Victor Davis Hanson: What America Does Best
We are in a fresh round of declinism — understandably, after borrowing nearly $5 trillion in less than three years and having very little to show for it. Pundit strives with op-ed writer to find the latest angle on America’s descent: We are broke; we are poorly educated; we are uncompetitive; we have gone soft; our political institutions are broken; and on and on. The Obama administration does its part, with sloganeering like “reset,” “lead from behind,” “post-American world,” and America as exceptional only to the degree that all nations feel exceptional.
This is not new. In the late 1930s, the New Germany and its autobahns were supposed to show Depression-plagued America how national will could unite a people to do great things. After all, they had Triumph of the Will Nuremberg rallies; we still had Hoovervilles. They flew sleek Me-109s; we flew lumbering cloth-covered Brewster Buffaloes. We, the victors of a world war, were determined never to repeat it; they, the losers, were eager to try it again.
In the 1950s, Sputnik and the vast spread of Communism through the postcolonial world were supposed proof of the efficiency and social justice of Communism and the rot of capitalism — the inevitable denouement of the 20th century. Sputnik soared, even as our ex-Nazi scientists could not seem to make our rockets work. They had Uncle Ho and Che; we had Diem and the Shah. Their guys wore peasant garb and long hair; ours, sunglasses and gold braid....
Why does the United States continue to reinvent itself, generation after generation, to adapt to a radically changing world? Our ancestral Constitution checks the abuse of power and guarantees the freedom of the individual — all in transparent fashion. And our habits and customs that have evolved over two centuries are grounded in the human desire to be judged by what we do rather than what we look like, or under what circumstances we were born — a fact that explains our vibrant and sometime crass popular culture. The essence of our culture is constant self-critique and reexamination — a messy self-audit that so often fools both ourselves and our critics into thinking that our loud paranoia about decline, rather than our far quieter effort to arrest it, is the real story of America
In short, the 21st century will remain American.
comments powered by Disqus
- Five Things You Need to Know to be a Better Digital Preservationist
- Book on Losing British Generals Wins American History Prize
- Stanford scholar explores civil rights revolution's positive impact on the South's economy
- Harvard Historian Nancy Koehn on Amazon's Tentacular Reach
- Q&A with historian and author Nick Turse