Thursday, November 28, 2013

Is The Great American Experiment Over?

Today, as Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, and Canada gives thanks that we are our own country (with better healthcare, low crime, and no guns), it is appropriate to ask if the great American empire is in decline.

Great empires fall in many ways. Some fall over night, much to the surprise of everyone. A good example of the former would the USSR, which crumbled almost overnight in 1989 - 1990 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. No one could believe the USSR would collapse so thoroughly, and it did. An ancient example of this would be the Sassanid Empire, which at one point was poised to gobble up the Romans, controlling Damascus, Jerusalem and parts of Egypt. Yet, almost overnight (in historical terms), in merely a decade or two, it collapsed so thoroughly and was taken over by the Rashidun Caliphate.

Other great empires take their time to decline. The decay and stagnancy is known to all for sometime, yet the empire still continues to be a force to reckon with. Until, at a critical moment in history, it simply ceases to be a power. Two great examples of this would be the Roman Byzantium empire and the Ottoman empire. The Romans would gain and lose territories in wars for over a thousand years, before slowly continuing to wield less and less power, until the Ottomans ended their misery. The Ottomans in turn were at their peak under Suleiman the Magnificent, after which the rot set in and they were referred to as the "Sick Old Man of Europe".

Others may appear dead, yet rise like a phoenix from the ashes. A good example of the later would the Russian Federation, the successor state of the USSR. No one could predict Russia would once again be a strong force in 2013, and it is.

The question is, which scenario fits the United States of America?

The signs of stagnation have been there for some time. America's political system is broken. The parties hate each other and block each others' legislations on the slightest pretext. Lobbying, which is another form of legalized bribes, is paramount - money talks. China has overtaken the US in terms of academic papers published. Manufacturing has mostly gone over seas. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is huge (the so called 1% 99% divide). For the first time in generations, the incoming generation is going to earn less, carry more debt and have less benefits than the previous generation. The population is growing older. America's foreign influence and power is on the wane, as new, young nations start to throw their weight around. They have a leader who seems to have embraced this new status quo as inevitable.

And, yet, it's not all gloom and doom for an American.

First, the United States of America has an enviable and unsurpassed military strength. Their armed forces are stronger than the next few nations combined, and have a huge technological lead over their rivals. I was recently in San Diego, and had the occasion to visit a naval aircraft carrier. The power and might of this ship, now decommissioned but used as late as the war on Iraq, demonstrates the capability of the US to strike anywhere in the globe in a manner unprecedented in history. And this is just their federal forces. Their National Guard and the reserves alone could defeat the armies of many other nations. Combined.

Second, while the strength of the Chinese (current) or the Soviets (former) comes from a projected show of force, from the dictatorial leadership at the very top, America's power comes from values. Every American believes in freedom and everything that entails, and it's their shared values system and self belief that has driven this nation forward. For a Chinese, their government is the power. For Americans, the government derives its power from the people. That is a powerful weapon to have.

America has seen dark times before. Vietnam nearly turned the country into a recluse. The second Iraq war and the needless in fighting between the right and left drove them to near bankruptcy. Yet, they have always managed to turn around quickly, and sharply. There's no reason to believe that behavior is going to stop. Yes, there are now more upstart nations such as India and China on the horizon, but they still have a long way to go.

As long as every American believes the union is still worth fighting for, as long as every state believes it's better to be in the union rather than try to wing it alone as a state, as long as they have their military might without getting sucked into a deadly, vicious, bloody war, there is no reason to believe America is even close to beginning their decline. I don't see them falling any time soon.



Mohammad said...

There is this mindset among some Americans; not sure whether to call it rightwing/conservative/traditional/TeaParty, but that mindset seems to be behind many of the issues that plague America; as observed by a Canadian/Brit/European/outsider.
Some of the common broad beliefs among such people include:

1) If you are poor, it is your fault alone and you should not expect any help from society because you are poor because you are lazy
2) Europe/Canada are socialist countries where people pay too many taxes and the govt dictates every aspect of your life

3) Global Warming is a myth
4) It is perfectly ok for children to handle guns and the solution to gun massacres is to to have more guns
5) A company's only responsibility is to its shareholders.
6) People who are among the 1% are rich because they are hard working. Any American can become part of the 1% if they work hard.

mezba said...

@Mohammad, agree.