Is America at Risk of Following the Path of Failing Nation-States?

Jim Sciutto, CNN, September 12, 2016

In the 15 years since 9/11, I’ve spent the bulk of my time as a journalist covering failed or failing states and countries in deep crisis. The root causes vary from war to economic collapse to popular revolution but the resulting conditions are familiar: fear, division, violence, and, over time, loss of hope.

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So when I asked the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper at the Aspen Security Forum this summer if he saw any similar warning signs here at home, his answer surprised me: “I do worry,” he said. Noting that the US intelligence community has metrics for measuring nations’ stability, Clapper explained, “I guess if you apply that same measure against us, well, we are starting to exhibit some of them, too.”

The measure he singled out as most telling is the loss of confidence in US institutions: “legal institutions, the rule of law, protection of citizens’ liberty, privacy,” all of which he described as “under assault,” adding, “that’s not being helped by a lot of the rhetoric that we’re hearing.”

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Despite diverse cultures, histories, and geographies, there is a surprising uniformity when nations splinter apart. I wrote a piece several years ago called “The Police State Playbook“, on how dictators from Zimbabwe to Myanmar to Iran–whether African and Christian, Asian and Buddhist, or Middle Eastern and Muslim–turned on their people in nearly identical ways. The same goes for their populations.

And I’m not talking about natural political disagreement, but an us-against-them mentality that leads people to see the other side as not only wrong but unpatriotic and dangerous.

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Today, two months away from a major US presidential election, only 11% of Trump supporters and 49% of Clinton supporters are very confident that votes nationally will be counted accurately, the Pew Research Center found. More broadly, only 19 percent of Americans say they trust the government “always or most of the time,” according to a 2015 study, also released by Pew.

These doubts extend to a whole host of institutions. {snip}

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I got a personal taste of this new hostility to facts when I tweeted a quote from Alt-Right leader Jared Taylor last week in which he explicitly disputed that the races are equal. I was immediately inundated by comments expressing support for his view, many quoting as fact long-debunked “science.”

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The most unstable societies I’ve covered are ones where most believe the system doesn’t work, or works only for a few. This destroys a sense of community and shared mission, and creates a carry-on effect: success becomes a zero sum game. There are no shared benefits. My betterment comes at the expense of yours, and the other way around.

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Again, the US is not Iraq or Somalia. A more apt comparison today could be Brazil, where economic slowdown and collapsing confidence in government has led to the impeachment of a president, a broader political crisis and popular unrest. But as with nations in crisis or approaching it, the US is not immune to peoples’ worst impulses, which have led such nations down a dangerous path.

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