In a nation that has arguably not been as divided and polarized since 1861, any issue, large or small, can be explosive. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo
Two days ago, America celebrated July 4th and its Declaration of Independence that proclaimed, "Whenever...government becomes destructive, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and to institute a new government."
If Thomas Jefferson were rewriting that document today, beyond broadening "all men" to "all people," one of the changes he might make would be to replace "destructive" with "disruptive." The reason is that disruption is threatening the future survival of American society and its political system as we know it.
The new MAD--Massive Attacks of Disruption--is putting not only America but the world at large at great risk. Consider this example: the war in Ukraine and Russia's illegal and unprovoked invasion of that country and attacks directed against innocent civilians. Clearly, the danger of escalation into a war with NATO exists. But worse, the war prevents Ukraine from exporting wheat, grain and other products that, along with sanctions against Russia, is creating the massive disruption of a food shortage crisis.
Hundreds of millions face starvation and death--a humanitarian catastrophe. That condition will create another massive disruption--a migration crisis. The Arab Spring and the Syrian war forced massive migration from North Africa and the Middle East into Europe, in turn, leading to political crises over accommodating refugees. Over 5 million Ukrainians are refugees. What happens when tens or hundreds of millions, fleeing starvation, arrive at European and American borders?
The United States already has a southern border crisis. Similarly, are European states prepared for this deluge of refugees? The answer is no. And who is watching this disruption closely? Russian President Vladimir Putin, who no doubt believes that starving people can do more damage in destroying Western cohesion than anything he can.
In the United States, the Supreme Court delivered a political broadside that could be as significant as the firing on Fort Sumter was in 1861. Regardless of whether one agrees or dissents with the court's decision to terminate Roe vs. Wade and return reproductive rights to "the people and states" and reverse New York's concealed firearm carry laws, the effect will explode into massive attacks of disruption in implementing those decisions.
Consider how these decisions will generate MAD.
Suppose a woman living in a state in that bans abortions had that procedure performed in a state where it was legal. Would the state prosecute on her return? Or would the state issue a warrant for her arrest if she remained out of state?
Does that sound familiar? It did in 1857 and the infamous Dred Scott case. The Supreme Court ruled that a slave residing in a free state still remained the property of his or her owner and must be returned if apprehended.
About legalizing concealed carry of firearms, how far does this "right" extend? Can one carry a concealed firearm on a subway? On an airplane? To a major public event, where tens of thousands are present? or even to the White House? And does the "right" of self-defense in the most extreme case enable one to bear and carry the most dangerous of weapons designed for war to include hand-held missiles and grenade launchers?
In earlier times, these questions would have been laughed out of court on the basis of yelling fire in a crowded locale just to generate a reaction. Will courts, many that are already overloaded with cases, have no choice but to allow criminals to go uncharged and released, be capable of dealing with an even greater workload? The answer is certainly no.
At home, inflation, unprecedented in decades, and gasoline prices are hugely disruptive to the well-being of hundreds of millions of Americans. In a nation that has arguably not been as divided and polarized since 1861, any issue, large or small, can be explosive. Congress's Jan. 6 hearings have disrupted the political order over whether a former president should be held accountable and even tried for crimes that could include conspiracy to commit sedition.
Over the past 246 years, the United States has faced many crises beginning with winning its independence from Britain. The Civil War was perhaps the most dire. Is it conceivable that today could be even worse?
That such a question can be raised is terrifying. From climate change to cyber, social media, debt, terror and pandemics, MAD is existential if we ignore it. And the most pernicious form of MAD is failed and failing government--the condition that paralyzes Washington and is infecting the nation's political, social and moral foundations.
Harlan Ullman is senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council, the prime author of "shock and awe" and author of "The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large." Follow him @harlankullman.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.