America is Falling. by William Pfaff
Is the United States in
decline? You would certainly think so from the publishers’ lists,
although some of the new books, written by determined neo-
conservatives resisting indictment for complicity in causing the
decline, such as Robert Kagan, are arguing that it’s only a very
little decline, and temporary, and will end in November when the
Teapot boils. Certainly President Barack Obama forswears declinism.
Anyone who says that America is in decline, “or that our influence
has waned, doesn’t know what they are talking about,” he said in his
State of the Union Address.
Well…. Actually the only people who can really say that are those who
haven’t been to Europe or the major Asian states recently, where
everything works beautifully, even if Europe’s debts are not paid
off. The 200 MPH trains that criss-cross Europe not only run on
time but give you money back if they are late. The hotels in
Singapore, Tokyo and the Gulf surpass all rivals. Their national
airlines provide surpassing service, and even room enough to sit
comfortably in economy.
Even the American government luxuriates abroad. Have you ever been
an overnight guest in the visiting officers’ apartments of any major
American military base abroad? (Not in a combat zone, to be sure!) I
have. You can bet that everything works, every luxury and comfort
provided, every wish granted and whim gratified, as aboard Air Force
One. What great fun for the little Obama girls! The rest of us
usually fly economy.
Why the decline? First, globalization and what it did to destroy the
domestic American economy in which ordinary people live.
Globalization was the product of an economic ideology that said
removing all regulation would guarantee free markets that would
automatically produce maximum economic efficiencies, and consequent
profit, in every realm of human activity, except war and peace.
(Other priorities governed war and peace.)
Second, mindless oversimplification plus ignorance, following from
collapsing public education. The last has a cause that it has not
been politically acceptable to identify: the liberation of women. In
the United States, before the second World War, teaching in public (or
parochial) schools was virtually the only serious work open to
university-educated women. They educated America. They now have
other things to do, for which we give thanks. But the nation suffers
One such, which is not trivial, is the huge and credulous audience
that has been created for the political fantasies of talk radio and Fox
television demagogues. A consequence of that has been
the intellectual corruption of political debate, and the money
corruption of American political practice and government, which has
placed plutocracy in the saddle, with no visible way to unseat it.
All the agents of possible change, the Congress, the national and
state parties, broadcasting, and recently the judiciary, are now
intellectually and by personal and institutional interest committed
to the existing system. This is the visible manifestation of the
national decline that is apparent inside America, as well as to those
The external manifestation of decline, in the resigned gaze of
ordinary Americans, is China. People think there has to be a leading
nation: that is what we have learned from history. Rome ruled the
world. Then the British Empire did (this foreshortening is more or
less as history is being taught, when it is taught at all). The
Middle Ages, Reformation, and France and Napoleon, and the Russian
Revolution were mixed in there somewhere along the way. Then came
the two World Wars and Cold War, and we were the leading nation –
which is only right because we have the best values.
But now Asia looms up. We Americans thought we had settled Asia with
The Bomb in 1945. Here it is again, but instead of being an Asia of
ingenious and committed Japanese, or masses of peasants, it turns out
to be Modern China, which owns more than we like to think,
manufactures or processes most of what we buy, purchases
the raw materials of the world – and wants to build aircraft carriers, which
since Japan’s carriers were all sunk has been something that we
believed only the United States could do.
Shaken by this new Asia, the Obama government has responded (and I
would not dream of denigrating a matchless body of fighting men) by
sending the Marines to Australia, where we can be sure their presence
will give China’s strategists pause.
To end this article by being serious: Yes, the United States is in
decline. The matter is serious, for what it means to the character
and future of the nation itself, rather than to its mere rank,
reputation and power in the world. The United States is wasting its
traditional values, selling its birthright, as did Esau, for a mess
of pottage. As the readers of Genesis know, to do so is most imprudent.
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