Why Reforms are Stalling

By Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa, (On Twitter) @c_tamirisa

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All kinds of political explanations are being given for why reforms are stalling. The one explanation that has been obscured by the election of the country’s black and white president is that of America’s anxiety about its changing face, more so by 2050 than it is now.

The election of Barack Obama brought about a rousing sense of idealism, changing the focus from the historical domination of white America since George Washington in 1789 to an evanescent experience of transcendence over the divisions that plagued America since the wars with the American Indians and the slave trade. It was as though America had voted to be a different country, fulfilling its promise of the most expansive interpretation of the Declaration of Independence since 1776 in practice.

All of that exuberance, however, began defusing beginning inauguration day. Not because of anything the president did wrong. In fact, even if he passes diluted reforms that do not necessarily fix the country’s problems he would still be more successful politically by the end of his second year in office than any of his two boomer predecessors for at least doing something while in office (Clinton had maintained the economic status quo he had inherited from the Reagan-Bush years to reap the Cold War peace dividend to his political benefit while in office and to the detriment of the country after he left office). Getting out of Afghanistan and Iraq would be an icing on that cake and a promise fulfilled. And both are doable.

The country knows that its current woes are the result of the Clinton feel good days and the rush to war by Bush. And that Obama has been handed down a mess which had accumulated over 16 years and that he is working hard to fix it in his 4, and if he gets lucky, in his 8. Then what is making America so uneasy to become paralyzed in the politics of the status quo in the aftermath of the worst crises since 2000: the tech bubble, corporate governance, 9/11, Iraqi debacle, housing bubble and the economic collapse, when what the country really needs is mobilization on a war-footing to change?

The explanation is the undercurrent of the racial anxiety of the white majority. That they would be in the minority by 2050. 9/11 is being seen as the beginning of a global war between the wealthy whites and the not so well-off non-whites. The issue is not the fact of that divide between the haves and the have-nots, but its interpretation for the purposes of making policy after 9/11. If the religious dimension is added to it, it becomes a war between the white Christians and the rest. The social heuristic after 9/11 has become one of purging the current minorities steadily to the margins for the majority whites to consolidate power as their numbers fall over the first half of the century, as if doing so is the reform that is needed for the United States and Europe to continue to be global leaders. This thinking cannot be more wrong.

Even if the white majority in the United States retains power by 2050 and loses the demographic battle, or, to its own advantage, even if it wins the demographic battle by producing more white children and adopting policies to reduce non-white immigration and birth rates over the next two generations, that whites would have staved off non-white incursion into power sharing will not in and of itself fix America’s woes. Substantive reforms will still be needed to retain the country’s standard of living in such a racially polarized world that the United States will help create, because such American actions, albeit de facto and largely social, will produce similar responses abroad. The racial war view of the post-9/11 world that threatens the living standards of the whites because of the aspirations of the non-whites for material wealth thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy along the lines of the armageddon in the Revelation to John, between the blessed wealthy and the wretched rest.

Without reforms, social protectionism is just as bad as openness to the world. Either choice requires at least sound domestic reforms across the various functions of the United States government for the country to continue to be well-off after 2050. America can afford to be a self-reliant society, albeit socially protectionist, only if it reforms sensibly. And reforming sensibly, even if motivated by social protectionism, can make the United States a global leader once again. Therefore, the Hobson’s choice is not between social protectionism and openness to the world, but to at least get domestic reforms right.

A nearly all-white country that is neither influential on the world stage nor economically competitive is not what America wants to be after 2050. For that white Americans might just as well travel to Rome or Athens today instead of aspiring for it by 2050.


About Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa

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