Thursday, February 17, 2011

VDH - on the decline

Decline is in the Mind
It’s over? Really?

In the last two years, we have a heard a constant litany of “decline,” as in America is over as it once was. Fifth-century AD Rome is often evoked, as are the contemporary economic miracles in China and India to “prove” inevitable American waning. A few of the more imaginative declinists see us as Justinian’s Byzantium, a crumbling power vainly trying to hold on to a world long lost, with a Detroit no different from a half-populated failing Byzantine city in the Levant. This time around — remember our past serial crushing by the supposedly superior Soviet system of the 1950s, the Japanese, Inc. ascendancy of the 1970s, the EU soft power dominance of the 1980s, and the present Chinese supermen of the 21st century — we really, really, really are through, as if semi-literate suburban lounging American teens, with baggy pants, ears plugged with hip-hop, and sleeve tattoos will soon be slaving away to satisfy their new growling Tiger Mom People’s Republic bosses.

The gloomy prognoses come from both the anguished conservative who sees the culprit as the erosion of American individualism and self-reliance, and the new Obama coalition that thinks a sense of exceptionalism abroad is synonymous with arrogance and imperialism, and at home was symptomatic of an inherent unfairness, a downright mean country that, thank god, had to change. The one gags at the foul whiff of decline, the other sees it as an aroma of welcome reset. Both confess it is here, both unwelcomed and welcomed.

For the conservative, the depressing symptoms are staggering debt, as in the Obama administration plans to equal all the red ink of all prior administrations in nearly five or six years of planned governance (at $1.6 trillion a year that is not a hard thing to do). Surely, the president’s legacy for the next quarter-century will be ubiquitous line graphs and pie charts proving in an eye blink that the Obama administration was the mother of all borrowers. There is more, of course. We awoke one morning and suddenly General Motors was analogous to the Postal Service, its suspect, now politically incorrect competitors the far better run Fed-Ex-like Toyota or Ford. Abroad the bows, the apologies, the euphemisms for terrorism, the realignment to embrace enemies and snub friends, the deer-in-the-headlights, make-it-up-as-you-go-along diplomacy — all that was the unfortunate result of a larger desire to take the U.S. down a needed peg or two in a new multilateral fashion.

In this present age, no one in this administration in the abstract can explain why Israel is a more humane place than Syria — and why that fact deserves our preference. Or why Japan plays more by the rules than does China, or why Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic deserve our empathy and support in a way Russia does not. Or why a jail in Guantanamo is more humane than any outside the fence in Cuba. (In truth, the inmate at Gitmo has access to better food, health care, and freedom of religion than the “free” man in Castroland). In short, traditionalists are aghast at the last two years, and see it as a sort of gangrene that has spread from a long festering but heretofore treatable old wound.
I really didn't plan to copy this much of it, but there is more, much more. Go read it all.

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