In the Mirror


America’s Melting Pot: Has It Frozen Over?

Blog From
February 9th, 2011

David Cameron, Britain’s current Prime Minister, stated last week at a security conference in Munich that Brits need a stronger national identity. According to Cameron, the UK’s years long experiment in state-sponsored multiculturalism has led to different cultures living very separate lives. This pronounced segregation-by-choice is eroding the values that bring citizens together under a single nation banner. In the Prime Minister’s view, the encouraged divisions threaten the cohesiveness necessary to maintain national unity.

Cameron’s words were not universally accepted in culturally divided Britain. Regardless, they do give food for thought. With today’s heightened accommodation of people’s differences, our commonality is, too often, forgotten. Is this a bad thing? When the need exists for citizens to pull together, say, to ward off a national threat, the answer is obviously yes. But, even in times without hardship, a sense of national pride goes a long way to foster positive feelings of community. A conscious awareness of shared circumstances makes people more obliging of their neighbors and other strangers.

On the other hand, Great Britain’s problems are not ours. After all, our Fourteenth Amendment, and its enforcement progeny, is the opposite of state-sponsored multiculturalism. It’s forced work-together-play-together stuff. And that would be the end of this discussion, if you didn’t count heavy political investment in our multitude of special interest groups. But, if you do, then we’re pretty much like the Brits. We’re living in Fractured Woods, too. Citizens separated by a common selfishness in individual pursuits. Unfortunately, the luxury of selfishness comes with an unaffordable price tag. The debt crisis threatening to destroy the American economy demands a pull-together solution. So, we’d better find a way out of the Woods while we still have that option.

In political science, a special interest group has a narrow social base, concentrates on limited issues and benefits mainly their own members. It is distinguished from constituency-representing organizations. The latter have a broad social base, address a wide range of issues and balance member interests with a strong commitment to the public welfare. Today, we have a third, blended, type of representative organization. The U.S. Congress makes a lot of noise about representing a broad-based constituency while indulging special interest groups. The money our SIGs pour into election campaigns and the blocks of voters they deliver give them disproportionate political pull. Elections are less about the best candidate winning than the best financed candidate taking the prize and rewarding the contributors.

This approach to governance eventually erodes national cohesion. It emboldens the special interests to demand more and more regardless of the cost to others. Why share when you stand a good chance of getting everything you want by being just a bit more strident? It also builds resentment among many who feel like bystanders to their own political processes. The result is similar to the British experiment. We’ve become a collection of individuals focused almost entirely on our own interests.

Fractures in our unity are most evident when across-the-board sacrifices are necessary to rectify a serious national problem such as the debt crisis. Unlike decades past, too many of us today are in favor of large-scale sacrifice only as long as everybody else makes it. Let the other guys fall on their swords while I take a hike to my happy place. But, that approach won’t reduce the debt. Sacrifice will have to come from all segments of society, both the special and the not so special.

The icy winds of special interests have blown so hard for so long our melting pot has frozen over. It’s past time for some serious thawing. So, get up and stand behind budgets cuts that hurt you as well as those that affect others. It will make you feel all warm, and connected, inside, and help pull us out of the debt mess.

See you in the mirror.

Posted in In the Mirror