Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tomthemick@gmail.com

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

American Shrinkage


America is in decline economically, militarily, culturally, morally, educationally - choose your area. Guess I could include athletically as well given that, at this writing, we’re number 7 in gold medals at the Winter Olympics so far, but that’s not so important. Economists expect China to pass us in a couple of years. Generals at the Pentagon worry that we may become unable to defend our Pacific allies against China if present trends continue. The cultural, moral and educational pieces are the causes of the economic piece, some would argue, and I’d tend to agree. But then I’m a former history teacher and familiar with what happened to the Roman Empire.

New Hampshire’s Mark Steyn wrote a couple of books about America’s decline. One, “America Alone,” was a warning. The second, “After America,” you could call a post-mortem preview because Steyn isn’t optimistic that our decline can be reversed. I am. I’m not saying a renaissance is around the corner but it’s possible.

Think about how it is with people in decline. I’m not talking about aging, here. I’m talking about becoming stuck in a negative pattern, a moral slide. The seven deadly sins have brought many individuals to ruin but can they bring down a whole society? We’re watching it all around us aren’t we? What makes men and women decide to do the work necessary to turn their lives around? Pain, usually. They look at themselves and don’t like what they see. They don’t like what they’re becoming and they decide to do something. It’s not easy though. We all know that at some level and most of us choose not to do the necessary work. Some try for a little while and give up. Others persist. They do a one-eighty. They completely change course.
Will America? Not without suffering. What form will it take? Hard to say. Some say the stock bubble fed by all that money-printing will burst, wiping out trillions in wealth, including pension funds. Some say inflation will follow with higher interest rates. As government bonds turn over to finance our $18 trillion debt, high interest payments will crowd out other items the federal budget. Entitlements will have to be cut drastically. How will that affect that large percentage of Americans who have become dependent on big government? Will they passively accept cuts? Not likely. Will pain take the form of massive civil unrest? Many Americans expect it to and have prepared to ride it out. Whatever kind of painful reckoning our burgeoning federal government brings down on us, my hope is that a new majority of Americans will seek a return to small government and strict adherence to our constitution after suffering through it.
Maybe our pain will arrive as a foreign policy crisis. Little good will result as long as President Obama and his chief dopelimat John Kerry continue to appease our enemies, abandon our allies, and diminish America’s influence worldwide. The stage is being set for serious shenanigans that could flare up most anywhere because we’re not being taken seriously anymore.  Last week alone, Iran sent warships to our Atlantic coast to send “a message” while our “ally”- Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai freed sixty-five Taliban prisoners who killed Americans!
More dopelimat than diplomat

Steyn makes the case in “After America” that the British Empire’s decline was genteel with the USA coming right in behind them before a power vacuum could form. England, for example, had been powerful enough that it could provide somewhat credible enforcement of its edict outlawing the slave trade in 1807. The trade continued, but it was diminished when slavers had to constantly look over their shoulders for a British warship on the horizon. Up until lately, leaders of rogue countries like Iran and North Korea worried about how America would react to their shenanigans. Now? Not so much. What will follow America? In his book “After America,” Steyn claims it’s basically “After us, the deluge.”
Who will police the world’s oceans? We see what’s been happening off the Horn of Africa after Somalia fell apart. It’s not unlike what Mediterranean shipping experienced under the Barbary Pirates during America’s infancy. That situation spurred President John Adams to build our first navy. Will piracy spread to other oceans and seas as the US Navy shrinks? Who in the world will fill America’s shoes as we pull back? Nobody else is capable.

Malignant regional powers will likely emerge. A Russian-allied, nuclear Iran will be the dominant player in the Middle East. Nuclear North Korea will be China’s pit bull in east Asia. Will Japan will re-arm itself? Will South Korea? Maybe Saudi Arabia will buy some nukes from Pakistan and think about a navy. Israel will do what it must against its existential threat from Iran and it won’t consult us anymore.

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13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Iran and North Korea worried about how America would react to their shenanigans. Now? Not so much."

I suggest the history teacher takes a look at all the bombings (embassy, barracks) Iran was behind during the Reagan years. They didn't seem to worried about our reactions.

I know you like to be shrill and alarmist, but get back to us after the Oylmpics about the final medal count. Maybe that will then reassure you that you are wrong about many other things as well.

But the use of "dopelamat" was sheer brilliance!!!! How very clever!

Cheers, and thanks for another entertaining piece.

2/19/14, 12:55 PM  
Anonymous yeezus said...

seems Eurasia will be at war with eastasia. No, it will be Eurasia vs Oceania. Or is it eurasia vs oceania? Don't forget our boys on the malabar front! at least chocolate rations will increase! Doubleplus good!

And......israel? You may want to reconsider your israel fetish. The people of the world are starting to, finally, wake up to the extreme hypocrisy and outright lies coming from israel. The human rights violations and extreme bigotry are sickening. There are many Academic boycotts of israel, more in the works, entertqiners with a sense of moraloty are boycotting too, people finally speaking some truth, and real accounts like max blumenthals latest book on israel----- a real eye opener. ( and, who cares anymore? We've done all we can. And then some. What do we get in return. More enemies! sorry, we have our own country to worry about. We don't have the luxury anymore of helping israel. Bye bye)

Most are starting to realize they have been lied to and mislead by israel. And, lets be real, how on earth can we expect any sane diplomacy in the Middle East if America has israeli citizens in congress! It's absurd!
Not to mention illegal. I dont care what bs law was "passed" in the 60's to make it "legal".

The uss liberty anyone?
We need to stop giving billions to them as well. Billions.

Your willful ignorance and naïveté re: israel is not so much shocking as inexcusable for an American citizen claiming to be a Christian. And there are no more excuses.

2/19/14, 2:08 PM  
Anonymous Chicken Little said...

The sky is falling, the sky is falling! The liberals are making the sky fall!!!

2/20/14, 10:33 AM  
Anonymous Winston Smith said...

Indeed. Israel no longer has our trust. Time for a new strategy. One that puts America first.
Curious that you define your moment of maturation as switching from one party to another. Well, some of us define "growing up" as eschewing creation myths, fairy tales and control propaganda disguised as "religion".
Ill side with George Carlin on religion.

.."
..."“Goliath” is made up of numerous vignettes, some only a few pages long, that methodically build a picture of Israel, like pieces fit into a puzzle. It is in the details that Israel’s reality is exposed. The Israeli army, Blumenthal points out in his first chapter, “To the Slaughter,” employs a mathematical formula to limit outside food deliveries to Gaza to keep the caloric levels of the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped inside its open air prison just above starvation; a government official later denied that he had joked in a meeting that the practice is “like an appointment with a dietician.” The saturation, 22-day bombing of Gaza that began on Dec. 27, 2008, led by 60 F-16 fighter jets, instantly killed 240 Palestinians, including scores of children. Israel’s leading liberal intellectuals, including the writers Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman, blithely supported the wholesale murder of Palestinian civilians. And while Israelis blocked reporters from entering the coastal Gaza Strip—forcing them to watch distant explosions from Israel’s Parash Hill, which some reporters nicknamed “the Hill of Shame”—the army and air force carried out atrocity after atrocity, day after day, crimes that were uncovered only after the attack was over and the press blockade lifted. This massive aerial and ground assault against a defenseless civilian population that is surrounded by the Israeli army, a population without an organized military, air force, air defenses, navy, heavy artillery or mechanized units, caused barely a ripple of protest inside Israel from the left or the right. It was part of the ongoing business of slaughtering the other..."

Chris hedges on max blumenthals "goliath"

(And yes yeezus don't forget our boys on the malabar front!! Haha)

2/20/14, 11:52 AM  
Anonymous Hank said...


"America is in decline economically, militarily, culturally, morally, educationally - choose your area."


economically - This swings back and forth. Does the Great Depression ring a bell? But you only have to go back less than 10 years to a worse economy.

Military - still outspending the rest of the world by a TON. We spend over 4 times what the next spender (China) does.

Culture/morals - We are WAY better than a society which thinks it is morally acceptable to own slaves, or keep women from voting.

education - are we declining? This is from the Washington Post:

"...the notion of America on the downward track is a myth. The data show that we have been mediocre all along, as far back as 1964. If anything, we have lately been showing some signs of improvement."

Oh, and did you check the medal count in the Olympics today?


2/20/14, 1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When hippies used to complain about their country they were told to "love it or leave it".

Seems like Tom might enjoy China.

2/20/14, 3:45 PM  
Anonymous Alan said...

When considering America's moral decline, my first instinct was to look at the crime rate. If Satan is at work in America, he's probably nicking wallets and assaulting old ladies. But over the past several decades the crime rate has fallen dramatically, despite what you may think. The homicide rate has been cut in half since 1991; violent crime and property crime are also way down.

So let's look elsewhere. Abortion has returned as a hot-button issue, perhaps it is eating away at our moral fiber. Hmm, the abortion rate is at it’s lowest rate since it was legalized in 1973.

Other areas that might indicate declining virtue are also going against the perceived trend. For example, charitable giving is up after a decline during the recession. The teenage pregnancy rate is at its lowest level in 40 years. And according to Education Week, "the nation's graduation rate stands at 72 percent, the highest level of high school completion in more than two decades." So where is the evidence of this moral decline?

Well, I guess Tom could point out the moral decay that has shown itself in so many large corporations, but I don't think he'll go there...

2/21/14, 8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The following are excerpts from a piece written by Robert Kagan, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, about whether or not the USA is in decline.

The answer is no. Let’s start with the basic indicators. In economic terms, and even despite the current years of recession and slow growth, America’s position in the world has not changed. Its share of the world’s GDP has held remarkably steady, not only over the past decade but over the past four decades. In 1969, the United States produced roughly a quarter of the world’s economic output. Today it still produces roughly a quarter, and it remains not only the largest but also the richest economy in the world.

Military capacity matters, too. Here the United States remains unmatched. It is far and away the most powerful nation the world has ever known, and there has been no decline in America’s relative military capacity—Americans currently spend less than $600 billion a year on defense, more than the rest of the other great powers combined. American land and air forces are equipped with the most advanced weaponry, and American naval power remains predominant in every region of the world.

IF THE UNITED STATES is not suffering decline in these basic measures of power, isn’t it true that its influence has diminished, that it is having a harder time getting its way in the world? It is true that the United States is not able to get what it wants much of the time. But then it never could. Much of today’s impressions about declining American influence are based on a nostalgic fallacy: that there was once a time when the United States could shape the whole world to suit its desires, and could get other nations to do what it wanted them to do. There never was such a time.


IF ONE WANTED to make a case for American decline, the 1970s would have been the time to do it; and many did. The United States, Kissinger believed, had evidently “passed its historic high point like so many earlier civilizations.... Every civilization that has ever existed has ultimately collapsed. History is a tale of efforts that failed.” It was in the 1970s that the American economy lost its overwhelming primacy, when the American trade surplus began to turn into a trade deficit, when spending on entitlements and social welfare programs ballooned, when American gold and monetary reserves were depleted.

So the record is mixed, but it has always been mixed. There have been moments when the United States was more influential than today and moments when it was less influential. The exertion of influence has always been a struggle, which may explain why, in every single decade since the end of World War II, Americans have worried about their declining influence and looked nervously as other powers seemed to be rising at their expense. The difficulties in shaping the international environment in any era are immense. Few powers even attempt it, and even the strongest rarely achieve all or even most of their goals. Foreign policy is like hitting a baseball: if you fail 70 percent of the time, you go to the Hall of Fame.


Americans have experienced this unease before, and many previous generations have also felt this sense of lost vigor and lost virtue: as long ago as 1788, Patrick Henry lamented the nation’s fall from past glory, “when the American spirit was in its youth.” There have been many times over the past two centuries when the political system was dysfunctional, hopelessly gridlocked, and seemingly unable to find solutions to crushing national problems—from slavery and then Reconstruction, to the dislocations of industrialization at the end of the nineteenth century and the crisis of social welfare during the Great Depression, to the confusions and paranoia of the early Cold War years. Anyone who honestly recalls the 1970s, with Watergate, Vietnam, stagflation, and the energy crisis, cannot really believe that our present difficulties are unrivaled.

2/21/14, 12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is crazy how out of touch with reality people are when they only rely on information that comes from places slanted towards their beliefs.

And former teachers doing this? I guess that is part of why we have trouble improving our schools.

2/21/14, 1:01 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

There is a percentage of every retiring generation who are convinced they lived through the last best years of this country, and we're now on an inexorable slide into ruin or at least irrelevance. I see it with my parents who are in their late eighties, and coincidentally, are disciples of Fox and Limbaugh. To them, movies were better when they were younger, authors wrote better, comedians were funnier, politicians were noble, all kids respected their elders and contemporary music is just screaming. I'd bet the rent some of the Founders feared this experiment of theirs would devolve into chaos and fail, and here we are - 236 years out - worrying this experiment is going to fail.

Here is a good article that puts this Iranian naval maneuver into some context.
http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/iranian-navy-symbolic-show-force-atlantic?utm_source=freelist-f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20140213&utm_term=FreeReport&utm_content=title

2/21/14, 5:18 PM  
OpenID bc64a9f8-765e-11e3-8683-000bcdcb2996 said...

I invite all the armchair economics enthusiasts to add
$18,000,000,000,000 debt, with it's annual interest, all unfunded pending liabilities, the cost of food and fuel that are somehow in the "we don't count that" column of "official" economic "estimates", current health "care" (payment assurance tax actually) to their algorithms.
I wonder, if everyone gets a magic 25-30% raise, and more expensive "Health" care (some of it retaxed) via, employers, in competition with newly "statused" illegal aliens and formerly employed "part time" (>40 hours/wk)emancipated workers, receiving "extended" unemployment entitlements...how long will it take for the "service" industry to supplant the remaining actual wage earner/tax payer with personal ID debit card operated...oh, I don't know...self service humanities dispenser terminals? Maybe even "officially sanctioned" information distribution terminals?

Keep hammerin' Mr.M

CaptDMO

2/21/14, 6:19 PM  
Anonymous Winston Smith said...

“Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them?”
― Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays

“Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays
tags: politics 28 likes like

2/21/14, 8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

…and yet another column Tom is unable to defend.

2/26/14, 2:03 PM  

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