It’s 2018, and Germany has a roaring economy, universal health care, and an impressive infrastructure. China is building a world order that doesn’t center around us. France, the United Kingdom, and Canada are adjusting to life without an absolute alliance with us. Russia interfered in our elections, got away with it, and is being rewarded with Presidential summits. We have a President who is a reality TV star, who bankrupted a casino, and who tweets in all caps, LIKE THIS!
You’d have to pardon anyone wondering out loud if the story of American Exceptionalism that came out of the 20th Century was a myth.
While Europe built strong social-safety nets, Asia innovated, and Russia put their energy into mastering the internet, the United States built the largest military industrial complex in the world. While America built up corporate profits, built up a credit bubble, slashed taxes for the wealthy, and increased the income inequality gap, Germany went in the opposite direction, in a span of less than 30 years. While America assumed the success of the 1950’s and 60’s Civil Rights Movement, the electoral polarization that came from it became bad enough that Russia preyed on our racial tensions in interfering with our 2016 elections.
At the end of the 1980’s, the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union was in collapse, and China was “modernizing” their economy towards capitalism. Kids were taught about the progress that had been made by the Civil Rights movement in school. The 1990’s were a period of remarkable, broad-based economic success in America. The United States was considered the world’s greatest military superpower, and used that power and influence in places like the former Yugoslavian republics. We were instrumental in peace agreements in the Middle East, even bringing the Palestinians and Israelis together in the Clinton years. It seemed as though America had defeated the evil of the world, and was creating a peaceful, prosperous world order.
The 21st Century has to make us ask questions- children in cages, Iraq, white nationalists coming out of the shadows, Russian hacking of our elections, mass shootings with no government reaction, Abu Ghraib, tens of millions uninsured, massive student debt, Gitmo, sham summits with foreign dictators, no action on climate change, a massive bank meltdown, and so much more. Is the United States still making progress? Does our federal budget and government match our values? Have we made the right choices on how to spend our dollars? How did we squander the booming economy and budget surpluses we ended the 90’s with? How did we end up with a crumbling infrastructure, school shootings, a health care system that leaves millions behind, no plans for clean energy development and energy independence, white nationalists in the streets, school students testing out rather mediocre against other countries, but the largest military budget in the world, by leaps and bounds?
It is clear now that things were not quite what they once seemed, at least to me. It’s clear to me that our priorities for spending our collective dollars were wrong. It’s clear to me that Germany, who lost both World Wars, is set to be in a much stronger position moving forward than we are, 100 years after World War I. It’s clear to me that China has become far more effective and innovative at solving societal and global issues, without matching us in bombs. It’s clear that 30 years after the Cold War, Russia is effectively meddling in our elections, and causing America to damage itself. It’s clear to me that the successes of the Civil Rights movement have given way to a tyranny of the majority, where resentment and re-segregation is happening both politically and in regular life. It is entirely fair to me that we question how America spent it’s capital, it’s hard-earned global power. Rather than enriching our people, building a strong, stable society, we enriched the few and built a strong country for yester-year. Obviously in the short term, we have to defeat Trump, and get his ilk out of power. In the longer term, we have to reconsider our entire paradigm, ditch our toxically polarized politics, and reconsider the decisions and actions we’ve taken with our great power.