Today's inauguration of George Bush will be all about his vision for uniting America. Three radical forces will colour the second term. The first is represented by those concerned to dismantle America's social security system, the cornerstone of the Rooseveltian New Deal and the heart of the United States' social safety net. The second by those attempting to remake the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court, the fulcrum for institutionalising the cultural agenda of the religious right. The third is represented by those seeking to salvage the neo- conservative project to bring democracy to the Arab world at the point of a bayonet.
Each of these forces represents a set of core values different from those accepted by moderate, mainstream Americans for most of the 20th century, indeed for most of America's history. Together, they set the United States on a domestic and international course unrecognisable to a majority of Americans, including many who voted for George Bush, and to much of the world.
Privatisation of the social security system is a tribute to human persistence. For decades, it was possible to find cartoons in the New Yorker magazine and elsewhere of grumpy old men in deep leather chairs in private clubs damning Franklin D Roosevelt for anything that went wrong in the world. It was amusing, at least until one began to realise, in the age of Reagan (and Thatcher), that those grumpy old men had progeny, and those progeny had progeny that were still damning Roosevelt for insinuating socialism into America's capitalist fabric. Entitlement programmes, including basic public retirement plans, sapped the entrepreneurial spirit and made people wards of the state. This put us on the path to ruin and would eventually, by god, lead to communism.
The great-grandchildren of those grumpy old men now see the chance to restore America to the 1920s when any rising tide would lift the gilded yachts of inherited wealth and to hell with the leaky skiffs of the working stiffs. Privatisation of the social security system will signal the end of any kind of entitlement, so they hope, and restore us to the good old hairy-chested days of every man for himself and devil take the hindmost.
Likewise, as with good help, dependable judges have been hard to find. Now they will be recruited from the ranks of those certified pure by the religious right and guaranteed not to make the law but to interpret the law. This becomes especially appealing when the laws are being made by congressional leaders who have also been certified pure by the same religious right. Never mind that, when the laws are once again made by mainstream legislators, as they eventually will be following a failed effort to return to the 19th century or perhaps even the 14th, those same judges will be called upon to uphold laws they find abhorrent, loathsome, and even immoral. …