Is America really in decline? No.

This morning at 10 am, Tom Ashbrook will convene a conversation during “On Point” to examine a question that’s been lurking at the edge of our politics for awhile now:  “Is America in decline?”

It’s a notion that the right, the left and the middle here in the US actually agree on.  Liberals point to the shrinking middle class and growing income disparity.  Conservatives point to what they see as declining moral values.

Moderates point to the rise of other nations, primarily India and China.

In the best spirit of In Box contrarianism, I say they’re all wrong.  I’ll side with Warren Buffett, who argued in a recent Time magazine interview that the nation’s “best days lie ahead.”

Buffett pins his optimism to strong underlying indicators in America’s economy.  My bullishness is tied to something much broader and, admittedly, a bit fuzzier.

The way I see it, we are part of the American Revolution.  I don’t mean that we’re likely to find ourselves perched behind a tree with a musket sniping at the British.

I mean that more than any other society at any time in human history, the United States has managed to achieve a kind of permanent revolution, one in which tradition and the “old order” remain in constant flux.

What’s more, despite all early predictions, this state of churn has proved to be remarkably stable.

While more tradition-bound societies — from Great Britain to India to China — fall at regular intervals into utter chaos and disarray, the remarkable American experiment keeps muddling along.

From our fight for independence to the expansion into the West to the cataclysm of the Civil War to our emergence as a world power, we’ve reinvented ourselves over and over.

From the expansion of civil liberties to women and people of color, to the establishment of the modern state, the fundamental experimentism of the Union has endured.

Obviously, this path hasn’t always been straight or peaceful or fair.  Slavery, the genocidal treatment of Native Americans, and occasional forays into the crassest form of imperialism are unavoidable elements of our shared story.

But it is a remarkable fact that by incremental degrees, we have bent our revolution toward a more fair and equitable treatment of the people who make up our republic.

This larger trend is often overshadowed by the fighting and bickering and squabbling of our political actors, from the presidential candidates to the street-fighters of Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.

On any given day, the rhetoric of these partisans would have you believe that we are spiraling out of control, descending into anarchy or debauchery or despotism.

But what we know from history is that this sound and fury is our clumsy way of navigating monumental change.  We shout.  We shake our fists.  We accuse one-another of radicalism.

And we do so, in part, because the issues at hand are often, well, sort of radical.

Consider this.  In the last couple of decades alone, America has been trying to sort out what it means to transition from a mostly rural society to a mostly urban society.

We’ve been trying to reinvent ourselves as a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural community, rather than a mostly white Protestant one

We have been sorting out what it means to have an economy and a culture which is hardwired into an increasingly integrated global society made up of more or less equal partners.

We have been grappling with the reality that technology is changing at an accelerating pace, in ways that affect our individual lives more and more intimately.

We have begun to explore the implications of an American society that is increasingly secular in its morality and culture.

We’re also beginning to think honestly about our country’s contribution to global-scale environmental problems such as climate change.

This is big stuff.  It doesn’t get any bigger.

So yes, the debate sometimes gets rowdy.  And it should come as no surprise that the pace of change sparks a constant cycle of backlash, resentment, fear and counter-revolution.

But it’s also important to remember that the hot-blooded battles of yesterday (the voting rights of women, more liberal divorce laws, interracial marriage, Social Security, etc.) have been “normalized” with remarkable speed.

We’re seeing the same thing happen now with gay rights and same-sex marriage.  A decade ago, the concept was shocking.  Now, most Americans give it a healthy shrug.

Why do I call all of this hopeful?  Because it is an undeniable truth that we live in a world that is increasingly hard-wired for change.  Today’s innovations are tomorrow’s buggy whips.

The societies that will prevail and prosper in the muddled, raucous cross-currents of a truly global economy are the societies that know how to adapt and change.

And there’s no one better at this than us.

Other countries are struggling to learn our trick, but so far they’ve only gotten parts of our formula right.  China has opened itself to a more supple form of capitalism, without embracing democracy or the rule of law.

Europe has tried to gather itself into a larger, more inclusive federation, without adopting the supple federalism that defines the relationship between our united states.  (Europe also overspent, maxing its credit cards in a way that puts America to shame.)

Japan and India have liberalized many aspects of their hide-bound societies, but they’ve stuck disastrously to the notion that their national identities are tied to narrow, racial and ethnic definitions.

Perhaps most importantly, no other society on earth has achieved the same, healthy tension between individualism and collectivism that is embodied in our founding documents, and in the debates that have played out for more than two centuries.

When Americans fight over gun rights or the limitations of the welfare state or the role of government in spurring economic activity or providing healthcare, it’s not a sign of our backwardness.  It is part of an essential, never-ending dialogue.

As we enter into another election season, people on all sides of these arguments will moan and sigh about how ugly and argumentative our society has become.  We will decry the attack ads and mourn the invective that divides us.

Some partisans will go so far as to suggest that the experiment has already failed.  America is broken.  Our democracy has failed.

But the simple truth is that this is how it has always worked.  This muddled, messy system has carried us past monumental obstacles — many of them far, far greater than the ones we now confront.

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47 Comments on “Is America really in decline? No.”

  1. JDM says:

    Brian: A lot of your statements here make a lot of sense. I take issue with your opening: “Is America really in decline? No.”

    Would you argue that Rome wasn’t in decline? By most people’s definition, it was in decline, until it “declined” out of sight.

    I suppose you could say that Rome “evolved” into a higher order. It ceased to be a world power. It no longer was a financial or cultural power house.

    That’s where were heading, apparently. To a higher order of nothingness.

  2. Brian Mann says:

    JDM –

    First, how is America in the least like Rome? For most of its history, Rome was a military dictatorship anchored around a single mismanaged city-state.

    The United States is a modern, vibrant, evolving, adaptive, federalized.

    But even if you do insist on the comparison, remember that Rome endured as a global power for nearly a thousand years — and that’s not including the Byzantine empire.

    Much of its cultural and political glory came during the period that people often describe as “the decline.”

    Secondly, it’s simply inaccurate to suggestion that the US is no longer a financial or cultural powerhouse.

    We have the largest economy in the world. We’re the biggest manufacturing nation. We have a military that dwarfs our closest rivals.

    We have the healthiest, most sustainable environment.

    In terms of our cultural influence, let me just offer one marker:

    In the century since Nobel prizes were handed out – for everything from literature to physics to peace activism — Americans have won more than 330 awards.

    That’s twice as many as the next closest nation.

    From Hollywood to Silicon Valley to Wall Street to America’s agronomy industry, the US is constantly reinventing the technologies and products that shape the world.

    Do we have problems? Sure.

    But America is more powerful, more fair, more prosperous, more productive and more forward-thinking than any other major power on earth.

    –Brian, NCPR

  3. JDM says:

    “But America is more powerful, more fair, more prosperous, more productive and more forward-thinking than any other major power on earth.”

    First of all, so was Rome.

    Secondly, how did get to be this powerhouse?

    Was it because of the America that Alexis de Tocqueville observed, or the America that president Obama wants us to become?

  4. Brian Mann says:

    Is America different now than the pastoral, wild, unpopulated nation de Tocqueville observed in the 19th century.

    Yes. It has been for a very long time. Thank God. Women can vote. Native Americans are no longer being exterminated.

    Blacks are no longer enslaved. Elderly people don’t starve to death. Factories no longer dump unprocessed toxic sludge into rivers.

    The poor no longer live and work in Dickensian conditions. Our food is safe to eat.

    Our politicians are no longer literally paid bribe money, openly and unabashedly, on the floor of Congress.

    I’m not arguing that Obama’s policies are preferable, or right. And I’m not arguing that we don’t have big problems.

    But the romanticism of this sort of political nostalgia is a big part of our problem.

    –Brian, NCPR

  5. tootightmike says:

    Someone told me, back in 1979, “that the next thirty years would show whether Americans were really a first class people, or just people, who lucked onto a first class continent”. Much that we have achieved here as a nation, has been upon the backs of slaves, third world nations and peoples, and our over-exploitation of fabulous natural resources. As we run out of things to exploit…people, oil, timber, coal, not to mention clean water and air… we will truly find out how competent we are.
    Will we become a well run frugal state of resort to tribal warfare?

  6. dbw says:

    This isn’t simply about decline of America, there are much larger forces at work here, both natural and historical. A half century ago historian Walter Prescott Webb wrote THE GREAT FRONTIER, and his thesis offers a framework for understanding what we are going through in the US and western civilization. Webb describes Europe in the 14th century as having reached a subsistence balance between its population, land, and resources, characterized by widespread poverty and cultural and political fragmentation. The introduction of new lands and vast natural resources during the Age of Discovery upset this balance in a positive way. Webb maintains that in addition to creating material abundance, the Great Frontier led to our concern with the individual, freedom, and democratic governance. Even the development of the corporation Webb attributed to the Great Frontier. Corporations were a way of efficiently organizing labor and capital to exploit the vast store of resources from newly discovered lands and colonies. Webb’s thesis is that we are now nearing the end of the benefit of all those resources, that we are globally approaching the place where Europe was in 1400, a subsistence balance between population, resources and land on a world-wide basis. The erosion of the American middle class and decline in our standard of living as we compete with the developing world is part of this process of moving toward a subsistence balance. Without the vast store of resources the Industrial Revolution may turn out to be just a stage we went through as a civilization. Perhaps the most immediate game changer is the end of cheap oil. While our political elites are in a state of denial, our military is trying to do some planning. A recent report predicts the possibility of tightening supplies in 2012 and a world wide shortfall of 10 million barrels a day by 2015. If true, a nice way to put it is that life in American is re-setting at a lower level of complexity.

  7. Mervel says:

    How do you measure decline? I am not sure I know what it means?

    What are we supposed to be, what are we meant to be? I don’t think we were ever meant to be Rome or the British empire, those are not aspirational societies for the US. Thus to say we are declining like the Roman Empire or the British Empire does not hold, we were never like them in the first place. To the degree that we do act like them is the degree that I think we are in trouble.

    Individual liberty and federalism should limit the power of the state to form an empire mentality.

    We are experiencing a new wave of demographic shift and I think with some minor bumps we are going to handle it pretty well.

  8. tootightmike says:

    America has a dangerous tendency to blow our prosperity on frills, never saving or planning for a rainy day. during much of the 19th and early 20th century…during those times of rapid growth, expansion, and commerce, we built infrastructure for the future. We built cities, bridges, railroads and highways, all with an eye toward building the best and longest lasting things for our nations future.
    Since 1929, and the great depression, we have invented, built, and manufactured only with and eye toward saving three cents per unit. Cars and airplanes wear out in a few years. Computers and televisions are obsolete and un-repairable by the time you get them set up. Our highways and bridges need continuous servicing from the moment of completion. Even houses and commercial buildings are only rated for a thirty-five year lifespan these days.
    And then there are the people. In a global economy, we wish we’d spent more time considering those at the bottom of the ladder. Averaging American wealth and prosperity with the destitution of sub-Saharan Africa leaves most American workers with a bad feeling. If only we hadn’t left the bottom so far down.

  9. Gary says:

    Mervel: Decline to me is when my son can’t find a job and this morning a headline on tha ABC web site reads, “U.S. bridges, roads being built by Chinese firms”.

  10. Peter Hahn says:

    I agree with Brian on the “American Exceptionalism” thing. This is a great country and not in decline. We are still the most open and flexible country in the world (and probably the wealthiest in human history). That being said – the middle class has suffered over the past 30 years and wealth inequality has become a problem. We have a small but vocal anti-immigrant/racist population. et cetera etcetera

  11. Pete Klein says:

    First, I totally agree with Brian and Warren.
    This is important to keep in mind: in the past, various forms of dirt were the natural resource. Today, it is an educated population that is the primary natural resource.
    To the extent we embrace change, we will succeed. To the extent we don’t, we will fail.
    The “good old days” were never that good. You look at the power of kings and queens and the conditions under which they live and the only sensible response is to say they lived miserable lives.
    When people pick on the internal combustion engine and all the pollution it causes, imagine how dirty our lives would be if everyone road a horse.
    I remember when I first moved up to the Adirondacks and thought myself lucky if I could pull in more than two TV stations. The Internet was just getting started and for many it wasn’t even a dream.
    Society? Personally, I like the Secular City and how that city is expanding to include all rural areas.
    What’s wrong with the Middle East and most of Africa. The problem is tribalism and the rules of the religions that exploit tribalism. Let your mantra be “us vs. them” and you will lose.
    The fall of Rome? Thank god for the fall of Rome, the Holy Roman Empire and all those countries that limited the freedoms of all who lived under their rule.
    I vote for more change.

  12. Paul says:

    I think one of the most unique things we see in American history is our recovery after the civil war. There were tough times but basically we killed each other like crazy then we shook hands and went home.

    Other countries torn by civil war cannot seem to do that. Look at the middle east or Africa. Something is different in American. Not quite sure what it is but something is inherently different here.

  13. Peter Hahn says:

    The big advantage we have is that our system of government was set up from scratch by rationalists in the “age of enlightenment”. It was based on populist/democratic advances in the British system without the encumbering centuries of feudal history. Im not sure that could be done today. We were also built on immigration and developed that “melting pot” concept that no one else has managed to do as well (maybe the Canadians now?). Maybe the Mexicans also.

  14. dave says:

    There has yet to be mentioned the 52,000,000+ American citizens that our government and we the people have allowed to be killed under the guise of “choice”. Will this oversight be eventually rectified such that we can shake hands on it and refer to it along with other past events of geno/fratricide and ethnic cleansing which were noted? It is truly a beautiful and fruitful land, will its people finally be?

  15. tootightmike says:

    Let’s take care of the ones we have first. The prospect of 52 million homeless, under-educated, and malnourished folks living in the cold and dark doesn’t appeal to me.

  16. Walker says:

    Reminds me of something I saw on Facebook this morning:

    Only in America can you be Pro-Death Penalty, Pro-War, Pro-Unmanned Drone Bombs, Pro-Nuclear Weapons, Pro-Guns, Pro-Torture, Pro-Land Mines and still call yourself “Pro-Life.”

  17. Pete Klein says:

    On the abortion topic, let me put my feelings this way. A caterpillar is not a butterfly.
    If you see photos of what takes place inside a woman when she is pregnant, what you see is millions of years of evolution taking place is about nine months.
    It’s not human until it’s born and takes it’s first breath.

  18. Two Cents says:

    “Yes. It has been for a very long time. Thank God. Women can vote. Native Americans are no longer being exterminated. ”
    Dakota’s Native American reservations? Pine Ridge, Rosebud?
    Native Americans have been marginalized into poverty and alcoholism.No need to actually Kill them anymore.

    “Blacks are no longer enslaved. Elderly people don’t starve to death. Factories no longer dump unprocessed toxic sludge into rivers.

    Blacks are enslaved in poverty, but at least have company now with many whites and Latino There is no more racism, unless you count poverty. The poor are all equal. Poverty is the new Racism.
    One out of every eight children under the age of twelve in the U.S. goes to bed hungry every night.
    In the U.S. hunger and race are related. In 1991 46% of African-American children were chronically hungry, and 40% of Latino children were chronically hungry compared to 16% of white children.
    no need to wait to starve the elderly, start fresh and early with the yung’uns–
    Factories IN AMERICA no longer dump toxins because those manufacturing processes are now in Mexico, South America, China, and we can buy them back in the form of poison oranges and SOLAR technology built with the power of some of the dirtiest Factories and outdated modes of power plants.
    China+lead painted toys+American outsourcing=sick kids and better proffits for American Corporation outsourcing.
    China+dog food = liver poisoning
    China+melamine=nice creamy,white baby formula
    At least when we clean up our past foilables, we send the toxic sludge to Texas, we don’t turn it into milk, well not that i’m aware of, we try to filter it through the food chain and deal with it later.

    ” The poor no longer live and work in Dickensian conditions. Our food is safe to eat.”
    POISON ORANGES! Carbendazim was found in several samples of orange juice concentrate coming from Brazil.
    In 2007, 32 percent of orange juice consumed in U.S. was imported, up from 23 percent in 1993. Top importers are Brazil and Mexico.
    And what about whatever got into the food chain that will inevitably be discvered as the cause of the “mass psycho-traumatic” affliction causing 12 or so teens to twitch like an epileptic pickle with a cattle prod up the wazoo.

    “Our politicians are no longer literally paid bribe money, openly and unabashedly, on the floor of Congress.”

    No of course not. It’s hidden so as not to insult our intelligence anymore.

    Sounds like prozack induced optimism Brian. Got a few happy pills there to spare?
    Thanks for the rousing pep talk, but I aint buying it

  19. Paul says:

    I am with Two Cents, you have to think optimistically. Like she suggests our brighter days lie ahead!!!

  20. Paul says:

    Wait I have no idea if she/he is a he or a she? Whatever.

  21. Two Cents says:

    LOL..doesn’t matter really, Paul.
    I’ll let it remain a mystery for now..

  22. Mervel says:

    To me the most dangerous idea that we seem to spout is that we are the richest nation on earth, this is simply false. The median American Family is less well off than the median German family or the median Japanese family. Our poor people are much more poor than the poor people in those countries.

    Yet we have to spend our trillions to “protect” them, when they are wealthier and have free health insurance and better benefits?

    This country cannot afford to maintain and empire and our founding fathers had no intention of us setting up a world wide empire.

    But over the past 50 years are things better or worse?

  23. oa says:

    Don’t know if this is a sign of decline, but this link shows we’re suffering a form of stagnation:
    http://www.vanityfair.com/style/2012/01/prisoners-of-style-201201
    “…Try to spot the big, obvious, defining differences between 2012 and 1992. Movies and literature and music have never changed less over a 20-year period. Lady Gaga has replaced Madonna, Adele has replaced Mariah Carey—both distinctions without a real difference—and Jay-Z and Wilco are still Jay-Z and Wilco. Except for certain details (no Google searches, no e-mail, no cell phones), ambitious fiction from 20 years ago (Doug Coupland’s Generation X, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow) is in no way dated,…”

    The article says our pop culture isn’t changing much. Maybe Newt is proof.

  24. Two Cents says:

    “Yet we have to spend our trillions to “protect” them, when they are wealthier and have free health insurance and better benefits?”

    This model bennefits the “1%” and is supported by the tax base from the “99%”‘
    Just how “they” like it.
    To the ones who bennefit from this, nothing appears out of order.

    The “other Countries” are able to afford such because they are not paying the bill. The U.S. taxpayers are.

    oa- i love Wilco :0

  25. Two Cents says:

    From wikipedia:
    “Tocqueville explicitly cites inequality as being incentive for poor to become rich, and notes that it is not often two generations within a family maintain success, and that it is inheritance laws that split and eventually break apart someone’s estate that cause a constant cycle of churn between the poor and rich, thereby over generations making the poor rich and rich poor.’

    That don’t sounds like what’s i sees boss….the churning is busted.

  26. Walker says:

    I’m with Two Cents. And what is behind all the bad news s/he presents is the slow demise of democracy in the U.S. as we become ever more pliable victims of the advertiser’s arts and the mind-numbing offerings of 500-channel cable systems and the incomprehensibly vast internet. I feel fortunate to be an old man with no children– the end will not be pretty.

  27. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Funny that the discussion is of America in decline. America was never much of a player on the world stage until after WWII. Sure we beat up on the tired Spanish Empire at the turn of the 20th century. Yes we were the straw that broke the back of WWI when the Europeans had bled themselves nearly to death before we jumped in. Pretty similar story in WWII except that we made lots of money in Lend Lease and geared up our industrial capacity just in time to take advantage of rebuilding Europe and Japan.

    If we weren’t such upstarts and rubes we would have planned a little better on how to save, re-invest and plan for permanent prosperity. We were just country bumpkins on our first trip to the carnival sideshow and the carnies beat us out of our rent money. If we learned something from it we’ll work hard, make up the lost rent and recognize a swindler when we see one next time. And those smarter versions of us are out there Occupying Wall Street.

  28. Brian Mann says:

    So let me get this straight.

    Being a poor black man in America today is akin to slavery?

    The Hispanics who have flocked voluntarily to the US over the last thirty years are trapped in a kind of bondage?

    Gay people in the US are no better off now than they were a generation ago, even as they marry and serve openly in the military?

    The fact that we’ve had a black president, women secretaries of state, and a woman as Speaker of the House — for the first time in history — tells us nothing about hopeful changes in our society?

    The Facebook revolution that is transforming global culture — an American invention — hasn’t changed our popular culture at all?

    The world stage? There are more democracies in the world today than at any time in human history.

    The Soviet Union is gone. The threat of nuclear armageddon has receded steadily for the last twenty years.

    When I was in my twenties, the most threatening nations on earth were other global superpowers. Today, our biggest fears are third world despots like Iran and North Korea.

    By the numbers — these are facts, not opinions — there is far less famine in the world, fewer genocides, fewer wars…

    Again, I’m not suggesting that things are perfect. They’re not. Lots and lots of problems. Huge problems.

    But come on, guys.

    Unemployment at 8.6% is not the Great Depression. A tumultuous and hard-fought presidential contest is not akin to a slide toward despotism.

    –Brian, NCPR

  29. Paul says:

    This is defiantly not a cheery crowd.

    If you understand history you understand that we have made tremendous progress. There was no time to even look back or ahead like we are doing here.

    You probably won’t die from a broken bone like you would have just a few generations ago. I know that I did not worry that an ache in my kids legs is Polio like even my grandparents did. I did not “expect” my children to die before adulthood like my great grandparents might have. You think the world is depressing today, sure we have problems, but at least we have possible solutions to many of our problems if and when we make it work.

  30. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Hey, count me in the “our best days are ahead of us” crowd. A good liberal position.

  31. Paul says:

    A good position period!

  32. Mervel says:

    two cents,

    Every society and culture has that issue, there is no perfect place or country. I think we could be better but we are better than many and we have the advantage of being able to change unlike other societies.

  33. tootightmike says:

    The unemployment rate is much higher than the “official rate” of 8.9. Wages for working folks have stagnated or declined. The clean water and clean air acts are being threatened, and the lion’s share of wealth is held by the smallest group ever.
    Corporations threaten our very form of government and , as a result the population of this democracy is fed on a bigger and bigger stream of lies every day.
    I understand that good things happen every day…I spend most of my time pushing in that direction, but it is hard to see improvement.

  34. Gary says:

    Brian: I don’t usually listen to Tom Ashbrook, I’m a Diane Rehm fan, but I did catch part of the conversation yesterday. It is interesting to note his guest seem to use the economy as a way of saying things aren’t as bad as they seem. You on the other hand seem to point to historical changes, womens right to vote. Each one of us will define a “decline” through our own set of paradigms. Personally, I see a decline. The decline disturbs me, but its the way we seem to be handling the decline that I find most disturbing. My hope,or lack of, is based on solutions, cooperation and tolerance.

  35. Walker says:

    Re: my “slow demise of democracy in the U.S. as we become ever more pliable victims of the advertiser’s arts”–

    “Republican consultants have developed tools to identify and inflame what they call conservative “anger points.”

    “The consultant who pioneered this work, Alex Gage, now works for the Romney campaign.

    — New York Times, January 29, 2012
    http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/newt-gingrich-and-the-future-of-the-right/

    Of course this isn’t new. Reagan’s “welfare queens” meme is an old example that is still with us. And it certainly isn’t the exclusive domain of the right. But I do think that the art of inflaming the public is becoming dangerously effective. And because its so effective in motivating voters, it’s hard to imagine politicians exercising more restraint in the future.

    So where are we heading?

  36. dave says:

    52,003,300+ Americans dead. Is this a sign of decline or is the sign that folks don’t have a problem with it? We have children, I really want to be optimistic.

  37. Walker says:

    I’m sorry, Dave, I just don’t see an aborted fetus as an American. You’re mileage may vary.

    Tell you what. AFTER we take all rational measures to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, AND provide excellent support services for low-income families, THEN, and only then, should we begin to talk about ending abortions.

  38. oa says:

    “The Facebook revolution that is transforming global culture — an American invention — hasn’t changed our popular culture at all?”
    Read the VF article, Brian. That’s not what it says. That’s not what I said. You’ve been reading too much Politico and are doing that weird 0s and 1s thing, yes or no, strawman argument.
    The article says our outward cultural world–fashion, architecture, even the cars we drive, is not that distinguishable from 20 years ago. You can’t say the same from 1972-92, or 52-72, or 32-52, or even 1852-72. Or any other 20-year period.
    Otherwise, I’m with ya. US and A! US and A! Go fight win! Manifest destiny!

  39. mervel says:

    How did people feel in 1931? They had nine more years in front of them of far worse economic times than today, poverty was far worse then today. Today’s public housing would be a mansion compared to the shaks with no indoor plumbing, no electricity and bad insulation that poor people inhabited in much of rural America in 1931. How did people feel in 1941? We had a good chance of losing that war and many many were drafted and died. How did we feel in 1979? With an ascendant Soviet Union that had the power to destroy us and 18% interest rates and 12% inflation. Or going back farther look at the civil war or Vietnam and that mess, many people in the late 1960’s thought our society was going to rip apart.

    I mean we have seen far worse times than now and we have changed and recovered and moved forward.

  40. mervel says:

    I don’t believe in the idea that we can “blame” some sort of secret bunch of people for all of our problems; behind the scenes pulling the strings, corporations, the very wealthy, the Koch brothers, George Soros etc., people felt that way in Germany in 1922 about the Jewish Bankers and look where that got them.

    There is no one group to blame for our problems, much of what we face is our own individual fault as a society at large.

  41. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Um, except for the Nazis and their Brown Shirt thugs who really were working in secret to plot the overthrow of the government and take it over.

  42. mervel says:

    ahah, yes BUT that is exactly my point, in times of distress we look for that one thing, that one problem that if we could just get rid of that one thing, we could solve all of our other problems, for the nazi’s and frankly many many Germans and Europeans; that one thing was the Jews.

    The nazi’s did not steal power, they came to power because they were very popular, Hitler was very popular at that time, he didn’t have to work any secret plot to take the government, they gave him the government because he had the answers.

  43. Two Cents says:

    I call Godwin’s law!!
    end of thread!!

    ….or i’d explain how Poverty=slavery, Brian !!

    Black or white, or blue…..
    :)

  44. Paul says:

    Pack bags go home!

  45. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I get your point mervel, and mostly agree, but there is a little quibble about things like the Night of the Long Knives, and Kristallnacht, and the burning of the Reichstag.

    But you are right in that the Nazis had a powerful propaganda machine that made people believe absolute poppycock to be truth. Well before FoxNews and Karl Rove, and corporate spokespeople and “communications companies”.

  46. mervel says:

    I know think of what they could have done with our media tools and 24/7 bombardment of images and words in all of these different venues!

    But you know people have to want to believe something propaganda is not 100% effective in changing minds and hearts.

    I just think when we enter times of stress and trouble like we are in now, we need to be careful not to jump to simple answers or “great” leaders who will solve our problems.

    A country is still the sum of its people even more so in a democracy.

  47. Pat says:

    “We have a military that dwarfs our closest rivals.” What a sad commentary, Brian.

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