Let’s just hold it a bit on this Lincoln thing. If Barack Obama wants to lead the nation as Lincoln did, we’re in for a lot of trouble.
The man whose Bible he took the oath on, whose memory he regularly invokes, presided over the creation of what can only be called a nascent fascist government led by a party of industrial capitalism that ran roughshod over constitution and custom, encouraged a form of bloody warfare that defied all civilized practice to date, and was the cause of untold misery, violence, and destruction for the next half-century or more. He was the ultimate creator of an empire that, thanks to military might in service to corporate interests, spread across the American continent, not just north to south but eventually coast to coast, and would ultimately go on to impose itself worldwide.
We have now come to the culmination of that empire, whether they know it or not, and the meltdown of the global economy is only the first signal of its collapse. Peak oil, extreme climate, unwinnable wars, social unrest, environmental decay, and the multiple whiplashes of a failed capitalist system will hasten its demise.
We’ve got two choices. One is the Lincolnesque way that Obama seems to promise: government subsidies for the larger corporations and banks (as Lincoln pushed in his day, especially for the railroads), refurbishing of the infrastructure (ditto), nationalization of the financial system and reckless printing of currency, increased centralization of the government and its hold on the economy, continuation and expansion of warfare and the war machine (all ditto). That is a continuation of the past, and it is amazing that the nation largely does not recognize it as a recipe for continued collapse. It is in fact not sustainable, nor is the environment in which it is floundering.
The other way is to rejigger, to dismantle, the entire system.
Abandon the empire (which we can no longer afford anyway, of course) and the war system that was begun in 1861 and has been in effective power since 1941 (of which Eisenhower famously warned us).
Dismantle the government-sponsored and –coddled corporate system of large-scale capitalism (agribusiness, Big Oil, Big Pharm, Big Chem, Big Silicone, the lot), overprotected (to keep the lobbyists in business and overregulated (ditto the bureaucrats), and return to a modern variety of an early 19th-century economy, which means small holders, family farmers, local businesses, individual enterprise, neighborhood artisans, community-supported agriculture and power generation, low taxes, and local empowerment.
Dismember the bloated Washington system as we know it (keep it around perhaps for automated record-keeping, but not defense or diplomacy), discard Congress entirely, and return effective power to the states (or better, in time, to bioregions), keep government machinery small even at that level and amenable to true democracy, and, this time around, create prohibitions against a takeover of electoral and legislative machinery by aristocratic interests and corporate cartelizers.
In other words, let’s try it all over again, having learned the lessons from a disastrous experiment in Romanesque empire that we might have learned long ago, had we any sense of history. No point in trying to put bailout and stimulus fingers in these broken dikes, no point in trying to hold on to and restore an economy built on nothing but growth and consumption, and the concomitant exhaustion of resources, befouling of environments, amassment of wastes, and emiseration of masses.
Let’s try something new. In fact we have to.
KIRKPATRICK SALE is the author of After Eden: The Evolution of Human Domination and eleven other books. He is the director of the Middlebury Institute.