It really is the last twenty years that have done it. Before 1991, the United States had the Soviet Union to keep it honest; to lean against. Personally, I doubt that the economy would have unravelled to the point that it has in the last few years if the USSR was still around - this sort of collapse would have been a propaganda goldmine for the Kremlin, the true crisis of capitalism. Without the threat of the Soviets getting the upper hand, though, there's been nothing to moderate the world's superpower. While it took people a while to realize this, realize it they have. Today, ideologues decry President Obama as a Marxist because... well, I suppose because he's a Democrat. Evidence? Who needs it?
The "peace dividend" following the end of the Cold War was wasted. With the utter implosion of its historic rival, the United States and its partners in the West had a chance to take a step back and reevaluate its course for the twenty-first century. Why, with all those billions that don't need to be spent on keeping the Soviets at bay, we could invest in new technologies, better the lot of the poor, maybe even go to Mars! That, of course, didn't happen - too much inertia had built up during forty-five years of brinksmanship. As someone born in the early 1980s and who really became aware of things in the 1990s, I grew up in a world where the Cold War was a fading nightmare. Where I didn't have to worry about nuclear war burning away everything I knew and loved. Where I could be sure that the people in charge were working toward a clean and prosperous future for the betterment of all.
Only a child could think that way. I know better now. I know that in the United States, the political discourse is degenerating further and further into emotional shrieks and extremism. The cracks in the system are being thrown into progressively starker relief. Look at California, where all potential tax/fee/levy/whatever increases require a supermajority in the State Legislature to pass... but if they want to decrease tax, they only need a simple majority. Now there's a framework that sure is built in a farsighted manner, eh? After all, does government really need money anyway?
In the past, it seems, there was at least the appearance of professional amity between the Democrats and the Republicans. You won't find that anymore. American politics, from my vantage point a scant thirty miles from the border, is descending into name-calling and knee-jerk opposition. It's practically sport - people have decided whether they're part of Team Democrat or Team Republican, and the goal has shifted from governing well to "winning" - whatever the winning condition might be in this world.
Do you want to know what I think? I think that if the future continues along the same trajectory as the present, this video may be a workable metaphor for the United States.
Have a good Fourth of July, Americans - and try to ensure there'll be more.