History, that coy dominatrix, loves to trick the credulous human race. In a moment when something we call "democracy" seems to be spreading through the dodgy precincts of the world like a contagion of virtue, the trend is actually going the other way in countries that have practiced it for a while.
That is certainly the case in Europe, especially Greece right now, where the mobs in Syntagma Square denounce their waffling parliament for agreeing to a bailout deal that will make Greece a step-child of Germany. The German voters are none too pleased with this, either, since their country is now on the hook to pay Greece's bills. Ireland, Portugal, and Belgium are standing by for adoption next in Europe's Home for Wayward Children. Spain and Italy may need to become wards of the Euro-state, too, but they are more like adults with drinking problems who are liable to wreck the whole household if invited in.
Anyway, the Greeks rallying in Athens' central square lately are sick of politicians and parliaments, and there is a no small danger that they will soon rise up and dispense with theirs in the dumpster behind the Parthenon. A man in a uniform has a certain appeal in a situation like this. He is comfortable issuing orders in unfavorable situations, in fact, rather thrives on it. The Germans know all about this. Their "savior" back in the 20th century was a fellow in an ersatz military getup who virtually ran for office by denouncing "parliamentarism" and by the time his party occupied a fair portion of the seats in theirs, he burned the darn thing to the ground.
The Irish gaze longingly at little Iceland, out there in the North Atlantic now free of debt obligations from the simple act of raising the middle finger in the direction of the London banks. Ireland is sore tempted to do likewise, and the act would have an appealing historical symmetry to it. They may toss out their parliament to get to it. Staying sober is another matter. In Portugal, they are too busy having lunch, which is a very serious affair, they will assure you, and undertaken in spirit of absolute Iberian fatalism (that beefsteak died for you!). Oh, for the days of Salazar when lunch was decreed eighteen hours a day! Belgium, of course, will always be hopeless - Europe's doormat. And what can you say about a people who slather mayonnaise on their French fries - apart from their amazing failure to discover the miracle of ketchup, despite being overrun by American GIs sixty-odd years ago - and speaking a language that nobody has ever written rock and roll song in.
Europe is held together with baling twine, masking tape, and spit. It's been a fun half-century catering to harmless clownish tourists from Houston, with their "big boss" belt buckles and decoupaged wives. But lately the Chinese visitors look more like bargain-hunters at the preview of an estate auction, sizing up the merchandise, and even the waiters in the cafes know the score. The Grand Palace of Euroland is closing for business. Anybody who thinks that Germany is going to run some kind of halfway house for crackhead countries "in recovery" will be disappointed. The compressive contraction that grips the OECD like economic Lou Gehrig disease will be with us as far ahead as anyone can see.
For sure, there are features of European life that dispose many of its countries to face the long emergency on much better terms than the train wreck across the Atlantic. They know how to get by on much less oil - though the coming energy crisis will still be hard on them. They have excellent public transit already in place (yes, it depends on the energy situation). Their agriculture is scaled much more intelligently. Their cities, too, with some exceptions. But they have a long history of brawling amongst themselves and the recent half-century of peace and prosperity is already taking on the shimmer of a fading mirage. Europe is burning down financially from the outside in while the monster that was known as the global economy lies gasping on the rocky shore of Fukushima. The Euro and the weak political union that went with it, is toast. You can include the outsider England in all that, since their practical circumstances are no better than Spain's or Italy's - perhaps a little worse, even... poor tattered Old Blighty!
By the way, I hope you don't think the homefolks here in the USA are all that deliriously happy with representative government either. These days, despite all Sarah Palin's bluster about "freedom" and "our heritage," elected officials are held in about equal esteem to herpes viruses. Congress and the senate are paralyzed by triviality and the President is too busy golfing to disturb the status quo - which is the status quo of a house on fire. We won't have to wait much longer to find out how unexceptional America actually is.
It's a darn shame, and I mean that literally, because this is exactly what the American public is so ashamed of, and why appeals to the repressed sense of shame based on hyper-patriotic bluster, are so successful. It allows folks to feel great about themselves while they sink into the ooze. It's okay, we're special. I stopped at a convenience store at the edge of the Adirondack Mountains on Saturday afternoon and a more frightening gaggle of disfigured mutts I have never seen before. Has everybody in upstate New York only just been released from prison? The tattoo craze is especially telling. It's one thing to get some tattoos with the idea that you are artfully expressing something. It's another thing to deploy them around your body parts as though you were slapping decals on a 1989 beater car. These mutts had tattoos on their necks, their boobs, the sides of their heads, their knuckles, their ankles. The idea, apparently, is to make yourself appear as frightening as possible - and I can tell you it is a very successful initiative. Can lady Gaga please write us a new national anthem: America the horror movie.