There seems to be a general perception of America and its permanence as a dominant global power will not, or should not, last much longer. One particular view, and the most common of all, is that the United States is declining economically, politically and socially. This is exactly what James Fallows expresses in one article published in 2010 called How America Can Rise Again.
Fallows finds amusing that the idea of a declining America has been around ever since the foundation of the country, yet the collapse never seems to happen. His article is full of examples of how intellectuals, politicians, scientists and people in general have always seen obvious signs that the greatest democracy in the world is about to fail. This view has been so recurrent that, according to Cullen Murphy, if one goes through American history, there is no point in time where the loss of values, the affluence of immigrants, the waning of industries, and the deficient education system have not been taken as sufficient evidence that the country is about to fall. This includes examples of European settlers during the early colony years and even founding fathers being overly pessimistic about the future of the new land and its people.
It is interesting that Fallows asserts that this gloomy trait is what makes Americans always try harder and ultimately come out stronger than ever after every crisis. But, this negativity has always been present in every civilization and time in history. One only has to go back to ancient Mesopotamian writings such as the Dispute Between a Man and his Ba, or the works of Pliny the Elder, to see that apocalyptic visions and ominous predictions have been as common as plagues and wars. Fallows should not attribute this trait specifically to Americans or, as this article seems to hint, make it seem as their specific and unique strength.
This Americanization of traits continues when he asserts that “the expectation of jeremiad is so deeply ingrained in Americans’ political consciousness that it might seem to be universal. In fact, most historical accounts suggest this is a peculiar trait of our invented political culture” . He seems to forget how Prewar Europe leaders rose to power, or how Latin American political campaigns have always been .
Nonetheless, he makes a good point when he reminds his readers that the best way to advance is to have a clear idea of what America could be doing better. It is always nice to be reminded that, even when there have been great economic crises and conflicts in American soil have arisen, the living standards its citizens are relatively higher than those of other so called emerging economies. In contrast, other not so powerful countries have surpassed the United States in terms of services and technology. Some people would take that as a sign that America could be on its way to lose its privileged position of world power anytime soon. But Fallows argues that this feeling to be lagging is exactly what drives Americans to achieve great things in the end, and there is no better way to do things than to see what needs to be done or what others are doing better. This introspection has made the United States so resilient, even in times where the government was not fulfilling its role in society.
Ironically, despite all the evidence provided by Fallows that America always comes out victorious no matter how bad things are run by the government, he seems to hint that this time the country is doomed if a revolution does not save it. He even calls for a constitutional change to restore democracy, forgetting that a democracy was not what the founding fathers wanted for this country. His article could be seen as an apology for a tyranny of the masses, as he cautiously calls for a reorganization of the parliament houses to give more weight to populous states. He is of course right about the evils present in politics nowadays, but his proposals are eerily reminiscent of those taken by Bolivarian revolutionaries in modern South America.
Although Fallows finds that a country with a long revolutionary history such as China does not offer its citizens a quality of life comparable to that of the Americans, he seems to be of the idea that a great leader or powerful group of wise tyrants, a la Mao, is what would save this country. Others would say that it is better to trust more in traditional solutions akin to what the founders had in mind, and that are being slowly copied by other international actors , such as federalism, government limitation and market freedom, to foster American creativity and innovation spirit.
Fallows, J. (2010, January 1). How America Can Rise Again. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/01/how-america-can-rise-again/307839/1/
Mills, A. (2011). Federalism in the European Union and the United States: Subsidiarity, Private Law and the Conflict of Laws. University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, 369-455.
Murphy, C. (2007). Are We Rome? New York: Mariner Books.
Oppenheimer, A. (2001). Basta de Historias. Buenos Aires: Mondadori.