Query: At what point does our Republic cease to exist?
Answer: When the rationale of the Republic becomes irrelevant.
Since the outbreak of Covid 19, the United States has been… well… not exactly feeling like the “United States”. A more apt description of our society would be the “United Factions”, disparate groups usually aligned through real, and perceived, grievances seeking to marginalize the established institutions of our Republic for their own political gain.
They have been assisted by egregious conduct on the part of those who are in power, and manipulations and power brokers seeking to capitalize on American instability.
It is no accident that China has “fixed” its “Hong Kong problem” over the last few weeks. In the great game of international politics, opportunities presented must be exploited.
This has been a unique period through American history. We have never really been truly a “united” people. We have always had our degrees of disassociation. Even during the Revolution, we had factions of patriots who still thought of themselves as Englishmen, even as they took up arms against the English.
Until the Civil War, many in the country bore allegiance first to their individual countries (i.e., their respective states). It was not until the conclusion of the Civil War that the country came to the collective conscience of self-identifying as a singular unit.
As the historian Shelby Foote observed, before the Civil War people would refer to the United States engaged in an activity as saying, “The United States ‘are’ doing something.” After the Civil War, we began to say, “The United States ‘is’ doing something.” This was a monumental switch, and was done without any indication of self-conscious.
One of the reasons for this is obvious: The Union won. The Republic was preserved. A more elegant way of looking at it, though, was the belief that the Federalists got it right. We are one nation, one people, brought about by a common belief as opposed to forced assimilation. We are not a nation of empire building… we are a nation based on the undeniable dignity of the individual.
You see… there are no gates at our borders designed to keep people confined within our borders. People are completely free to leave the country, renounce their citizenship, and seek better opportunities abroad.
Unlike England, France, or Russia, we have never seen ourselves as a great colonizing empire. (Perhaps our own colonial roots warn us how that, ultimately, turns out.) Pax Romana took place through conquests; Pax Americana took place by ensuring other states did not engage in their own military adventurism without consequence.
We have been derisively called the “world’s policeman”… that is a far cry from the “world’s emperor”.
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Throughout our history, though, there has always been raison d’être for America, be it “religious tolerance”, “freedom and liberty”, “minority rights”, “economic opportunity”, or the metaphorical “Shining City on the Hill”. (I’m still not entirely sure I know what a “thousand points of light” is… but the phrase still kinda creeps me out, and sounds weirdly violent.)
The point is that by having a commonality, our differences, by definition, become of secondary concern.
Think of the great football rivalry my family is currently embroiled in… Perhaps the most ceremonially aggressive college football standoff is Army vs. Navy.
I was charmed to see the institutionalization of this when we went back to West Point to drop off Chaney at R-Day last year. Leading directly from Eisenhower Hall towards the main part of campus is the “Beat Navy Tunnel”. Cadets must walk through the tunnel (as opposed to walking on the street, over it) and yell “Beat Navy!” as they pass through.
Evidently, Annapolis has the same ceremonial passageway in reverse.
There is no greater ginned up aggression between these two schools than on game day. Once the game is over, however, the two teams become a singular unit in our nation’s arsenal of military strength.
The Cadets and Midshipmen are in the military first, the Army and the Navy second. More to the point… they swear the same oath upon commissioning.
We are a nation of immigrants and native-born. We are united by a unique form of government that institutionalizes minority rights and a basic understanding that power flows to the government from the individual, not the other way around.