The ori­gins of Amer­i­can in­ci­vil­ity and fear

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

One of the more strik­ing things about the United States is the sense that it is in de­cline. Don­ald Trump’s main theme is that he would make Amer­ica great again and that it has been in se­vere de­cline over the last decades. It was an ef­fec­tive cam­paign theme be­cause it touched on a deep Amer­i­can dread. In Europe you will find a dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­ity, which is that while Europe has prob­lems, they are noth­ing com­pared to the prob­lems in the past – the Soviet threat, Nazi Ger­many, the mass slaugh­ter of World War I. Euro­peans look at their past and are grate­ful to be liv­ing when they are. Many Amer­i­cans feel a sense of a lost great­ness and a loom­ing catas­tro­phe.

This sen­si­bil­ity is not new. Dur­ing the 1970s, there was a deep and oft stated sense that Amer­ica was in de­cline. At the end of the Viet­nam War the enemy’s flag flew over a cap­i­tal we had been de­fend­ing. Dur­ing the same time, there was a mas­sive so­cial and cul­tural di­vide. The cul­ture of the low­er­mid­dle class and that of the grad­u­ates of the best uni­ver­si­ties were in sharp con­trast. On the whole, it was the lower mid­dle class that fought the war and sup­ported it. The uni­ver­si­ties were the cen­tre of anti-war sen­ti­ment and con­tempt for those who sup­ported the war. The con­tempt was mu­tual. The eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion was cat­a­strophic for many. Un­em­ploy­ment and in­fla­tion were both around 10% for a good deal of the decade. In­ter­est rates were in the high teens, and buy­ing a house was out of reach for many. At the end of the decade came the Ira­nian Rev­o­lu­tion, with Ira­ni­ans tak­ing Amer­i­can diplomats hostage and the United States help­less to pro­tect them. The dis­as­ter at Desert One fol­lowed – a task force sent to res­cue the hostages col­lapsed, with planes de­stroyed and men dy­ing be­fore the res­cue at­tempt be­gan.

The sense of de­cline was ram­pant. It could be seen in crime and de­cay in the cities, the surge in Ja­panese ex­ports to the United States, and the sense that the Baby Boomer gen­er­a­tion, un­able to set­tle into fam­ily or ca­reer, was de­stroy­ing the fab­ric of so­ci­ety. The feel­ing was that the Ja­panese were surg­ing ahead of the United States eco­nom­i­cally, the Sovi­ets were surg­ing ahead mil­i­tar­ily and we were held in con­tempt by the world.

That was some 40 years ago and clearly the sen­si­bil­ity was wrong. What fol­lowed was the Ja­panese eco­nomic cri­sis, the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, re­cov­ery of the hostages from Iran and the United States emerg­ing as the only global power. In­ter­est rates plunged, as did in­fla­tion, and we came into a pe­riod of in­tense in­no­va­tion and eco­nomic growth.

Hav­ing passed through the 1970s, as we did, it would seem rea­son­able that it would serve as a bench­mark. A lost war, an ex­tended eco­nomic cri­sis and so­cial stress had not led to catas­tro­phe. Yet, there are few lessons taken from the 1970s to pro­vide some per­spec­tive. Sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances are ex­pected to yield the same dreaded dis­as­ter.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cyprus

© PressReader. All rights reserved.