Thursday, July 31, 2003

Divorce and Democracy

Socially integrated political structures appear to be important, following the course of history, particularly in recent times. In Islamic countries, the religion dominates at a personal, community and political level. In communist states, there remains a consistent effort to preserve what is perceived as the common good, a difficult perceptive calculation in any regime. And in our own comfortable Western Democracies, the alignment of politics with social standards is extremely important, and the politicians are directly punished for straying from the lines. That this had led to an absence of leadership in democratic nations is a separate matter to be discussed in another column; as Jim Hacker of 'Yes, Minister' once put it - 'They are my people, and I am their leader! I must follow them!'

When the social structures upon which the political system is based begin to crumble, and fade, does this have an effect on the political entity itself? If you take modern middle America, as the most advanced Democracy in the modern world, and examine its social structures, problems emerge with this proposition.

The family structure is being crippled by divorce. Family breakdown is an option, rather than a taboo. The family unit is somehow transient, and of depreciating value. Commercial success itself remains a measure of the man, and for those who fall short there is social ostracisation, consignment to an appropriate strata of 'those who had the same opportunities as I had, and look at them now' people. This is to completely ignore the plight of the immigrant poor, and those who are ignored and downtrodden despite the fact that just about every successful American had a grandfather or great grandfather that was part of the immigrant poor. How quickly people forget.

Yet what impact does this have? For one thing, the erosion of morality in favour of absolutes - the dollar, time, appreciating wealth - means that it becomes very difficult to distinguish one political tenet from the next. The politicians themselves are not sure what policies to enact, and need to be driven by interest groups and lobbyists, who themselves have vested interests. The powerful drive, the weak are taken along for the ride. Suddenly there emerges from the smoke and mirrors of capitol hill a realisation that the political system means nothing any more, it is merely a mechanism for the creation of wealth - which after all is the American Dream. And what does this mean for the immigrant poor? Well, I hear Mexico is nice this time of year.

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