Is This The End of the American Century?

This site features updates, analysis, discussion and comments related to the theme of my book published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2008 (hardbound) and 2009 (paperbound).

The Book

The End of the American Century documents the interrelated dimensions of American social, economic, political and international decline, marking the end of a period of economic affluence and world dominance that began with World War II. The war on terror and the Iraq War exacerbated American domestic weakness and malaise, and its image and stature in the world community. Dynamic economic and political powers like China and the European Union are steadily challenging and eroding US global influence. This global shift will require substantial adjustments for U.S. citizens and leaders alike.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Good Riddance to the American Century

My book “The End of the American Century” appeared in 2009.  There I argued that the combination of domestic decline and global change had put an end to the era of U.S. global dominance, and that American citizens would have to come to terms with a flattening standard of living and reduced global influence.  This was not necessarily a bad thing, either for the United States or for the rest of the world.
     I finished writing the book during 2008, just as Barack Obama was mounting his stunning rise to the presidency.  For the paperbound edition of the book, which appeared just after the election, I added an epilogue called “Reality and Hope in the Obama Era,” where I offered some hope that the new president could temper some of the problems I had raised.  But I also cautioned that America’s problems (for example with education, violence, debt, inequality) were so deep-seated, and the global changes so persistent (e.g. globalization of production, rise of new powers, climate change) that his options would be limited. 

     President Obama, I believe, recognized all of these problems, and tried his best to redress or adapt to them. He rescued an economy in freefall; got us moving on climate change; passed milestone legislation on health care; and restored America’s battered international reputation, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in the process.  He was on track in adapting to the end of the American Century. 

Now we have a President who is intent on returning to that era of American superiority and dominance.  Indeed, Trump rode to power by demagoguing many of the issues of U.S. decline that I had documented in my book: the stagnating incomes of the middle class; the decline of manufacturing; the continuing prevalence of violence; declining trust and confidence in government; the high cost of medical care; and infrastructure decay.   

     Trump knew which buttons to push, but he had no idea how to deal with any of these problems.  He promised to “make America great again” without having any notion of what that might entail.  His vision was to go backwards, not forward.  In a world so rapidly changing, this is no solution at all.  America needs to adapt to change—embrace it, even—and not reject it, as Trump seems to want to do.  His presidency is a dead end. 

     Any progress this country made during the Obama years is quickly being rolled back and reversed in the first months of the Trump presidency.  The most pressing and damaging problems I discussed—debt, inequality, and climate change—are all likely to worsen under a Trump administration. 

     We can not go back to the American Century (which really lasted only about half a century anyway), nor should we.  That era was bred of specific historical, economic and international circumstances.  We are in a different era now, both domestically and internationally.  The U.S. can not and should not dominate the world as we once did.  To think and act otherwise is to court disaster in a globalized and interdependent world.  We should bid adieu to the American Century, and move forward. 

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