If you have ever sold anything, you know how effective it can be to scare the bejesus out of your customer then tell him you have just the thing to solve his new-found problem. In politics, the “just the thing” is you.
This is the reason we now have so many candidates telling us they are “fighting for” us and we must “stand with” them. It is irrelevant that they are fighting for us about a previously unknown matter.
Though there are many subtle variations aimed at different audiences, in one way or another we are all being asked is America going down the potty?
One version of the question asks “Is The American Century Over?” and it is worried about so much that Joseph Nye, a crème de la crème member of the foreign policy establishment, decided to use it as the title of his recent book. Short book, 127 pages, published by Polity Press and well worth the read. If you have a chance to hear Joseph Nye speak, as I did recently, don’t miss it.
There is some dispute as to when the American Century began. It might have been as early as the end of World War I but it was surely no later than the Henry Luce essay in Time magazine in 1941. If the former, we might be getting close to the end but even that glum prediction would imply that countries and their centuries are somehow the equivalent of “The Deacon’s Masterpiece or, The Wonderful ‘One Hoss Shay’: A Logical Story,” by Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it — ah, but stay,
The end of the American Century implies decline, but first you have to decide just what you mean by decline if you plan to be persuaded that America is in it.
There is absolute decline as in going out of business. We probably don’t need to “stand with” any candidate “fighting for” us on that one but, if you think we do, these few hundred words won’t convince you.
The other kind of decline is relative. Are we staying as far ahead of other countries as we might once have been? Here the answer is often “no” but then we’d have to ask if that is really a bad thing?
Don’t we want other countries to improve their standing? In the last 50 years, world poverty has been reduced more than at any other time in human history. If that reduces America’s market share of this or that, it seems a price worth paying.
America maintains its world leadership through hard and soft power.
Hard power is military. It frightens. It comes entirely from governments. Before World War I, it was British policy to have a Navy no smaller than the size of the next two. The US Navy is the size of the next 17 though it is smaller than it once was.
Soft power is the ability to influence. It persuades. It comes primarily from sources other than governments. This we do through diplomacy, culture, innovation and relationships. Of 150 major countries 100 are aligned with the United States and 21 are aligned against it.
Even if we were in one or the other of the two kinds of decline, who would replace us?
Worried about Russia are you? They would love to have our diverse economy and our growing (thanks to immigration) population rather than their oil dependency and declining numbers. Russia could actually lose its Far East with but 6 million people to China’s nearby 120 million who could easily slip over the non-existent border between the two. Maybe that is the place for Donald Trump’s beautiful wall?
Is China your concern? If so, why are they stealing our technology instead of us stealing theirs? Why are hundreds of thousands of their students coming to our universities (US has 17 of the world top 20) and virtually none of our students going to their universities (0 of the top 20)? Yes their economy might by some measures become larger than ours but this is driven by their having three times the number of people that we do.
Nye goes on to point out challenges that prevent Europe, Japan and even Brazil from achieving world domination, but it is all in his persuasive book.
By now, the fear-selling politician is back on his heels because his fear selling isn’t getting to the desired stand-with-me decision. “So, Nye thinks we are perfect does he,” says Mr. I’m Fighting For You.
He doesn’t. He worries about the same things we all should because they reduce the United States to far less than it could be.
His concerns include: gridlock, partisanship, debt, economic growth, demography, adventurism in the Middle East (a problem he believes will take generations to resolve), government’s reaction to its declining role, but mostly the inability of the US political system to cope with these challenges.