America in Decline? What are you, kidding?

Like so many other subjective discussions, deciding
whether the most powerful nation on the planet is in decline is bound to kindle
a fire within all who rationally consider the premise. It simply cannot be. Or
can it?


Perhaps a starting point would be to think
seriously about what defines a consistently advancing society. Decline would be
the opposite of that, or so we might agree. Okay, then let’s define it and I
welcome any useful additions to that subject. But here are my thoughts for

An advanced society
is one that is fair and equitable to all of its participants, that values
education and enhances the chances of economic advancement at all levels (both
rich and poor), encouraging growth. Throw in an economic base (capitalism will
do nicely) along with a robust legal system, a system of social integration and
support with guaranteed personal freedoms and you’re pretty much there.

So how do we rate ourselves, using those
general terms as a scorecard?

Fair and equitable is a moving target. We’ve struggled with
that since our inception, beginning with the avoidance of our slavery issue as
the price for agreeing upon a Constitution that was (and is) highly regarded
throughout the world. America committed an ethnic cleansing against its native Indian
population, but it fought a brutal Civil War to overcome slavery. A hundred
years later Martin Luther King led a Civil Rights March with the grudging (but
then full) support of the nation. The Statue of Liberty’s torch seemed
brighter, but it’s been flickering in recent decades and, what with the CIA
disclosures and Edward Snowden’s revelations, I judge fair and equitable to be in
decline at the present.

Valuing education depends upon where you are socially and
economically. Our primary (K-12) schools are excellent in wealthy areas and
pretty much a shambles elsewhere. Teaching skills declined as we scorned those
who teach and separated schools from the parents who once supported them.
Busing in the name of ‘integration’ is largely responsible. Enjoying the finest
universities in the world, fewer and fewer can afford them and those who do so
often emerge to a shrinking job market and overwhelming debt. Certainly that
value is in decline since the 1950s when I attended university

Enhancing the chances of economic advancement at all
the dream upon which America was built and made of us the most powerful nation
on the planet. But without further comment, pretty much everyone agrees that
economic disparity is upon us, as the gap between wealth and poverty widens. Our
Middle Class is shrinking and in serious threat of collapse.

Encouraging growth is a matter of definition. America has
grown beyond our wildest dreams in terms of GDP. CEO of General Electric Jack
Welch was perhaps the nation’s most successful example of ‘encouraging growth,’
growing GE by 4000% in his 20 years at the helm. Aside from the fact that he
took GE down the toilet to $2 a share and then turned it over to Jeff Immelt
and retired, Jack remains a modern hero. America is doing fine in military
growth as well, as it now sops up 55% of our national budget. Considering that education
gets 6%, while energy and the environment must make do with half that and military
outlays rose from 7% to 55% in four decades, draw your own conclusions on whether
those priorities are in decline. 

Our capitalist economic base has taken us to
staggering simultaneous highs and lows. On the high side, the Dow-Jones market
indicator, which dropped to 6,547 in 2009, stands today at 17,935. Wow.

On the low
side, according to NBC News five million families lost their homes during that period and another three million are due to lose them. Unemployment, when one
includes the severely underemployed and those who remain jobless beyond government
statistics, approaches a more realistic 24%. Forty million Americans are one serious illness or
job loss from bankruptcy and nearly half of college graduates cannot find work.
You decide if that counts as a decline.

Our robust legal system works for those who can work it.
Privatized prisons work fine economically for those who contract to run them,
with occupancy rates guaranteed at 95% in a nation that incarcerates more
citizens per capita than any other. Meanwhile banks plead guilty to felonies and get off with fines and no jail time. Search and seizure laws across the
country illegally take hundreds of millions from innocent citizens and use the
proceeds to support their police departments—regardless of the 14th
Amendment that prohibits search without warrants. Our Supreme Court recklessly
enables unlimited corporate money to support what should be influence-free
elections. More than 60% of those in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities
and for Black males in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on
any given day. 

Police are victims as well, afraid of those who they are sworn to protect and militarized into an ‘us against them’ mentality. Brutality and fear are the understanding (but not acceptable) result. Not a good example of a robust legal system.

Social integration and support has fallen by the
wayside as States and the Federal Government are fighting unsustainable budgets
with cuts to services rather than raising taxes. The tax base that once
supported these services has corporately fled the country and personally
dropped to astounding lows among the well off. 

As citizens, we no longer pay
our way and yet the Supreme Court in its supreme wisdom gave corporations the
same rights as citizens—except in the matter of paying taxes. A corporation can
legally pay off the Congress through
lobbyists for preferential laws and pay their way into dominating elections without paying any corporate taxes. If
that’s a definition of social integration, I am an alien from Mars.

Guaranteed personal freedoms are slipping away, as
everything we communicate, everywhere we go and everything we do is tracked and
either sold for profit to corporate
interests or illegally shared with
the FBI, NSA or CIA. For letting us in on this dirty little secret, Edward
Snowden is marooned in Moscow (his passport revoked by America in Moscow Airport) as a
wanted man. The Founding Fathers were wanted men as well, but winning the War
for Independence freed them from that noose to guarantee independence for
American citizens. 

Whistle-blowers no longer share that independence and, if you
can’t blow a whistle against abuse in this country, how does free speech stand today?

The good news at the end of this long list of
worries is that America is a tough nation and we Americans are tough
individuals. Throughout our history we have consistently overcome periodic
declines to emerge stronger and more dedicated to our roots as a democratic

We will overcome this one as well. It’s in
our genetic makeup.

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