(2021) The United States is not in decline, it is reinventing itself. As long as its institutions hold steady, it will re-emerge better off. This is not wishful thinking. There is no external threat to the United States; not Russia, not China, nor anyone else. While it is true that the United States is no longer the world’s sole superpower — a title it only held briefly anyway, this does not indicate decline. It is simply dealing with internal issues that can no longer be ignored; and being the open society that it is, the whole world can witness it all in real time.
Are we witnessing the decline of a great power? There is even talk about the possibility of a second civil war. Given the never ending negative media narrative, the not-so-presidential debates, and the highly polarized political landscape, one can be forgiven for thinking the worst. And with these latest elections contested, its institutions are being put to the test, but they will hold. It is after all a country governed by the rule of law, backed by an army of lawyers, and most importantly a majority that wants to play by the established rules.
The facts are that the United States enjoys massive resource, and agricultural wealth. It has an abundant energy supply, a large industrious population, friendly neighbours, and a large number of powerful allies. It has massive scientific, technological, intellectual and innovative capital. It’s companies still dominate the global Fortune 500, and its Universities top the world’s best list.
Sometimes it reinvents itself violently, as in the 1860s civil war; at other times, via civil disobedience as in the 1960s, but it always comes through much improved.
The idea of America itself is not threatened either. As A. de Tocqueville wrote in 1835, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults”. If de Tocqueville were to tour the United States today, he would still recognize America, and its institutions through and through. He would observe the changing face of America with immigrant source countries now being mostly non-European. He would also observe that these new immigrants still overwhelmingly embrace what it means to be American.
The American system of checks and balances, its adherence to the rule of law, and the peaceful transition of power will endure in our times, because the American public stands behind its constitution, institutions and democracy. Despite civil unrest, complicated and rowdy elections, and not the smoothest transition of power, the Republic will continue, and the founders can certainly look on with pride at a system they designed nearly 250 years ago that has and continues to hold steady, although not entirely unscathed.
As for Covid, the US like the world will adapt. It had forgotten the 1918-1920 pandemic and was caught unprepared – its population not used to pandemics or mask-wearing, the way many East Asian countries have become accustomed to.
Its vital supply chain network will be re-engineered to ensure future shock-preparedness and accelerate self-sufficiency in sectors that are deemed of vital strategic importance.
All that having been said, it will also have to deal with the massive disparities in wealth and social inequalities that have emerged, or face protracted civil unrest or even more serious uprisings.
At some point a massive infrastructure investment will be made to upgrade and modernize America’s transportation and critical infrastructure. This will be on a scale we have not seen in a long time, possibly ever.
Unemployment and automation; education, health care, gun violence, racism (yet again) and inclusiveness as well as the debt will have to be addressed.
These are major challenges, but none are insurmountable.
When the economy open up post-covid, tensions will subside, and climate change will move to the top of the agenda, and all without a Civil War