Is America Going Down the Potty?

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.

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Haven Pell

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation, Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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12 comments

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  • I think what Americans fear most is the rising influence of the Muslim religion and it’s Jihad against the secular government structure. Their migration throughout Europe and proclivity to repopulate at nearly 6 children per family could bring about political domination in a few generations. The threat of sharia law , or anything approximating such, may not be far off.

    America is not immune to such migration and those here are also repopulating insufficiently to overcome any new value systems promoted by immigrants. Fortunately, most immigrants to the US presently flow from Mexico and Central America, countries which are predominantly Catholic and share similar traditions to America.
    Politicians, especially Trump, are using Muslin religious zeal and their demonstrated willingness to kill to inflict their values on others in order to generate support to their campaigns. Muslim political control is probably the most realistic threat to “American greatness” and could be a mere few generations in the future unless corrective action occurs. What that action may be is rightfully discussed in political debate.

    • Nye wrote about America’s influence on the world more than he wrote about threats to America. He sees the Middle East as a significant problem to be resolved though I suspect he views it more as political than religious. Demagogues have used religion to their own ends for millennia and they are doing so now. Some are indeed serious threats though the fear of these threats is likely disproportionate to the likely casualties. I am curious where you might rank this threat in a list of all threats?

  • I have a difficult time accepting anything Joseph Nye says as useful simply because he is one of the thousands of elite “thinkers” who have got us in the situation we are in, whatever it may be. And he is a leftist.
    The threat of Islam is existential to the west. You may survive, but it will require all of the plasticity of thought you evidence occasionally. However, there will be a lot of American women wearing rugs and a lot of American men lacking heads.
    Please stop and think. These opponents will blow themselves up just to kill others. I read that one of the women terrorists in Paris shot her AK 47 and then detonated her explosives. The blast blew her head and spine out into the street. We need Vlad the Impaler on our side, not old Joe Nye.

    • The question he addressed was other countries supplanting the US in importance and his answer was no. This relates to other countries being a threat to our citizens which is an important but different question. Nye recognizes that what he refers to as the “Middle East” is the biggest challenge we have and that it is likely to last for generations.

      • Sorry. I was trying to address the question you raised in response to Bill’s comment. (The technology of “Reply” buttons apparently has eluded me.)
        With respect to the supplanting question: Apparently the question is, “Who would replace us?” The answer does not lie in an assessment of current capabilities but rather on an assessment of future capabilities. My money is on the Chinese. Their learning curve is rising rapidly. Ours is being wrecked by social justice warriors and other goodthinkers. See, e.g., Harvard’s placemats for a small but symbolic example.
        (By the way, I find it good to be reproved in the morning. I will try to be humble all day.)

  • The potty has been flushed, and we are in the sewer lines headed toward the settling ponds. We will get there sooner without those willing to fight for us. Thank you, sweet Jesus, for partisanship and gridlock!

    • Gridlock is the Constitution showing that it works. It is supposed to be hard an it is not supposed to reward those who want to trumpet achievements without doing that work.

  • Nicely constructed, Haven. I think you’re essentially right. Now if we could do something about the debt and the calcified partisanship–and which of those do we tackle first?

    • Gridlock is profitable if profits are measured by contributions. It would be interesting to see the Washington response if the debt market just said no more. Of course one would also have to stop the Fed from inventing money to buy Treasuries. The political parties would turn in to Sunnis and Shiites.

  • The current rift between the Dems and Repubs over replacing Scalia is just a preview. The Dems have done the same thing in the past. It’s just politics, which is arguing that the other side is wrong and responsible for everything bad that has ever happened and that they are the only hope for the future. The sides are so far apart at this point that compromise hardly seems possible, but it will have to happen. I hope it is before we have another catastrophe. The current presidential race is not very reassuring.