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America today: Will the Center hold? If so, what might it look like?

(Also see post on Foreign Policy Association website)

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” 

 – William Butler Yeats’ 1919 poem,” The Second Coming”, lamenting the World War I aftermath.



As we parse the President’s new reversal “Path Forward” Afghanistan policy;


as we try to absorb the impact of an intentionally disruptive presidency;


as we work to offset “Charlottesville” with “Boston”;


as we struggle with the limits of our constitutionally-guaranteed free speech, especially at the knowledge-laboratories that are our colleges and universities; 


as we guard our cherished freedom of the press at a time of “altered facts”;


as our two major political parties now threaten to splinter with Bernie, Trump and Bannon factions within them (yes, false equivalencies);


and as global society evolves in macro, unfamiliar directions …



There is much to make us wonder whether the American Center will hold.


Many will say, hold on, Armageddon is not nigh. We’ve been “here” before: In the century since the First World War, the American Center has confronted and survived many national soul-wrenching, even violent, divisions. 


Among them: Post-WWI isolationism; the maturing organized labor movement; the New Deal (government safety net vs. laissez faire); McCarthy and the communists; the civil rights movement; Vietnam War; and, still with us, global terrorism. 


But in some profound, eerie way, this feels different. Objectively, there is much to worry about. The extraordinarily high threats to harmony and safety  — national, yes, but also global and, with “fire and fury … as the world has never seen” rhetoric proffered by the president, planetary  threats — seem to have poisoned the atmosphere. 


Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse: “It feels like violence is coming.” He added that, “On top of the trust deficits that are already baked so deeply in, unity will be very hard to come by”.

True, calming voices have been heard: For example, long-time conservative, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer: In his, Opinions The guardrails hold op-ed he contended that “At five separate junctures, the sinews of our democracy held against the careening recklessness of this presidency.”


Even after the many deep divisions, the American Center has always re-coalesced. It eventually moves somewhat left or right. But the fear now is that it could somehow veer beyond “the guardrails”. 


It would be extremely foolhardy to try to forecast the outcome of the array of current existential challenges.


Rather, as we attempt to search once again for unity, we might be somewhat encouraged that Thomas Jefferson told us America was, and will always be, an experiment requiring struggle:


“Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment …


“But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand  with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.”

(Seemingly, the founder’s real “original intent”.)


And finally, as we apply the 21st century “progress of the human mind” to the ethos of the current struggle, we might well bear in mind advice from Alexis de Tocqueville:


“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”