Do economic problems experienced by Americans, such as recurring food shortages and projected rationing of heating oil in northeastern states this winter, mean that the United States has slipped to “Third World Country” status? Not really. The U.S. remains a strong country with a highly developed and stable economic system.
The problems we have been experiencing in recent years, however, represent a deeper, and in many respects more serious problem than being or becoming a Third World Country.
The United States is slipping into the uncharted territory of a highly developed country that is losing the basic bonds of civil society that protect it from degenerating into chaos.
The signs of this descent are everywhere, though the extreme politically partisan lenses through which many Americans view public policy hamper their ability or willingness to see it.
In no respect is this troubling phenomenon more obvious than the recurring images of individuals committing acts of senseless violence against strangers. While we regularly see also acts of robbery and rampant shoplifting, it is the images of people being pushed onto New York subway tracks or thugs beating up elderly passers by on city streets, that most starkly remind us – or should remind us – that something dark and alarming is happening in our society.
Stealing from another person or business as a means of gaining something the perpetrator could not otherwise obtain or afford, is neither a new problem nor one unique to our country or time. Organized shoplifting, or stealing to show off the perpetrator’s “chops” on social media, however, represents a newer problem – one that is far more difficult to address and correct.
Acts of violent vandalism, such as being carried out in Atlanta, Georgia against construction of a new police training facility, are becoming if not commonplace, no longer surprising. Vandalism by teenagers is one thing, but violent vandalism by organized adult groups is a far different and more dangerous phenomenon; and not something that should be condoned or accepted by a society, though some do if the actions are carried out for a socially “acceptable” cause.
Public schools, which in years past provided a structured, rules-driven environment dedicated to learning and to developing appropriate social behavior, are experiencing increased student violence. Many have morphed into laboratories for extreme social behavior, such as drag queen shows and trans-genderism displays, where the authorities appear unwilling or unable to staunch such degenerate and harmful activities.
Universities, which used to provide the next level of socialization and learning beyond high school, have themselves become breeding grounds for aberrant and intolerant behavior. Shouting down speakers or spitting on them in public, are today impliedly if not explicitly condoned by the adults supposed to be ensuring a mature and orderly environment in which civil society advances.
Lack of consequences for these and other forms of violent and anti-social behavior, exacerbates the problems. Civil libertarians have long sought to place severe restraints on legislative, law enforcement, and prosecutorial powers to stem criminal behavior as well as behavior that, while not violent, has the effect of undercutting civil authority. Those boundaries now have loosened considerably, to the degree of permitting people to pitch tents on private and public property, or to defecate and do drugs in public areas (including near schools).
One of the primary defenses employed by society to protect against criminal behavior dismantling civil norms, are its prosecutors. Tragically, in a number of major American cities, including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, and others, elected prosecutors who until the recent past enforced those laws to ensure that law-abiding citizens and businesses could live and operate without fear of violence, are refusing as a matter of public policy to enforce those boundaries. The unsurprising result of such policies is more violence, more fear, and greater lasting harm to society.
Bryan Burroughs’ book, Days of Rage – America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence, describes in detail the extreme violence that took place in our country from the late 1960s through the 1970s – bombings and other violent acts committed by numerous leftist organizations such as The Weathermen, The Symbionese Liberation Army, the FALN, and others.
America survived those years of violence because we maintained a widely understood foundation of civil norms that rejected such actions. Now, half a century later, that civil foundation has become so severely shredded that recovery from today’s widespread violence and intolerance is far less certain.