Australia News Opinion: “The US Is Tearing Itself Apart… Its System Has Failed”


“The tinder accumulates. Racism, inequality, disadvantage, third-world health care systems, convulsive economic growth.”

In a June 1 opinion piece, the Sydney Morning Herald’s political and international editor, Peter Hartcher, claimed that the United States “is tearing itself apart because its political system has failed.”

  • Hartcher points out that think tank Freedom House warned that the world is seeing “democracy in recession” and that by its metrics, “Between 2005 and 2018, the share of Not Free countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of Free countries declined to 44 percent.”

  • Freedom House includes the United States as among those nations with “victories for antiliberal movements.”

  • Hartcher goes on to indict the United States, writing, “failures of US governance are not an indictment of liberal democracy itself as a form of governance. Other liberal democratic countries continue to be highly successful.”

  • Hartcher points to “American failures” as the source of its unrest, with “its political system” demonstrating symptoms of failure.

  • Hartcher asserts, “ When a country's political system fails, its problem-solving mechanism fails. The US today is in such a poor state because its biggest problems never get solved—they just accumulate.”

Hartcher describes several of what he sees as accumulating problems in the United States:

  • “The dreadful race riots of the 1960s should have been a catalyst for” change but instead have become a premonition of “race-based rage” in the present.

  • The United States “is the only rich country to suffer declining life expectancy,” yet still has no universal health health care and only “threadbare social welfare for the poor.”

  • “While the rest of the developed world sees free firearms access as a problem, the US sees it as a solution,” and Hartcher claims that as a result, the United States “proves incapable” of addressing the negative impacts of mass gun ownership.

  • Although the United States “does produce strong bursts of growth,” it is “in a convulsive cycle.” Hartcher states, “It has suffered three recessions to Australia's one.”

Hartcher summarizes his thoughts in a scathing yet somber indictment:

And so the tinder accumulates. Racism, inequality, disadvantage, third-world health care systems, convulsive economic growth. More guns won't help. Every one of these is a failure of US politics, often a result of over-politicisation.

I was long baffled by the paradox of American competence—how could a nation with such supreme expertise in so many fields of endeavour produce such dismal national outcomes? A wise old Australian diplomat solved the puzzle for me quite a few years ago: “The expertise gets crowded out at the top.”

Donald Trump is a beneficiary of American anger and frustration. A critical mass of angry Americans gave up on the conventional political system to solve their problems and turned to a celebrity demagogue out of frustration.

Trump was an alternative but not a solution. Populism is a political style that offers unworkably simple solutions to complex problems. So the problems still won't be solved. Instead, the President is cheerleading the anger, stoking the flames, hoping to exploit the conflagration for his re-election.

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