One to two hundred years from now, historians will point to the end of the Twentieth Century and the first half of the Twenty First as the time that the United States ceded its global leadership to China and a menagerie of other nations. Basically, the timeline of my life.
Why? Because we’re losing economic momentum and China and other countries are gaining it. It’s only a matter of time before the “X” and “Y” axes cross.
And with our loss of economic momentum, people and institutions are under ever greater pressure. Economic anxiety compels more and more people to prioritize their self interests to the detriment of the common good.
For the first time in a long time, parents worry that their children will not live as comfortably and securely as them. Add to that the recent damage done to our political institutions which were integral to our Twentieth Century rise. Peaceful transitions of power can’t be assumed any longer. Legislators cannot compromise to invest in green energy and physical and social infrastructure.
Consequently, our roads are rutted and many, many international airports lap our own aging ones. At the Winter Olympics, China showed off it’s new bullet trains that go 217 mph, not quite up to Japanese speeds, but give them time.
Don’t interpret this as idealizing China, because there’s a lot more to quality of life than economic growth. There’s a sense of safety, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom to protest, equal opportunities, a healthy natural environment, physical and mental well-being, and support for the most vulnerable. China fails on many of those fronts. Increasingly, the U.S. does too.
Apart from our failing infrastructure, we imprison a larger percentage of our population than anyone. Our response to Covid has been “worst in the world” especially when adjusted for our economic status. Many use alcohol and drugs to escape and more and more of our children suffer from anxiety disorders and depression.
For the historically astute, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Greatness has always been fluid. Tides rise and tides fall. Our aristocracy, the top ten percent who are thriving economically, don’t realize a lower tide lowers all boats. That it is in their enlightened self interest to reduce the income and wealth gap. To reduce the vulnerability of the least fortunate among us.
Our problem is we don’t think in terms of generations or hundreds of years. The aristocracy thinks they’ll be fine and they work tirelessly to make sure the same is true of their children. Talk of environmental degradation and climate change, is mostly just that, talk.
I’m not immune from that self-centered myopia. I think to myself, if I can just keep running in Priest Point Park, keep cycling on Mount Rainier, keep swimming in Ward Lake, keep eating healthy food, keep drinking craft beers with good friends, all is good. Which does nothing to slow the country’s decline.
But then again, history suggests the decline is inevitable.
The take-away for my international friends? If you have the United States on any sort of pedestal, update your thinking. If we ever were a light upon a hill, we are not now.