9.27.2021

Is the United States a Country in Decline?

traffic sign decline

I recently found myself watching two different mainstream news shows on two different channels with two different political bents where this issue was raised. On one, a conservative commentator explicitly described the U.S. as "a country in decline." While the more liberal commentator sitting at the table did not overtly say so, he appeared to agree with this characterization. On another, a liberal commentator said basically the same thing. There was not a conservative voice at the table, but none of the other liberal or moderate voices disagreed. What struck me in both cases was how this statement about the U.S. being a country in decline was made in such a matter-of-fact way, almost as if it had become the accepted view rather than a minority opinion. And while I recognize that my sample is far too small to generalize beyond it, I couldn't help but wonder if this sentiment can now be found across the political spectrum.

Of course, it is important to recognize that two people of very different political orientations could agree that the U.S. is in decline for vastly different reasons. A liberal commentator might think that images of mounted police whipping refugees along the Southern border is sufficient evidence of pervasive decline all by itself. A conservative commentator might think that polls showing a general decline in the proportion of the population who identify as Christian or that Americans are somewhat less enthralled with a particular "holy" book than they used to be is all the evidence anybody would need to justify such a statement. Perhaps "decline" reflects little more than an individual's overall impression of the distance between where we are and where they'd like us to be.

I'm sure there are more objective indices of decline, but I'm equally sure that which ones were deemed important enough to use would vary based on one's political orientation. To select just one example, many on the right would likely suggest that the fact that Roe v. Wade has not yet been overturned is evidence of decline, while many on the left would likely suggest that the fact we still have to worry about Roe v. Wade being overturned is evidence of decline. The same would probably apply to all sorts of other issues (e.g., same-sex marriage). Even if we tried to rely on something like the influence of the U.S. globally or comparisons of the U.S. with other countries on various metrics for which international data exist, I'm not sure we could agree on how to interpret that information. Many liberals look at comparisons with other countries on something like health care or public acceptance of science that many conservatives dismiss.

Political dysfunction is one area that stands out to me as a decent indicator of decline. For a variety of reasons, our political system does not seem to be working as intended. Even when there are problems that almost everyone agrees are problems, we appear unable to solve them. And this is true even for the rare kind of problems where a large majority of the public supports specific solutions. It seems fairly clear that this is a flaw in the system that was not envisioned by those who designed it.

Another broad indicator seems to be the so-called "American dream" we used to hear so much about. Young people can no longer expect to be better off than their parents. This isn't a new phenomenon, but it seems to be one of many that we are content to ignore. The moment this one hit our radar, it should have been a wake-up call. We hit the snooze button and have continued to do so. And now, we're even losing ground on a marker as basic as life expectancy!

In my opinion, the United States is a country in decline. That doesn't mean that we haven't made some progress in some areas or that we won't continue to do so. It also doesn't mean that our decline cannot be slowed or even reversed. That strikes me as unlikely in the short-term but possible with major reforms in the long-term. We have many challenges before us, and one of the big ones seems to involve adjusting our impressions of ourselves to reflect our current reality without descending into the sort of hopelessness and apathy that will accelerate our decline. Perhaps our "salvation" lies in humanism.

Update: For a different take on whether the U.S. is a country in decline, check out this post from Infidel753.