America in Decline?

Mar 22, 2019

This article originally appeared on the Ethics & International Affairs blog.

It seems that many Americans view the country as being in long-term decline. The just-released Pew Research report, in crunching the data, concludes that the "public sees an America in decline on many fronts." The picture that the report paints is not reassuring.

Most of the focus is on domestic policy, but it raises the question as to whether the America the report envisions in 2050 will be interested, willing or even able to sustain its role as the linchpin of the current global order. It especially raises questions as to whether subsequent presidential administrations will sign on to the principles outlined in the recent Declaration unveiled at the 2019 Munich Security Conference.

In discussing the principles, Atlantic Council senior fellow Ash Jain described it as a "clear and compelling statement of values, a 'north star,' around which political leaders in democracies can coalesce to reaffirm shared values and mobilize public support behind them." But here's the key element: leaders will have to mobilize public support. The Pew report suggests that over the next several decades, politicians will have to lead and educate and even cajole, because the trends outlined suggest a country that may be more inclined to turn inward, reduce its role in the world, or, if some of the more negative trends continue, shift to becoming more belligerent and mercenary in the international arena. A country that perceives itself to be in decline rarely projects constructive influence into the international arena, while politicians are inclined to distract from perceptions of decline at home by searching for opportunities abroad, the famed "splendid little war" phenomenon.

Nothing is predetermined, but for those who want to rejuvenate the U.S. leadership role in the world. the Pew Report outlines trends that will have to be countered or accommodated. Otherwise the stage is being set for another narrative collapse where the direction of U.S. foreign policy and the aspirations of the general public are at odds.

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