blurred to the point of being erased. Today, for instance, Facebook, Google, Amazon, eBay and any number of other online enterprises, as well as companies you never heard of, all know more about you than should be possible in any free society.
As we witnessed during the Boston bombing aftermath, anybody with a cellphone can be tracked to within inches of their location and followed all day. Add to that the national homeland security apparatus that's grown up since 9/11 -- the NSA, for instance, is about to open a billion-dollar center in the Rockies that will monitor more or less all America's Internet and telephone traffic in the name of anti-terrorism -- and you have a state of affairs in which any citizen, for pretty much any reason, can be monitored around the clock. The Stasi would have drooled over this sort of capability, and yet no politician on the right or left is saying much about it, even though the danger to civil liberties is perfectly plain.
Overlay this with the continued blurring of the line between the state and private enterprise -- in part by the weakening of the state and its regulatory powers and in part by the sheer growth of the private sector's political power -- and you have the necessary conditions to make the state, and its role of protecting its citizens from any number of dangers to their rights and well-being, irrelevant.
Looked at this way, the various scandals, claims, crusades and gossip that dominate all media outlets are mere distractions, and are probably intended to be. And as I say, this trend is apolitical and has persisted across administrations.
The political landscape since 1933 has been dominated by a furious attack on the New Deal. and a furious defense of the New Deal. The New Deal, meanwhile, is a product of the Industrial Age, which we've grown past. This is not to say the structures of the New Deal need to be abandoned -- I think that if anything, the emerging likelihood that we are approaching a world without work, created by advancing technology, will require that New Deal institutions be strengthened, if only to preserve public order.
But the attack/defense mode has gotten us nowhere and, I think, needs to be abandoned in favor of a political framework that recognizes today's realities and dangers. We could do worse, in this pass, than remember how Lincoln framed a different challenge to the republic: "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. As our case is new, we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves; and then we shall save our country."