The secular religion of America is in disarray. Black Lives Matter disavow loyalty to the Constitution. Many Americans of various ethnicities have detached themselves from the bedrock beliefs that made this nation unique in the history of the world.
The former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, gave Congress an assessment of threats around the globe that amounted to an indictment of Obama’s failed foreign policy. A “literature of doom” was on the lips of the candidates for president in both parties. Donald Trump referred to America as a “mess.” “We don’t win anymore.” Bernie Sanders spoke of the unfairness in the political system where billionaires control the outcome. Even Hillary Clinton, who walked a fine line between supporting and criticizing the Obama administration, noted that there are “mounting challenges that have to be addressed.” Pessimism is on the rise.
A “shining city on the hill” that President Reagan exalted is enshrouded in fog. Despite many of the qualities it possesses, candidates and critics have conspired to tear down America in the eyes of the world.
Clearly the Obama foreign policy was interpreted by our enemies as a sign of weakness. Retreat and acquiescence are usually viewed that way. Now, however, perceptions run deeper. From Iran to China there is a belief the culture, i.e. the sinews of civil society, is tearing. In conversations, I have had with Chinese and Japanese nationals, there is a conviction that the U.S. is suicidal, a nation overdosing on metaphorical valium.
This is a view point buttressed by: a debt that has risen to 20 trillion dollars; extremist political language; a breakdown in the education system at all levels; families in distress and a fundamental ignorance of the national past. The bread and circuses atmosphere has led to serious misgivings of America as a serious nation – one that misunderstands its own interests and those of its allies.
Travel to the Middle East reinforced this opinion. Leave aside comments about Obama’s failed policies, there is a growing belief that there is a cultural cancer metastasizing throughout the American body-politic. The fact that a campaign for president on both sides of the political spectrum deals almost exclusively with failure, demonstrates this point. This is what many foreigners see in the United States today, notwithstanding the uplifting commentary in President Trump’s first address to the joint Congress.
The land of opportunity, of hope and virtue; the beacon of light across the ages for liberty has foundered on the shoals of self doubt. A loss of confidence is palpable. Xi, Putin, Khamenei recognize this condition in addition to recognizing Obama’s strategy of withdrawal.
Our founders understood this danger. George Washington argued: “If in the revolution of ages, virtue should give way to a corruption of morals, profligacy of manners and listlessness for the preservations of the natural and unalienable rights of mankind, then usurpation may arise upon the ruins of liberty… against which no human prudence can effectively provide.”
Here is the dilemma: we amuse ourselves into listlessness. And our enemies and friends sense it. The island of hope has become a nation of despair. We talk ourselves down and wonder why the U.S. isn’t appreciated. Hope has not evaporated, but the ability to recall the romance and achievement in our history have gone out of favor. That is a shame that awakens a call to action. For those who remember what America was recall the virtue, the liberty and the confidence this nation gave as gifts to the world. It helps to cite what America has accomplished in addition to what it might accomplish.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org
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