A Russian professor, Igor Panarin, has been predicting for more than 10 years that the U.S. will soon break-up into smaller parts.
When I first heard about Professor Panarin's theory, like most U.S. citizens, I found the notion of a national break-up absurd. The United States is so tied together by our families, our highways, our corporations and even our debts that the thought of a split along any lines defies the imagination.
Then again the U.S. intelligence agencies and Soviet people found the concept of the dissolution of the Soviet Union unimaginable until it happened almost overnight.
In the past the unity of the U.S. has been threatened by events large and small. Sarah Palin and some friends in Alaska breached the subject not too many years ago. People in Puerto Rico and New York City also pondered the notion of more autonomy at one point. Our nation did fracture along distinct lines during the Civil War. 600,000 lives were lost in the effort to stitch us back together. Igor Panarin's theory is hardly without historical precedents.
Everyone who studies history is aware of how the British or Roman Empires crumbled under the twin weights of failed internal bureaucracy and assault from outsiders. There is no shortage of cracks in the current system we live under. Our rapidly rising debt to other nations including China and Japan has weakened the U.S. position considerably. I know we have the mightiest military and most commonly used money in the world but guns and dollars alone will not be enough to keep us together.
It is not out of the question that 49 states may balk at the idea of bailing out deeply indebted California, for example. The Rust Belt, running from Milwaukee to Pittsburgh, is crying out for bailout money that simply is not in the U.S. Treasury. If China says "no" to our next loan request (treasury certificates) what do we do next?
On another note, Florida is looking and sounding like a foreign country already. Utah has marched to the beat of a different drummer for way more than a century. We really are just a motley collection of minor nations sharing a common currency, flag, and army, in many respects. That individuality possessed by each state actually brings strength to the union. Minnesota's farmers and miners balance out Massachusetts' bankers and Louisiana's oil fields and so on.
On other levels you can already see huge cracks developing. Businesses that have been open for ten or twenty years are closing their doors. Some of the biggest firms including General Motors, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Sears appear to be navigating some very choppy waters these days. At parties I sometimes get invited to I notice the wealthier guests looking more and more like they are not getting enough sleep. Bankers, lawyers, and real estate agents usually did not worry this much when I was just a boy. (If you want to know how someone like me gets these invites perhaps this earlier post offers a clue.)
My neighbor was a bank branch manager last year. He greeted me as a server in the restaurant where my lady-friend and I shared a salad last week. Another neighbor has taken to baking cookies at 3AM. Still other people living near me argue about money at all hours. I can't help but know these things, they are happening right before my eyes.
I counsel people in my community. It is something I learned to do at a young age. People in grief, people in trouble with the law, guys AWOL from the Army, locals just out of prison, and even people in rocky marriages somehow end up on my doorstep or a bench on the waterfront. There have been those who jumped in the water, in December and January. A fella that worked at the local package goods store took that plunge most recently. A tragedy you can see playing out on such a person's face, at least I can.
Other people come to me with computer problems but end up needing help coming to grips with social issues. One such young acquaintance that has been in and out of prison has finally decided to change his ways. His choice of time to become optimistic about the future could not have been worse. The only jobs offered to him so far are in dish washing and crime.
The people who have recently lost children are the most heart-rending cases for me. Those and the servicemen in-between tours of duty. Each has seen too many lifeless faces on people that were once so close to them. Our participation in foreign wars weakens this nation, though it appears to make our soldiers more experienced, better prepared for the next civil war.
I sometimes dig back to my years in Haiti and India and relate how I learned to understand my neighbor's grief on a daily basis. Revolution and death are not something most Americans of this generation are used to seeing on a large scale. As we age we watch our parents go and maybe a relative or friend passes away but infrequently. In places without good health care life is less certain. America could start to break-up faster if we cannot fix our system of providing health services, both mental and physical.
In conclusion, I do not seriously think the U.S. will shatter all at once. I also do not think that Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Toyota, Safeway, or even our military will be the glue that keeps all 50 pieces sticking together. If we work closely with our neighbors and friends, on a local and international level, we will get past these difficult times. We need to counsel and comfort our friends and family members. I look more towards the farmers, auto repairmen, nurses, hairdressers, schoolteachers and, yes, even the bankers, lawyers, doctors, and real estate agents to keep stitching up the torn edges of America. President Obama does not have the toughest job to do in this country, we the people do.