The spectacle of a small group of American politicians forcing the suspension of the country’s government and state, provoking shivers of fear across the planet lest the superpower default on its loans, is both tragic and comical. Aristophanes would have loved the idea of a group of lawmakers exploiting their position to abolish the state they are sworn to serve. For Greece’s ancient tragedians, the vain indifference, the ignorance of dangers caused by our character and actions, was familiar material. So, how goes America? Is it the scene of comedy or tragedy? And why should we care?
If, after all the shouting, the fundamentalists of the Republicans’ Tea Party faction give in to the pressure of their more serious colleagues and raise their siege of the state, we will know that what we were watching was a comedy, or, at least, just one more absurd chapter in the evolution of the ever-evolving government system we call democracy. If, however, the self-congratulating, self-declared “rebels” stick to their guns, if the paralysis of the US government leads to a default, the consequences will be unpredictable and most probably tragic for very many people across the globe. We know this version from tragedy and from history – whenever people overestimate their capabilities and underestimate the risks.
The extremist Republicans’ reckless position undermines their country, making it appear unable to execute the most basic functions. This self-destruction, however, undermines their own party as well, because it divides it, its leadership is held hostage by extremists and most citizens blame it for the situation. And the protagonists’ sole argument is that shutting down the state and defaulting on payments are not as dramatic as their rivals claim. They are sailing into the unknown with hope their only compass. That’s how the Athenian fleet sailed to Sicily and to its destruction during the Peloponnesian War.
In Greece we care about what will happen in Congress, about how US President Barack Obama will overcome this problem without being forced to back down on healthcare reform – because this is what the fracas is all about: extremist Republicans opposing the idea of millions of poor Americans being entitled to health and medical benefits. We care because a default by the US would be an earthquake of unprecedented magnitude for the global economy, of which Greece is a leaf trembling on the edge of the precipice. We care most of all because a healthy American society and political system are important for the rest of the world. In our age, America is the example. Because democracy is a laboratory in which we must continually seek solutions for problems that arise, we know that if Washington finds a way to overcome the problems raised by vainglorious political windbags, we will all laugh. If we remain forever hostage to stupidity and opportunism, then tragedy will have no end.