The American Republic Has Fallen. Do We Have the Will to Restore It?
We have become a nation of cowards living in a fear society.
The Fourth of July, like all birthdays, provides a useful opportunity for self-reflection. So before America’s birthday month is out, it’s worth nothing that July 2021 calls forth a deeply discomfiting question: Do Americans want to live in a republic?
The answer is far from obvious. Historically speaking, republics are the exception rather than the norm. Sustaining a republic is hard work. It requires a consistent supermajority committed to the principles of republicanism—the most basic of which is the freedom of the citizenry.
Republics can end pretty easily, though. If a slim, temporarily dominant anti-republican faction can claim and consolidate power, the republic will fall—often with enough plausible deniability to placate a cognitively dissonant citizenry. No one likes to admit that they squandered the republic they’d been gifted. It’s far easier to pretend that the republic remains alive long after its freedoms have given way to fears.
Fear is—by far—the most useful weapon in the anti-republican arsenal. A terrified population is easy prey for those claiming that only enhanced authority can confront the threat of the day. From there, anti-republican forces can consolidate power using “temporary” authority to alter the rules and structures of governance while hollowing out and redirecting critical institutions.
That’s precisely the situation in which the United States finds itself at 245. The American republic has fallen. It’s unclear that enough Americans care enough to restore it.
Though dangerous trends had been evident for years, the U.S. did not cease functioning as a constitutional republic until March 2020. That month, a terrified supermajority arose to demand draconian emergency governance. The fear ran so deep that most Americans were eager to subvert every aspect of economics, society, and liberty to the needs of pandemic protection.
As with any supermajority, this panic did not break down along neat left/right lines. President Trump’s instinctive desire to tamp down the panic was a spectacular failure. At least in the early going, the death of American freedom enjoyed overwhelming support around the country and across the political spectrum. Voices challenging shutdowns and suspensions of civil liberties, nearly nonexistent on the left, constituted a small minority faction on the right.
In recent weeks—fifteen months later—the noose has loosened considerably. Yet the situation remains far from either normal or acceptable. Freedoms long claimed as rights now exist through the grace of government. Governors and public health officials retain broad emergency powers. Their allies in teacher’s unions hold our children hostage. Threats to curtail civil liberties yet again—should public behavior prove distasteful to our elites—keep the citizenry in line. The anti-republican elites now controlling the federal government, many states, and all major cities can even claim democratic legitimacy; they’re an accurate reflection of America’s powerful anti-republican ethos.
An honest look at today’s America paints a bleak picture. The United States has become a fear society. What we fear most is our fellow citizens.
It took decades of concerted effort to reach this level of abject terror. We’ve constructed customized electronic cocoons to eliminate negotiations with annoying neighbors, co-workers, and family members. We’ve criminalized childhood, miscasting roughhousing and teasing as incipient psychosis. We’ve hatched safe spaces to protect ourselves from those whose ideas, utterances, appearance, or apparent ancestry might cause us distress. We’ve silenced ourselves to preempt the forces of cancellation threatening to destroy our personal and professional lives. We aver to the inviolability of propaganda inconsistent with even a cursory factual review lest we be deemed threats to public welfare.
By the time the pandemic hit, America had already become a nation of cowards. The pandemic merely ratcheted the fear up a rung. By mid-2020, many Americans were afraid to breathe near their fellow citizens. A society capable of casting “breathing in public” as aggressive indifference to societal welfare has relinquished any viable claim to civil liberties. Far too few Americans remain willing to assume the personal responsibility necessary for a free society to function. Far too many cowering Americans are grateful for an elite eager to impose its will upon the personal decisions they no longer trust their neighbors—or themselves—to make.
Today’s America retains few if any hallmarks of a free society—much less a constitutional republic:
There is no rule of law when otherwise legal businesses, religious services, and social gatherings may be declared illegal overnight, by executive fiat. No one observing the lax treatment of violent BLM/Antifa rioters and the authoritarian excesses deployed against nonviolent January 6 trespassers—much less the treatment of individuals associated with Donald Trump vs. associates of Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden—could believe that we still have equal protection. Worse, the treatment of those involved in violent altercations varies widely based upon the demographics of the perpetrator and the victim. Adding insult to injury, due process in the absence of equal protection becomes a government grant, not a right.
Religious freedom has been under attack for decades, as has the right to bear arms. Free speech and freedom of the press are constrained by technological monopolists and under threat in Congress. Search and seizure freedoms ring hollow in an era of constant digital surveillance. The federal bureaucracy has been politicized and weaponized. Our military and intelligence services are deploying their assets against citizens with disfavored opinions. Our two primary mechanisms for nonviolent conflict resolution—elections and courts—lack consistency and credibility.
America has come a long way from declaring that all men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” With uncharacteristic clarity, President Biden gave voice to today’s fearful, anti-republican ethos: “No amendment to the Constitution is absolute.” It’s the perfect transitional sentiment from citizens republic to elitist oligarchy. Why do anything as controversial as repealing a constitution when it’s so much easier to reduce it from supreme law to useful guidelines?
As is typical in fear societies, today’s Americans relish becoming informants. Tales of cancellation for transgressions against wokeness are legion. Twitter abounds with gleeful messages preening about the silencing of some ideological opponent. When governors and mayors called for face masks, millions of Americans proudly deputized themselves as abusive, aggressive vigilantes promoting public safety. Facebook recently announced a campaign encouraging users to report signs of extremism. Not to be done, large parts of the tech sector announced plans to report citizens who voice politically unpopular positions.
Such attitudes are deadly to the operation of a free republic. Republicanism rests upon a bedrock of mutual respect and trust.
A mere twenty years ago, President Bush heralded the idea that all people yearn to be free. He then committed America to freeing the world. The failure of that “Bush Doctrine” embodies myriad lessons. A yearning for personal freedom is irrelevant. What matters is a yearning for free neighbors. A free society cannot exist unless a critical mass of its citizenry yearns to free even its most annoying, offensive elements. Such a yearning, however, is irrational in the absence of at least basic trust and shared respect for some common core values.
In today’s America, are there indeed core values capable of serving the foundational needs of a republic? The answer, as noted at the outset, is entirely unclear.
Those of us who wish to live in a free republic have our work cut out for us. We cannot respond to the wave of intermittent and growing leftist violence that has terrified American cities since the summer of 2013 with violent radicalism of our own. For though a defensive response might become necessary, a republic cannot be imposed upon an unwilling citizenry. We must persuade our fellow citizens that the republic is worth restoring.
We may yet refresh the tree of liberty with minimal blood of patriots, but we will certainly require patriotic sweat and tears. A non-violent play for a supermajority compels true republicans to downplay policy debates—or at the very least, to defer them until the foundations of a viable republic have been restored. We must marshal our forces, assess our strengths, and deploy them strategically.
Perhaps first and foremost among our strengths is American history itself—which is precisely why our anti-republican adversaries are so intent upon defaming it. Our nation was founded as a bold experiment in individual liberty, mutual trust, and personal responsibility. What it has delivered to the world has been truly exceptional and overwhelmingly positive. In line with that strength, we must find inspiration in America’s founders. The Constitution they drafted was light on policy; its overwhelming focus was the structure of republican government.
If we can unite a critical mass—a sustainable supermajority—behind republican ideals, we will indeed be able to restore our republic. Granted, we will have to gut and rebuild many core institutions. We may need a second Constitutional Convention and a reinvigorated federalism. We may come to celebrate vast policy differences across the states. We will certainly require every participant to accept uncomfortable compromises. Those are the minimal prices we will have to pay to breathe life into a Second American Republic.
If we cannot reach that critical mass of citizens, the American future will be bleak. Those of us possessing a true republican spirit will have no choice but to admit defeat. Rearguard republicanism is guaranteed to fail. A system in which republican-spirited judges and elected officials champion fair play while radical leftists lock in their dominance at every opportunity is simply marking time. At best, it will keep selected jurisdictions free until a first fair loss.
If all that remains of America is indeed an elitist oligarchy and a collection of opposition groups, the country will soon devolve into a morass of competing militias and warlords. If we true republicans find ourselves reduced to one minority faction among many, even a victorious alliance with the least anti-republican militia will ring hollow. A least-bad autocracy is hardly a free republic.
Our country has reached a critical juncture. The American republic may have fallen, but we have not yet reached the point of no return. Unless we can awaken enough of our fellow citizens to the threat, however, that point will arrive far sooner than many might imagine.
At 245, the American republic is far from healthy. The times call for a counterrevolutionary movement—a movement of American restorationism. May such a movement succeed before America turns 250.
For more information about Bruce D. Abramson & American Restorationism, visit: www.BruceDAbramson.com
To learn more about how America’s elites destroyed the republic, see: The New Civil War: Exposing Elites, Fighting Utopian Leftism, and Restoring America (RealClear Publishing, 2021).
To learn more about the ideology driving today’s anti-American leftism, see: American Restoration: Winning America’s Second Civil War (Kindle, 2019).