An Heir to America's Moral Leadership?

There is a lot wrong in India. And there were a lot of worries some years back when the BJP (the Hindu nationalist party) came to power that this perhaps signalled an end to the "experiment" of democracy in India - the world's second-largest country, and largest democracy - in favor of religious factionalism. Still further worries over the detonation in India and Pakistan of nuclear bombs.

And then...

India and Pakistan scaled back confrontations in Kashmir; most are now local separatist militias.
There were no reprisals for the suicide attacks on the Indian Parliament (can you imagine militants storming the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. not bombing SOMEone?).
The Indian Prime Minister and Pakistani President met spontaneously, leading to later formal talks that produced a road map for peace.
India began stengthening ties and relations with the world's third-largest democracy, in a move that puzzled Americans who wondered what two enormous poverty-stricken humid countries could possibly have in common.

And now...the BJP has been held accountable for failures to spread the wealth of India's development to the rural poor (the same poor the West feared were turning India into an unthinking Hindu nationalist state...), and been voted out of office in favor of the secular Congress Party (the key party in gaining India's independence).

So here we have a country where religion is a big part of public life...where internecine violence is a fact of life...that is a nuclear power, just like its oft-hated rival to the northwest...and yet seems to be paving a path to greater peace, prosperity and functionality of its democracy, while also providing principled opposition to the disgusting hegemony of the North in WTO agriculture agreements.

Changes in global power dynamics happen over time, but they also happen very quickly. In the late 1890s, the United States was a nation not far removed from a crippling Depression, and only 30 years past the Civil War. Even at the outbreak of World War I, America was a largely inward-looking power quite uncomfortable with the limited empire it had acquired. By Versailles it was the unquestioned and singular power in the world, Germany decimated, Russia in chaos and Britain's Empire falling apart.

I'm not suggesting that overnight the United States will be reduced to global irrelevance. But for the first time in my life I can imagine a United States I would not be proud of:

A democracy can allow its leaders one fatal mistake -- and that's what 9/11 looks like to many observers -- but Americans will not forgive a second one. A succession of large-scale attacks would pull at the already-fragile tissue of trust that binds us to our leadership and destroy the trust we have in one another. Once the zones of devastation were cordoned off and the bodies buried, we might find ourselves, in short order, living in a national-security state on continuous alert, with sealed borders, constant identity checks and permanent detention camps for dissidents and aliens. Our constitutional rights might disappear from our courts, while torture might reappear in our interrogation cells. The worst of it is that government would not have to impose tyranny on a cowed populace. We would demand it for our own protection. And if the institutions of our democracy were unable to protect us from our enemies, we might go even further, taking the law into our own hands. We have a history of lynching in this country, and by the time fear and paranoia settled deep in our bones, we might repeat the worst episodes from our past, killing our former neighbors, our onetime friends.

With that kind of America, is there any doubt that another power or powers would step forward with moral leadership in the world?

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