Once upon a time, during the decade of the 1980s, there existed a country called the Soviet Union. It was ideologically Marxist and diametrically opposed to the liberal, democratic ideals of Western Europe and the United States. A superpower, it was geographically one of the largest countries in the world and boasted one of the globe’s most powerful militaries. It maintained influence in Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Third World.
In spite of this, by the end of the decade this mighty giant fell, tumbling down a proverbial beanstalk of bad domestic and foreign policy decisions. Its economy was a wreck, its defense spending was through the roof, and its military was locked in a seemingly endless war of attrition in Afghanistan.
In the midst of this, a leader rose to power who began to speak of something radical, some revolutionary. That leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, proposed to reform the Soviet government with twin-policies of political openness (glasnost) and economic restructuring (perestroika).
Virtually 26 years later, the United States faces a similar dilemma: a broken economy, astronomical defense spending, and a military locked in a seemingly endless war of attrition in Afghanistan. However, unlike the Soviet Union, no single individual in America has corroborated the basic fact that today our country is in need of major reform. Everyone on both the right and the left is talking about what is good for the Republicans or for the Democrats, but not what is good for the country as a whole. The question of a major economic and political reform, conducted by bipartisan forces, is largely a moot point.
The truth is that a serious discussion is required on the fundamental reform of the American system. The ideals of Jefferson, Franklin and Washington have become obscured amid political division and ideological rivalry. So-called “patriots” wrap themselves in the flag while still others revile it, not fully appreciating its genuine intent. Our public education system needs an overhaul. Political transparency and health care, while substantially better in the U.S. than in China or Russia, are still not as advanced as in countries like Ireland, Sweden, Finland or Denmark. Meanwhile, the American economy is not getting much better.
What is the solution? The answer lies in political openness (glasnost) and economic restructuring (perestroika).
Americans need to be more politically open-minded and, regardless of their political affiliation, should work in earnest with different parties and factions in order to improve our country and strengthen its democratic institutions. This includes working to cut exorbitant campaign-spending and making our political system more open to different voices aside from just “Democrats” and “Republicans.” There are many shades of gray in America that exist between the black and white of the current parties. Those shades of gray deserve a voice, too.
It is only through this political openness that we can genuinely come together to find a solution to our economic problems, to initiate an economic restructuring that can usher in a new era of moderate, socially fair and just capitalism – as opposed to our current state of corporate, lobbyist-driven “crapitalism.” Ideally, this would include a rollback on military spending and, certainly on waging war in general. Coming together will also allow us to solve other pressing issues in our country such as health care and public education.
Unfortunately for the Soviets, Gorbachev’s reforms came too late. Within six years of his coming to power, the Soviet Union collapsed. This, then, prompts one to ask: if America does not seriously work toward reform, does it risk a similar fate? Will it Balkanize in the manner prophesied by Vonnegut in “Slaughterhouse-Five”? Most likely not. However, this surely does not diminish the urgency to solve the problems facing of our country and for that, the only antidote is our own form of glasnost and perestroika.