Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Myth of America's Decline

There has been much written of late about America's decline.  There seems to be hysterical nostalgia for the 'good old days'.  Frank Rich writes thoughtfully about the topic in the latest issue of 'New York', the magazine, in a piece entitled, "Mayberry RIP".

Rich points out that the declinist panic is nothing new in America.  He refers us to political scientist Samuel Huntington who points out, in the Journal of Foreign Affairs recently, at least five other decline panics in recent decades. The first being the Sputnik moment of 1957, then the economic rise of Europe and Japan in the late sixties, the OPEC oil shock of the 1973, and a cornucopia of woes of the 1970s (Watergate, defeat in Vietnam, and the Iranian hostage crisis).  He then reminds us of the celebrated peace, booming economy and surpluses during the Bill Clinton years, only to be followed by the tech bubble burst and market crash, soon to be follow by 9/11.

Rich seems to feel much of the decline hysteria revolves around a sustained and rabid opposition to President Obama, a culturally 'different' President.  Intertwined is a new concept coined by 'the right' as 'American exceptionalism' which, in the eyes of  'the right', is a concept to which this 'different' President does not seem to subscribe.  The 'American exceptionalism' idea is actually a proxy for patriotism, as coined by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, of course, a concept used to plant doubts about the President, a concept, bought into by the less thoughtful 'far right' in America only, who are already predisposed to dislike the President.

I leave you with Rich's closing thought as he ties his theme of the declinist panic into the Mayberry theme:

"Lost in all our declinist panic is the fact that the election of an African-American president is in itself an instance of American exceptionalism—an unexpected triumph for a country that has struggled for its entire history with the stain of slavery. “Only in America is my story even possible,” Obama is understandably fond of saying, knowing full well that as recently as the year of his birth, 1961, he would not have been welcome in Mayberry, let alone the White House. That his unlikely rise has somehow been twisted into a synonym for America’s supposed collapse over the past four years may be the most disturbing and intractable evidence of our decline of all."

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