Friday, April 11, 2014

A Weary Nation Seeks Normalcy

Calls for renewed isolationism in reaction to war, a resurgence of nativism and a turning away from government activism – is this a foreshadowing of the U.S. presidential election in 2016? Or lessons from 1920? These were three pillars that eventual winner, Warren G. Harding, ran on as part of his “Return to Normalcy” campaign in the aftermath of World War I and in opposition to Woodrow Wilson's ideologically progressive administration. No doubt, it seems eerily juxtaposed to the present political atmosphere created foremost by more than a decade of war against terrorism and the exasperating policies of the current administration.

Due to scandals that rocked his administration [Teapot Dome], Harding typically is voted to the bottom rungs of presidential rankings. It should be noted, though, that his administration accomplished a modicum of normalcy in the early 1920s, which witnessed fiscal accountability and economic prosperity, more favorable labor laws and the advancement of women's enfranchisement, particularly in voting rights and the political sphere in general. More than any policy of his predecessor ever accomplished over the course of two terms in office. Given unemployment numbers and overall bleak economic conditions the last few years, the negative effects the “affordable” healthcare law is wreaking on the job market and the continual clash over alleged disenfranchising election laws (i.e. voter IDs) meant to stem fraud and ensure the integrity of the electoral process, does it not seem we again walk along a precipice seeking normalcy from an administration run amuck [Solyndra; Fast & Furious; Benghazi; IRS]?

Then there is the contentious debate over immigration reform and border security, issues that every generation has faced in determining the ethnic makeup of the nation. Yes, as every pundit reminds, the United States is a nation of colonizers, immigrants, refugees, émigrés, etc, from other countries; yet, as history shows, it has always been a welcoming skeptic as well, restricting those deemed contradictory to American culture and society. And while it is wise not to erode liberties in exchange for a false sense of security against certain groups, it is likewise necessary not to give up security to certain groups that potentially could be the downfall of those liberties. This has been a longstanding argument between upholding law-abiding sovereignty versus a misguided open-arms policy that would negatively affect the stability of national cohesion and identity. Whichever path is taken, it is certain not to end any time soon.

With the U.S. pulling out from Iraq and Afghanistan, there also is a renewed call once again for isolationism – naturally, within the context of a globally-connected world quite different from a century ago. For some, the U.S. appears in retreat from supporting allies and engaging enemies alike; for others, the U.S. should continue this policy and further cut defense spending. However, the history of 1920s isolationism and military downsizing is the lesson of a decade later that witnessed the rise of both Germany and Japan in the absence of U.S. influence and strength. What happens when Iran or North Korea decides it is time to flex their muscle, or, as already has happened, a resurgent Russia? We would yet again face the same consequences that befell the world 80 years ago – perhaps made even more dire with the proliferation of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction, particularly concerning rogue regimes and terrorist entities.

The wheel has rotated fully to another defining moment, and a weary nation once again seeks normalcy from chaotic uncertainty.

©2014 Steve Sagarra