Can American Democracy Survive?
After two centuries and 41 presidents, it is perhaps understandable that we take for granted today what remains the greatest political miracle of all time: the United States of America. The miracle consists not only in the remarkable circumstances of the country’s birth, but in the fact that this most heterogeneous and diverse population, having no common origin and no obvious basis for unity, has nonetheless endured as a unified nation through over two centuries of massive change, including a civil war, two world wars, several economic depressions, and the strains of industrialization, immigration, and sweeping territorial expansion. What is more, the astonishing vitality of the American republic unfolded within the framework of a constitution of fewer than 7,000 words, drafted by a committee of patrician landowners in only four months, and rarely amended since. If the United States is not a miracle, then nothing of a political nature can possibly merit the term.
Longevity, of course, promotes presumptions of permanence. Despite having witnessed the collapse of one superpower widely believed to be infrangible, we devote hardly a thought to the prospects for stability and survival of the other. Few would deny that the United States has serious problems, but since those problems are still dealt with through a process of consent and compromise that has worked—with only one systemic breakdown—for over 200 years, we are inclined to assume that the United States will continue to endure.
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