The cover article in the current issue of Atlantic magazine led me to consider the position of America in today’s world. Since the stock market crash of 2008, there have been too many near-apocalyptic news stories to count suggesting the decline of American civilization and its place in the world.
The writer of the piece, James Fallows, offers an explanation of how America can rise from its current status. He says, unequivocally, that America remains an enviable place in the world. But it doesn’t always appear that way. Since the last issue of The Spectator was printed, we’ve had a near-miss terrorist attack in Detroit, a Republican Senate victory in Massachusetts that threatens to derail any sort of health-care reform and some truly disparaging remarks about the earthquake that rocked Haiti two weeks ago.
Above all, does it matter if America remains the leading world super power? I’d say it probably does not. Ultimately, I trust America’s position in the world is in fine condition. As China and India’s economies grow, many worry that more and more American jobs will be shipped overseas. Unfortunately, that may be true, but it’s not a new reality. A larger world economy is a good thing for this country and others. The more equally income is distributed around the world, the better.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel abroad in my lifetime – from the United Kingdom to the mountains of Haiti – and appreciate the diversity of places outside the U.S., places that sometimes feel more civil and demure than the States. But I think we often overlook just what a fortunate place in the world we have made for ourselves. The fact that this newspaper, and any American press, has an entire amendment behind it to ensure its protection is an extraordinary and unparalleled feature of American politics. I won’t argue the more jaded and insidious points of the American media, but the fact that they exist at all, I think, is reason enough to celebrate.
A lot of talk recently has focused on President Barack Obama’s first year in office, a benchmark that probably means more to journalists than historians. All in all, I’d say he’s performed well so far, and has probably done more to help America’s image across the globe than harm it. No, he’s not the political messiah some hoped to elect, but he is mild-mannered and thoughtful, which I hope stands as a metaphor for America’s place in this new decade.
I’ve never been a bleeding-hart patriot. Somewhat sheepishly I’ll admit I don’t own an American flag – nor a lapel pin, for that matter. I’ve never knocked door-to-door campaigning for any candidate. But I do read newspapers, listen with a discerning ear and show up to the polls when it’s time to vote.
Maybe it’s because I’m young enough and still enclosed in the safe walls of a university, but I’m optimistic about this country’s future. I want what’s best for it and the American people. We’re not without our faults, which Fallows keenly points out when he writes, “. the American tragedy of the early 21st century: a vital and self-renewing culture that attracts the world’s talent, and a governing system that increasingly looks like a joke.” If there’s anything the health-care debate has taught us in the last several months is that the country’s political system has become so asinine and anachronous that it really is almost comical.
It’s no wonder the American public, let alone young people, are not engaged in politics: they know better than to entrust their elected officials to have any sort of rationality.
Here on campus, even, the Student Senate debate over the Blugold Commitment tested senators’ audaciousness to listen to student opinion or simply act based on their own interests. Ultimately, it’s pretty obvious how they chose to act.
Still, this university fits into a rich tradition of universities in America. In the US News and World Report list of best colleges in the world 2009, more than half of the top-10 universities are in the States.
So, thank you for bearing with me as I sort all this out. I hope this column will be a place to generate conversation, share opinions and seek some kind of truth together, hopefully with lots of caffeine.
The Grind is a weekly column. Taintor, The Spectator’s editorial editor, can be reached at