Essay: The Politics Of Collapse

The Federal Government is saying the Francis Scott Key Bridge will take at least ten years to rebuild. More than 50 years ago, the original was built in less than five. We no longer build great things because we have become mired in the quicksands of our own over-regulatory bureaucratic mediocrity...



e recent collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore was profoundly dramatic. It struck a chord because something similar happened in Tampa in 1980. Ships are big and always getting bigger. And this bridge was a bit older and not made with today’s state-of-the-art design and technology.

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How did it happen? Was it a freak accident? The poisoned fruit of affirmative action? Sabotage or terrorism? I have no idea, and we may never really know.

However, I do know that if the truth threatens some chestnut of politically correct conventional wisdom, it will be buried somewhere in a footnote, if it is allowed to be released at all. Planes have crashed and ships have crashed into other ships, and the possible influence of affirmative action and lower standards has never really been explored in any depth, even though it often appears to be a contributing factor. The powers-that-be seem to think we can take people with one or more standard deviations of lower general intelligence and obtain the same results in technically demanding fields like aviation, seamanship, medicine and engineering.

In Baltimore, the captain or pilot apparently sounded the alarm, permitting the police to save many lives by closing off the bridge to traffic. This was the good news part of the story. But I am now more concerned about the timeline for the bridge’s replacement. There are reports which say it will take at least ten years.

It was originally constructed in less than five.

Sclerotic Nation

Almost 90 years ago, we went from biplanes to jet fighters in 20 years. Then we went from jet fighters to men in space in another twenty. Yet for some reason, repeating yesteryear’s technological achievements like building skyscrapers, dams, bridges, railroads and the like is apparently now going to take longer and cost more than it ever has, if it is even possible to repeat.

Hoover Dam was constructed in five years, while the Empire State Building only took 13 months. But a bridge across Baltimore’s Harbor in the year of our Lord 2024 will take twice as long as the entire timeline for America’s participation in World War II.

When we consider the concept of “Making America Great Again” and what diminishes that greatness today, the slow pace of progress and the lack of tangible symbols of success loom large. In the recent past, ordinary people could see all around them testaments to American ingenuity and enterprise. This included the construction of the Hoover Dam, Empire State Building, Mt. Rushmore; and later, the World Trade Center, Sears Tower and the St. Louis Arch.

People from every economic station enjoyed clean and gleaming cities with safe public spaces. What national monument of achievement exists to justify the trillions of dollars added to the national debt over the last two decades? Nothing memorable other than the tripling of our health insurance premiums and the debasement of our currency.

The closest we have to an impressive structure is the belated construction of the Freedom Tower in New York following the 9/11 attacks, however even this was preceded by a decade of seeing the idle and gaping footprints of the destroyed twin towers.

In my lifetime, there has similarly been no recent major victories over disease, foreign enemies or a single persistent domestic problem like drug addiction. The one apparent victory—Operation Warp Speed, which gave us the MRNA vaccines for COVID-19—may prove to be a historical contradiction, instead driving an entirely new class of health problems for years to come. Big Pharma’s contributions to our common life are a mixed bag at best.

Government Used To Do More With Less

The absence of large public achievements surely stems from the different incentives facing the private and public sectors. Impressive and fast changes are still happening in the private sector, whether it is the chip technology behind iPhones, artificial intelligence or other accomplishments in science and medicine. However, the public sector was not always so stifled & impoverished.

The Manhattan Project was a government program, as were the Apollo missions and the Hoover Dam. These impressive projects probably could have never happened without the government marshaling of resources, talent and funds. Yet it seems the era of big government achievements was too short-lived.

We can see the first hints of this decline in public architecture. Once upon a time, every county, even rural ones, boasted a beautiful courthouse. In smaller cities and towns, churches were ornate and sturdy, as were schools, banks, libraries and train stations. After World War II, public spaces started to become more utilitarian and ugly. The brutalist, postmodern architecture of the time neither encouraged respect nor stewardship. In many cases, the old and beautiful buildings have been knocked down to make way for uglier replacements.

The indifference to other values besides modernity reflected the values of the cosmopolitan ruling class: they were here to make a buck, and they would just as easily wind up in London, Tokyo, or Paris if an opportunity arose.

They were not merely cosmopolitan; they were alienated. They treated the emerging Middle Class like cogs in their machine rather than as their fellow citizens; depriving them first of their pensions and then of small comforts like beauty and elegance in their homes and workspaces. The emerging postwar managerial class was not animated by the spirit of noblesse oblige or rooted in the soil. They were passing through, seeking individual fortune, rather than public honor.

Wealth, Luxury & Corruption

Perhaps this phenomenon is merely is the natural results of an inevitable cycle of civilizational growth and decline. We would not be the first civilization to go from an early period of uncontainable energy, initiative and daring—American characteristics from 1776-1976—which led to security, affluence and a bona fide empire. But affluence contains within it the seeds of it’s own self-destruction. In the words of Sir John Grubb in his excellent essay The Fate of Empires, “There does not appear to be any doubt that money is the agent which causes the decline of this strong, brave and self-confident people.”

When people cease to strive for public honor and adventure while becoming more intent to enjoy prolonged comforts and luxury, their desire to take risks plummets and languid, lazy, slothful energy starts to predominates. We see this in both individuals and nations alike.

Even within private corporations as they mature, the visionary entrepreneurs and problem-solving engineers are often corralled and gelded by the human resources department: a terrible innovation arising from the minefield of litigation risk for employment discrimination. In practice, human resource departments tend to accrue power to themselves and stifle creativity and excellence in the process.

The dual concerns for safety and fairness seem to be the chief excuse for the current lethargy in almost every field & industry, particularly public works and infrastructure. These priorities create countless opportunities for armies of consultants, lawyers, lobbyists, busybodies and complainers to gum up the works of any large public project. We have extended the power of a veto to the timid and the litigious and everyone else now just accepts this as the way things are.

California has apparently been unable to build a rail line for 20 years. Our defense sector takes forever to field simple weapon systems like armored cars. And, when a bridge gets knocked down, we learn the replacement will take twice as long to build and cost several times more than its predecessor. These are the symptoms of a broken system where projects get lost in a onslaught of rules, regulations, administrative hearings, impact studies and mediocre compromises.

This phenomenon is not a uniquely American problem. In every advanced industrial country, there are similar stories of never-ending public works projects, like high speed rail in Japan and the massively delayed and overbudget Berlin Airport. These countries have also have gone from nations of innovators, inventors and dreamers to welfare cases and cowards.

There is, of course, a notable absence of such delays in places like China, where authoritarian governments can bypass public opinion. Even without such authoritarianism, the United States once stood apart from its European peers because we lacked the extensive bureaucracy, stultifying rules and timidity that defined the rest of the industrialized world.

We were always bolder, faster, more reckless. And we accomplished much more than our peers. After all, it was us who broke the sound barrier and put a man on the Moon. We built big stylish cars with fins while thumbing our noses at effete European critics. Of course, we experienced setbacks. Occasionally, a spaceship blew up or a bridge collapsed. But we were more insistent about such things, accepting them as simply the price of progress.

This is not just an issue about regulations, technology or safety. The America of the mid-20th Century was a nation of Americans with a distinct culture and character. That character has been suppressed & diluted since the 1960s by the arrival of millions of newcomers, from whom very little is asked in the way of assimilation, augmented by the relentless pressure of a verifiably anti-American education system and system of government.

The result we see & experience is a very different America than the one which put a man on the Moon. Today, we have become risk-averse, slow, hesitant, rule-bound, self-critical and weak. Changing the rules won’t really have any effect until we restore our collapsing national character. That is a much larger and more challenging project than deciding what goes into the federal budget or repairing a bridge.✪


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