In the mid-19th century, America faced a dark crisis: the irreconcilable division over slavery. In response to this divide, President Abraham Lincoln famously said, “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
Since our nation’s inception, many have predicted its decline. The storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was just the latest alleged harbinger of American collapse. But while many have predicted America’s decline, Americans have always overcome the odds to maintain their republic. Yet the terrorists of January 6 remain dangerous: though they failed on January 6, they will come back and next time they could succeed.
Their failure ought not be mistaken for national resurrection or victory as nations do not decline overnight, but instead erode over time. The sacking of Rome in 410 A.D., for example, came hundreds of years after the end of republican rule, panem et circenses, and rampant corruption. The empire itself did not complete its collapse until 476.
America could be in the midst of such a decline. Future civilizations might compare the storming of the Capitol to the sacking of Rome. Like fifth-century Rome, America is in decline. While one of Rome’s chief virtues was order—and its decline was marked by a decadence and disorder—America’s decline represents a gradual abandonment of the Constitution and moral traditions.
The American legal system has long abandoned ideals of federalism and the nondelegation principle. The usurpation of local power by the federal government under the guise of Congress’s enumerated powers has moved state or local issues, such as healthcare, education, and agriculture, into the domain of national control. Additionally, the usurpation of power from democratically-elected representatives to unelected administrators of the executive branch has undermined separation of powers and representative democracy. The people’s representatives are no longer in charge of policy. Instead, American government is run by the elites, experts, or insiders. Thus, the government does not work for the farmers of the Plains, the factory workers of the Midwest, or the city-dwellers of the East Coast. Instead, the government has become a machine designed to accomplish the aims of the bureaucrat. Instead of solutions and hope, America’s extra-constitutional government delivers pork. Case in point: the second major COVID-19 stimulus package. The stimulus allocated only $600 to each American, but $10 million to gender programs in Pakistan and hundreds of millions more to evil dictatorships in the Middle East and North Africa. Though the bill was negotiated for months among congressional leadership and the White House, the people’s representatives did not see the 5,593 pages of text until mere hours before the vote. It should come as no surprise that this inability to serve the American people has led to division, distrust, hopelessness, and anger among millions of Americans on both sides. The ability for the government to pass pork but not to find solutions to the opioid epidemic, veteran suicides, racial injustice, climate change, endless wars, polarization, and other pressing issues is a clear sign that the system is broken.
Yet the American people must not be fooled into believing that any one person can unite a bureaucracy motivated by special interests, rather than those of the people. Administrative bureaucracies will always demand more money and more power to serve their special interests. “Hope and Change?” Not much changed from 2008 to 2016. And would anyone really claim that the America of 2020 is greater than it was in 2016? Is it even fair for Joe Biden to try to win the battle for the soul of “our nation” when Americans are so divided that there is no longer a universal meaning to being American?
The events of January 6, unequivocally despicable and evil, should come as no surprise. Americans must do more than condemn terrorism. Instead, they must re-embrace constitutional principles and moral traditions. There must be great urgency, before someone implements Rudy Giuliani’s “trial by combat” with success, and a future demagogue calls on angry mobs to do more than “stay strong.” When one refuses to fix the underlying conditions of political violence—a broken political system—then he or she cannot claim to be a patriot. A true patriot calls for unity in the restoration of the American constitutional system by voting for leaders who pledge to wage war against the undemocratic administrative state. There must be no more nationalization or delegation: people’s voices must be heard within the political system.
The “swamp” of special interests and administrators can only be drained by abolishing federal agencies, which would delegate power back to the states or to Congress. That puts issues in the hands of the people’s representatives and in the hands of the people themselves. When people have the power to make their families and communities better, they will seize the opportunity to do so. Even if the people’s ideas are not as polished as those of the experts, the ability to truly govern oneself fixes the eyes of every American on the ideal society they wish to live in, rather than irrationally seeking a political messiah who will never liberate them from their problems. These broad reforms are necessary, because four years of Republican governance has proven that incremental cuts to the administrative state have failed.
Yet these efforts are only the beginning. Self-government fails without a shared vision. That vision is not only driven by the guardrails of the constitutional system, but also a broader culture and moral tradition that supersedes the written law. Whether it is the nuclear family or the nation at large, there must be a commonality that not only demands respect for the text of the Constitution, but also expresses a broader purpose for the community’s very existence and for what it hopes to accomplish. Our ancestors created this nation as a Christian refuge. Many of the original colonies were chartered for purposes of the freedom for each community to engage in its own Christian tradition. Their legacy is our legacy, and it is a legacy that all Americans should cherish because it is the heart of why the nation—and the Constitution that governs it—exists in the first place. Instead of cancelling this legacy, public education must defend it. Instead of ignoring it as irrelevant to the current generation, American churches must preach about the legacy of colonial America and the virtues of those who founded the original colonies as refugees to freely worship and glorify God.
Make no mistake, America is likely facing its darkest days and little expressed in this article will be considered politically desirable or good public policy by either party. For that reason, America very well could be in its final years. As President Ronald Reagan warned, “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Despite the dangers to the republic, the American flag still flies and the terrorists of January 6 have been rebuffed. America was knocked down, but we the people can stand back up. For the legacy of the early pilgrims, for the Framers of our Constitution, the men and women who sacrificed their lives and livelihoods to defend our liberties, and for those who refused to let the terrorists win on January 6, we must stand back up.
About the Author
Thomas Curro is a student at Hillsdale College majoring in politics.