Americans long mistook the institutional stability of their political system, guaranteed by the Constitution, for a national consensus. They actually believe that the former guarantees the latter - that institutional firmness and durability ARE the national consensus. The reverse, as we know, is true: it takes a national consensus to yield stable institutions. No social structure - no matter how venerable and veteran - can resist the winds of change in public sentiment.
Hurricane Katrina again demonstrated the unbridgeable divides in American society between rich and poor and black and white. But this time, the rift runs deeper.
The Bush administration is the first since the Civil War to dare to change the fundamental rules of the political game (for instance by seeking to abolish the filibuster in the Senate and by a profligacy of recess appointments of judges and officials). Its instincts and reflexes are elitist, undemocratic, and violent. It is delusional and its brand of fanatic religiosity is not well-received even among the majority of Americans who are believers. Additionally, it is openly and unabashedly corrupt and ridden with nepotism and cronyism.
Yet, Bush, unlike Nixon, is not an aberration. He is unlikely to be impeached. He was overwhelmingly re-elected even as his quagmire war in Iraq unraveled and the self-enrichment and paranoia of his close circle became public.
This is the new and true face of at least half of America, to the horror and dismay of the other half, its liberals. If the history of the United States is any judge, these two camps are unlikely to sit back and navel-gaze. Semi-failed states typically disintegrate. A bloodied (perhaps even nuclear) second civil war is in the cards.
Should the United States devolve into its constituent states, the world will breathe a sigh of relief. A European Union (EU)-like economic zone between the parts of the former USA is bound to be far more pacific and to contribute to world stability - something its malignant former incarnation had so signally failed to do.