The Republican candidate, Donald Trump, is echoing what seems to be a popular narrative these days. He is arguing that America has been taken advantage of by other countries, such as Mexico and China. Thus, his campaign theme and his promise is to “make America great again”. Trump is arguing that America is so weak today that political leaders are unable to control America’s borders, let alone control its economy and stop its decline. Scholars who support this view point to the post-World War II era when America was a dominant hegemonic superpower with extensive global reach. Military leaders have argued that it is difficult for the US to fight two wars simultaneously because American military might has declined over the years. Some people have adopted a more organic view of American decline – the US, like Rome and Britain, will rise and fall.
A closer look at the arguments made by those who argue that America is in decline seems to make sense, at least, initially. It is true that the economic well-being of the average American (measured as median household income) has dropped over the last few decades. The US’s main competitor, in military and diplomatic terms, is Russia and America seems impotent in deciding on a preferred outcome in Syria or the Ukraine; areas where Russia seems to exercise greater influence.
And China has gone from being a small fraction of the US economy to being the largest economy on Earth. China has a large and growing Gross Domestic Product (although it is less than the US’s when measured at market exchange rates). And the gap between the two countries is widening. In most American households, everything seems to be “made in China”. Clearly, China’s economic takeoff represents a major shift in global power, particularly when it is flexing its military muscle in the mineral-rich South China Sea area. China’s rise is another economic blow to America’s influence in the important Asian market. Aside from China, the US economy continues to face challenges from other developed countries, including Japan and Europe, countries the US provided with generous economic aid after World War II. The US now has a large trade deficit with other countries.
One continuing fact remains constant over the years – America has taken on too much of the world’s burden, ranging from providing economic assistance to fighting AIDS.
While there is evidence to suggest that the US is not the economic and military giant it once was, it can be argued that its global power has been eclipsed. The US cannot threaten countries as it has done in the past, nor can it easily use its economic aid to influence countries to behave in an approving way. The world has changed. Communism is dead and even the US is respectful of democratic norms and international laws to a certain extent. However, as Thomas Friedman has argued in his book The World is Flat, it is not that America is in decline, rather other nations are catching up to the US in terms of their and military and economic development. These global changes pose new challenges for the US.
The reality is that the United States remains the world leader in scientific and technical strength. The American capability for innovation and its global competitive power, its advanced Science and Technology, higher education, culture of innovation, and military technology still place the US ahead of the race among the almost 200 countries in the world. While not in “irreversible decline”, the US must continue to adapt to the changing world environment in order to remain ahead of the game. To say that the US is in decline is a stretch. (Send comments to [email protected])