Have we lost our minds? What is wrong with America?

We are increasingly lawless—18-year-olds buy assault weapons, waltz into schools, and unleash terror. In big cities, notably Chicago and New York, feral teenagers and criminals vie for turf, killing people in orgies of gang violence.

In downtown San Francisco, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, addicts, the mentally ill and drifters camp on city streets, defecating and shooting up with impunity while police and health officials do nothing. Youth seeking quick money blitz retail stores, fill trash bags as terrified customers watch, and speed off.

Along the Mexican border each day hundreds of Spanish-speaking migrants cross illegally into America’s land of plenty. The few that are apprehended go free within hours, joining the multitude who will find menial jobs that are available everywhere. 

Equally depressing

Public debate is equally depressing. Identity politics and cancel culture get disproportionate attention. We argue over pronouns and restrooms for the tiny minority declaring themselves transgender. Like the country at large, the news media is polarized—the right and left easy to spot, while accurate, objective reporting is scarce. Free speech—essential to a free society—is under fire on campuses as radicals cancel speakers who espouse views different from theirs.

History books are revised to make slavery and the mistreatment of American Indians central elements in a narrative of injustice. The achievements of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are minimized. Jefferson’s statue, revered by New Yorkers since the 1830s, is removed from City Hall because the third president owned slaves.

In the south, memorials honouring General Robert E. Lee and the half million Americans who died for the Confederacy are pulled down. Public discourse is racialized, politically incorrect narratives expunged. Corporations mirror pervasive white guilt by sending large sums of money to radical groups like Black Lives Matter. 

Our fragmenting society ignores warnings that absent a unifying theme, national unity is imperiled.  Winston Churchill wrote, “If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future.” In 1984 George Orwell wrote, “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

Given all this we may well ask what will bind Americans together going forward? 

Lost its way

In China the Communist Party has long argued that America has lost its way and is a declining power. They see an America that is fat and lazy, indifferent to fiscal discipline, and bereft of national purpose.

But the narrative of American decline may be premature.  That assertion is challenged even within totalitarian China. Wang Jisi, the respected America watcher and president of Beijing University’s School of International Studies, is a sceptic.  He tells the Beijing Cultural Review, “that the day the US truly declines is when visa lines in front of its consulates are no longer crowded.”

The United States admits legally into the country more than one million immigrants each year. America remains the promised land for millions. It is rightly seen as a land of opportunity for both the skilled and unskilled. The US economy is dynamic and open, private property rights are guaranteed. Starting a business is easy. For proof one need look no further than South African export Elon Musk.

Silicon Valley

California’s Silicon Valley near San Francisco is the world’s centre for technological innovation. A stunning 70% of the world’s leading internet companies have their headquarters there, and the valley would grind to a halt without immigrant engineers and labourers.

There are persuasive arguments that despite adversity America is holding its own. Its institutions are solid, tested by the passage of over 200 years. The 1789 constitution guaranteeing basic rights remains the bedrock of American democracy, sacrosanct to both Democrats and Republicans. Its federal system devolves powers to constituent states, decentralizing decision making.

The US dollar, ascendant since World War Two, is essentially the world’s money. The US leads in space exploration. The US is open to foreign investment, with minimal political risk. American universities are the best in the world, attracting students from everywhere.

So, is the US declining? Maybe, maybe not. One thing is sure, Americans have a history of coming together when facing mortal threat. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a dramatic wake-up call, a single event that ended the Great Depression as Americans went to work to defeat the Japanese Empire and Hitler’s Germany.

Are too many Americans ignorant of their own history and the world around them? Yes. But, in my view, it is absurd to say American democracy is dying or the country is facing a new civil war. 

My message: don’t sell the Yanks short.

Daily Friend columnist Barry D. Wood recently taught a course on America’s technological leadership at Charles University in Prague.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Washington writer Barry D. Wood for two decades was chief economics correspondent at Voice of America News, reporting from 25 G7/8, G20 summits. He is the Washington correspondent of RTHK, Hong Kong radio. Wood's earliest reporting included covering key events in South and southern Africa, among them the Portuguese withdrawal from Mozambique and Angola and the Soweto uprising in the mid-1970s. He is the author of the book Exploring New Europe, A Bicycle Journey, based his travels – by bicycle – through 14 countries of the former Soviet bloc after the fall of Russian communism. Read more of his work at econbarry.com. Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07OIjoanVGg