By: Walter Russell Mead
The midterm elections disappointed Republicans, diminished Donald Trump, and left Democrats with a grateful sense that an electoral catastrophe was narrowly averted. Perhaps more important, the elections reminded the world that, for all its troubles, the U.S. remains a deeply stable society whose fundamental institutions continue to command the respect of its citizens.
Fifty states held elections for local and national office, and voters in the tens of millions cast ballots and peacefully awaited the results. The candidates certified as victorious by the duly constituted authorities will take their oaths of office on the appointed day. Government of the people, by the people and for the people hasn’t perished from the earth.
America is a paradoxical place. Americans often perceive their polity as fragile and endangered; foreign observers have been predicting the collapse of this improbable republic since the era of silk stockings and powdered wigs. The first verse of the national anthem ends with a question: “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
Yet no state in modern times can match the American record of almost 250 years of unbroken order under a single constitution even as its power and influence in the international system have continually grown. Those years were anything but calm, and the U.S. has experienced waves of tumult and conflict at home even as the nation’s global standing has been challenged by some of the greatest powers and the most ruthless leaders the world has ever seen. Nevertheless, the American order adapts and endures, and the star-spangled banner still waves.
As Joel Kotkin observed in his prescient 1988 book, “The Third Century: America’s Resurgence in the Asian Era,” it is American resilience that matters most to the world. The 19th-century American system, based on a predominantly rural population of property-owning independent farmers, gave way to an urbanized industrial economy. That industrial economy gave way to the still-emerging businesses and technologies of the information revolution. The costs and stresses of that continuing transformation have shaken the American polity to its foundations, but our social and political order still stand.
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