The US has failed to reinvent itself to face new realities

Wednesday November 18 2020
US election.

People stand in line to vote at the Morton and Barbara Mandel Recreation Center on November 03, 2020 in Palm Beach, Florida. PHOTO | JOE RAEDLE | GETTY IMAGES | AFP


Last week’s column examined the waning economic, military and cultural hegemony of the US. I argued that the post Pax Americana world order will be dominated by multiple powers and that regional economic (and political) blocks such as the EU and Ecowas will be the institutions that will ensure regional security and economic stability.

Countries outside of these blocks, like the UK, will have diminishing influence on the world economic and geopolitical order.

But loss of global hegemony should be the least of America’s worries. The archaic way in which America conducts its elections has once again shone a light on that country’s inability to reinvent itself in order to meet new realities. The electoral system was designed for a smaller population and in a time when the political system was less beholden to powerful special interest groups such as the National Rifle Association or to a messianic fundamentalist Christian theology.

A situation where each of the 50 states makes its own rules for the same election constrains confidence in the outcome and gives individuals like Donald Trump opportunity to spin all kinds of conspiracy theories in order to advance narrow, selfish, and extremist ideological interests. The solution is to have a common voters’ register and a common set of election rules administered by an independent body. But it is almost impossible that America will ever be able to come to a consensus on electoral reform.

The same polarisation has crippled debate on reform of gun laws. The political and sociological context in which liberal gun laws were instituted has changed. Today, for instance, the pressure of modern life has led to huge numbers of mentally unstable people. Also, today, gang culture, normalised in hip hop music, has made parts of the American inner city ungovernable.

Lastly, there has been a rise in white supremacist groups preparing for a war between the races. Therefore, the context today calls for strict but reasonable gun control measures. But even mass killings and daily inner city murders have failed to build consensus on gun control. By contrast, New Zealand was able to institute tough gun control measures after the mass killings at a Mosque in Christchurch.


But the greatest threat to American national cohesion is the dwindling reasonableness in national debate. An understated idea is that democracy rests on reasonableness; the ability or willingness to debate and agree on reasonable proposals.

What we have seen in the US over the past three decades is inflexible ideological positions in national debate. Republicans and the Christian right opposed reasonable Barack Obama proposals just because he was a democrat and a black person.

The left on its part lumps reasonable people who do not agree with its agenda together with white supremacists. Reasonableness has gone out of American national discourse.

When a country can no longer find common ground on national issues, its constituent sociological and political parts begin to unravel.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator