I was listening to an interview with a libertarian yesterday which was very revealing to the American psyche. He basically didn't want the government to do anything because he assumed that the private sector or the religious sector would do it better. His example was New Orleans - it took FEMA three days to get there while religious organisations were there within a day (Cuba offered to have trained hurricane-relief doctors there within hours - the US ignored their offer). And once there FEMA was useless. Obviously, he said, the government is inept. Well... the Bush administration is inept, FEMA used to be outstanding before the reorganisation into Homeland Security in 2003. 60% of the Netherlands is under sea level, yet the government there has competently protected the entire country with flooding defences able to withstand a once in 4000 year flood (or a once in 10 000 year flood in Zeeland).
Maybe more Americans should consider that while they voted in an inept government, government in general can be extremely capable. Sure, I'd be anti-tax too if I knew that my tax dollars were going to support military spending larger than the rest of the world put together but wouldn't pay for decent education or health care. But where does this blind faith in the private sector come from? The government has failed America (or have Americans have failed America by electing administrations who believe that government shouldn't do anything?), but so too has the private sector. The free market capitalists were dead wrong when they assumed that health care, education and crime would all be sorted out by market forces - although they seem to conveniently ignore America's highest level in the developed world in infant mortality, illiteracy and violent crime.
The link with religion in America appears to be both cause and effect. Religion has aggressively pushed out secular institutes common in other developed countries in order to establish themselves as the sole source of community. Likewise the withdrawal of government from its basic functions has left a hole that draws religion in. If religious groups want to help out in emergencies that is fantastic, the secular organisations of the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres do so and any help is appreciated. But do we really want religious groups to run emergency relief? I mean Jerry Falwell blamed September the 11th on "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America" and Pat Robertson blamed it on "no prayer in our schools". Michael Marcavage, the director of Christian group Repent America, said about Hurricane Katrina, "We take no joy in the death of innocent people. But we believe that God is in control of the weather. The day Bourbon Street and the French Quarter was flooded was the day that 125,000 homosexuals were going to be celebrating sin in the streets. We're calling it an act of God."
I think American politics and religion is caught up in a viscous cycle. Government failure leads to the election of administrations that don't believe government has any role in improving America, and they fulfil this prophercy with more government failure. Religion takes on the role of saviour during government failure, and pushes for government to shift even further out so they can expand their influence and total domination over entire communities. It is almost like a regression to the 17th century in Europe, where goverment existed solely to wage war, and provided no services, while religion had an iron-clad grip over communal life, and could therefore dictate acceptable behaviour with the threat of withdrawing all aspects of social life, education and health. It is sad to see a once great country struggling to undo the Enlightenment and the powerlessness of educated intelligent Americans to stop these forces destroying their country.