Once upon a time, there was a mythical land known as the United States of America. America was a great nation inhabited by a proud and mighty people who came from all over the world. It was a land where anything was possible, and anyone, with hard work, grit and determination could succeed beyond their wildest dreams.
The road to success was uneven. There were those who had to contend with obstacles and structural impediments others never knew. But few had a clear path to success, and America’s history was replete with examples of citizens who faced daunting challenges, yet still managed to succeed; people from all walks of life who rose above the most dire circumstances to achieve remarkable things.
America wasn’t a perfect place, but its founders had created a Constitution that provided the institutional framework and a set of principles by which the people were able to correct its defects. America had the ability to recognize its own shortcomings, and used the mechanisms built into its very DNA to allow it to forever remake itself into a more perfect version of the ideal to which it aspired.
Something happened along the way. America’s people lost sight of what made them great, and they began to tear at the very fabric of the constitutional institutions that were the source of their greatness, willing to sacrifice them for nothing more than the achievement of whatever they happened to want at the moment.
America’s first president, George Washington, did something remarkable and virtually unheard in his time. He voluntarily gave up power, turning the reigns of government over to someone else, thus setting an example for all who followed.
Yet even though the nation was in its infancy, Washington saw dangers ahead, and in his farewell address, he warned his people about something he believed, over time, would pose a grave threat to the republic he helped create. Political parties, he said, ”are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
Washington knew political parties, led by unscrupulous leaders, would eventually rob the American people of the power to control their own government. Once these parties seized power, they would govern in a way that promoted their own self-interest rather than what was in the best interest of the country.
Little more than 200 years into their brief history, Americans woke up to find the country they loved had been hijacked by the political parties they were warned about. They had lost control, and now nothing was more important than the political advantage each party sought for itself. To protect their own self-interest, politicians turned on the very government institutions that had brought them to power, and showed a willingness, even a zeal, to tear down those institutions if doing so meant they would achieve their short-term ambitions.
Once elected, as long as they did what their leaders told them to do, politicians could count on their party working hard to prevent the voting public from ever removing them from office. As a result, they came to owe their primary allegiance to their party, rather than to the citizens they represented.
America had turned a corner down a dark alley. No longer were its elected officials free to vote their conscience, and the American people were no longer free to decide who would represent them without interference from national parties spending tens of millions of dollars to manipulate the vote.
The parties became tribal and had the American people at each others’ throats. They controlled elected officials like a drug dealer controls an addict. The drug they peddled was cash and politicians did whatever they had to do to make sure their supply was never interrupted. If a politician didn’t play ball, their party simply threatened to withhold the cash they needed to stay in power, and like any addict, just the thought of going without terrified them.
American democracy had always been a fragile idea predicated on the assumption that the country would be governed by principled people of goodwill, but as the years went by, it became increasingly clear there just weren’t enough of those people around, and in the end, the dream that was America faded into obscurity; just another Atlantis, the stuff of legend people still talk about today. A mythical utopia unable to live up to its promise. El Dorado destroyed by its own myopic citizenry, which forgot just how precious was the gift their founders had bequeathed them.
They had squandered their great legacy. They had killed the golden goose.