Saturday, September 30, 2023

Musings on the Manifest Destiny of America's Dysfunctional Democracy

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., September 30, 2023

America’s manifest destiny has been reshaped by a dysfunctional democracy that’s no longer globally dominant. It's facing a government shutdown, an unprecedented flood of illegal immigrants, a national debt of over $33 Trillion, and a president supporting a UAW strike for 40% higher wages for autoworkers that could cripple an already over-stressed economy.

America has maintained economic dominance in the world with its all-powerful dollar.  Only America can print dollars, and there is a powerful bond market to support America’s massive national debt.  That could change if the largest bond holders risk the value of their bonds to challenge the stability of the dollar by supporting an alternative world currency.

After America thought the West had won the Cold War and the War on Terror, Russia’s  unprovoked aggression in Ukraine and Chinese threats to reclaim Taiwan once again threaten nuclear conflict, while polarized partisan politics have caused a government shutdown in America.  Ironically, the rationale for Russia and China’s aggressive policies is their own version of manifest destiny.

Both America and Russia claim to be Christian democracies, but Christian morality has failed to provide global standards of military legitimacy, leaving a global moral vacuum.  America ignored standards of military legitimacy In Vietnam and Iraq, and the Russian Orthodox Church has ignored those lessons of legitimacy by endorsing Putin’s nationalist aggression in Ukraine.

The Law of War may not be a practical deterrent for violence since it requires arresting and trying a popular national leader.  While there is ample evidence that Putin has targeted civilian property and caused civilian casualties, he seems to have public support for his aggression in Ukraine, so the Law of War has not been a deterrent for his atrocities. 

American foreign policy has long supported both democracy and the rule of law, but they can be in conflict when leaders in a democracy are not held accountable for egregious violations of the Law of War, as in Hitler’s Germany and Putin’s Russia.  War crimes that go unpunished In a democracy are an indictment of the people as well as their leaders. 

A democracy is only as legitimate as its people make it.  The Russian people have failed to hold Putin accountable for his egregious violations of the Law of War.  America and NATO must continue to defend democracy in Ukraine and hold Putin accountable for his atrocities. Next Spring Russian elections will allow the Russian people to make their own regime change.      

America can no longer dominate the world, but it can make the world safer by promoting democracy and the rule of law based on humanitarian standards of political legitimacy.  Democracy makes people the masters of their own political destiny, but America has corrupted democratic ideals with its misplaced use of force, materialism and hedonism.  America’s manifest destiny in the future should promote democracy and political legitimacy with human rights and the Law of War.



America’s manifest destiny promoted American dominance.  It evolved in the 19th century, beginning with Jefferson’s Louisiana purchase in 1803, and then expanded Westward.

“Manifest destiny was a cultural belief in the 19th-century United States that American settlers were destined to expand across North America.[3][4][5]

There were three basic tenets to the concept:[6][7]

  • The special virtues of the American people and their institutions

  • The mission of the United States to redeem and remake the West in the image of the agrarian East

  • An irresistible destiny to accomplish this essential duty

Historians have emphasized that "manifest destiny" was always contested. Many endorsed the idea, but the large majority of Whigs and many prominent Americans (such as Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant) rejected the concept. The term was used by the then-Democrats in the 1840s to justify the Mexican–American War, and it was also used to negotiate the Oregon boundary dispute. Historian Frederick Merk says manifest destiny always limped along because of its internal limitations and the issue of slavery, and never became a national priority of the United States.[3] By 1843, former U.S. President John Quincy Adams, originally a major supporter of the concept underlying manifest destiny, had changed his mind and repudiated expansionism because it meant the expansion of slavery in Texas.[3]

Newspaper editor John O'Sullivan is generally credited with coining the term manifest destiny in 1845 to describe the essence of this mindset;[12] other historians believe the unsigned editorial titled "Annexation" in which it first appeared was written by journalist and annexation advocate Jane Cazneau.”[13][14”]

Manifest destiny was always a general idea rather than a specific policy made with a motto. Ill-defined but keenly felt, manifest destiny was an expression of conviction in the morality and value of expansionism that complemented other popular ideas of the era, including American exceptionalism and Romantic nationalism. Andrew Jackson, who spoke of "extending the area of freedom", typified the conflation of America's potential greatness, the nation's budding sense of Romantic self-identity, and its expansion.[15][16]  Yet Jackson would not be the only president to elaborate on the principles underlying manifest destiny. Owing in part to the lack of a definitive narrative outlining its rationale, proponents offered divergent or seemingly conflicting viewpoints. While many writers focused primarily upon American expansionism, be it into Mexico or across the Pacific, others saw the term as a call to example. Without an agreed-upon interpretation, much less an elaborated political philosophy, these conflicting views of America's destiny were never resolved. This variety of possible meanings was summed up by Ernest Lee Tuveson: "A vast complex of ideas, policies, and actions is comprehended under the phrase 'Manifest Destiny'. They are not, as we should expect, all compatible, nor do they come from any one source."[17]

On January 3, 1846, Representative Robert Winthrop was the first in a long line of critics who suggested that advocates of manifest destiny were citing "Divine Providence" for justification of actions that were motivated by chauvinism and self-interest. Despite this criticism, expansionists embraced the phrase, which caught on so quickly that its origin was soon inspired by the original European colonization of the Americas, and it excuses U.S. violence against Indigenous Nations.[32]

Another possible influence is racial predominance, the idea that the American Anglo-Saxon race was "separate, innately superior" and "destined to bring good government, commercial prosperity and Christianity to the American continents and the world". Author Reginald Horsman wrote in 1981, this view also held that "inferior races were doomed to subordinate status or extinction." and that this was used to justify "the enslavement of the blacks and the expulsion and possible extermination of the Indians".[31 

For further information on manifest destiny in US history, see

Today Russia seems to have a sense of manifest destiny similar to that of America: It’s Russia World rather than America First.  “Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church has described the war in Ukraine as nothing less than an apocalyptic struggle between good and evil. Its outcome, he said, will determine ‘where humanity will end up, on which side of God the Savior.’” Russian World (Russky mir) is the doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church and the moral foundation of Putin’s unprovoked war in Ukraine that is targeting civilians. 

“Inside Russia, Russkiy mir has found deep religious resonance, especially in the military. According to Dmitry Adamsky, an expert on the Russian military and professor at Reichman University in Israel, Orthodox clergy build troop morale and encourage patriotism. Russia’s official National Security Strategy, approved by Mr. Putin last year, devotes several pages to ‘the defense of traditional Russian spiritual-moral values, culture and historical memory.’ According to a study for NATO Defense College by Julian Cooper, a British scholar, the values in question are a mostly generic list including life, dignity, patriotism and strong families, but they are framed in contrast to those of the West, which encroach on Russia’s ‘cultural sovereignty….’“In a speech last fall, Mr. Putin deplored what he identified as prevalent cultural trends in Western Europe and the U.S., including transgenderism and ‘cancel culture.’ ‘We have a different viewpoint,’ Mr. Putin said. ‘We believe that we must rely on our own spiritual values, our historical tradition and the culture of our multiethnic nation.’ “A Moscow think tank headed by Patriarch Kirill, makes the connection explicit: ‘If the actions of our president to recognize [separatist regions in the Donbas] relate to the political, military sovereignty of Russia—that is, we are trying to stop the advancement of NATO, missiles on our borders—then the moral problems associated with the protection of traditional values are aligned, and they are no less important than political and military aspects.’”  See; cited in Musings on Civil Religion, Christian Nationalism, and Cancel Culture at

Robert Gates has described America as a dysfunctional superpower, and asked Can a divided America deter China and Russia?  “The United States now confronts graver threats to its security than it has in decades, perhaps ever. Never before has it faced four allied antagonists at the same time—Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran—whose collective nuclear arsenal could within a few years be nearly double the size of its own. Not since the Korean War has the United States had to contend with powerful military rivals in both Europe and Asia. And no one alive can remember a time when an adversary had as much economic, scientific, technological, and military power as China does today.

The problem, however, is that at the very moment that events demand a strong and coherent response from the United States, the country cannot provide one. Its fractured political leadership—Republican and Democratic, in the White House and in Congress—has failed to convince enough Americans that developments in China and Russia matter. Political leaders have failed to explain how the threats posed by these countries are interconnected. They have failed to articulate a long-term strategy to ensure that the United States, and democratic values more broadly, will prevail.”

Gates has accurately described the threat to America and what needs to be done to meet the threat, but given its divisive dysfunction, I doubt that America can restore its global dominance without a consensus that defies its polarized politics--and that seems wishful thinking.  See

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