American successes for the last two hundred years are nothing short of impressive. This country created nearly every major invention and world changing discovery in the 19th and 20th century. These achievements have ignited a pride in our country and fueled our patriotism.
The slew of successes for the last two centuries has produced an entitlement in the American psyche—we believe we are the best country on earth because our superior work ethic, our schools, our government, our military, and the spirit and ingenuity of the American people. Yet are these still correct assumptions?
The article published in Time on Thursday, “Are America’s Best Days Behind Us?” by Fareed Zakaria, points out that America needs to continue to foster the culture that got us here, not sit boasting of our previous achievements. It shows that while the successes of our past have put us so far on top that we feel invincible, the countries that really hunger for success, the ones that have burning desire to become like America, are clawing their way into the modern world will leave America in the dust.
Mr. Zakaria is spot on when he says it is time for America to take a look in the mirror. The foundations of our global dominance are eroding under our feet. As he says, “It’s not that our democracy doesn’t work; it’s that it works only too well. American politics is now hyper-responsive to constituents’ interests. And all those interests are dedicated to preserving the past rather than investing for the future.”
There are several ways to interpret the Time article. We can deny the accuracy, we can get disheartened by the implications, or we can do something about it. Yes, the US is far behind where it was, but it is a country built to succeed against the odds.
America has an ace in the hole. It has an advantage that by itself is not enough, but is an inimitable, competitive advantage that makes a huge difference—our citizens are raised as Americans. We know at heart America is a country with a history, a culture and a mandate that when push comes to shove, we constantly meet the challenge. It is not a coincidence.
We are a country founded by immigrants with an abnormally high risk-tolerance. These were people who crossed an ocean on the hope of a better life, risking everything coming here. They were rewarded with a land of seemingly boundless natural resources, explosive economic and geographic growth, and where almost most every skill was in demand. People take up any trade they chose. Unlike Europe or Asia, class or pedigrees were irrelevant.
Success was the currency of societal ascension, not lineage. America was for risk takers and those with gusto. It was literally a place where people could be whatever they made of themselves. It was a reality that was unique to the US.
America’s cultural DNA is based on this world of opportunity. Our parents, grand parents and great grand parents were raised believing they can become whatever they want, and our past successes are a product of this belief. The same belief exists in our children. They are empowered risk takers in a country that applauds their achievements, and whose successes change the world.
We are a country of risk takers and we need cater to that. Our government should reflect that in decisions and action. It is boosting research, education and science as we have in the past, but also trying new things as a country as we did in the early 19th century. Ultimately if we can’t stop the stagnation of innovation in government, we may push and shove ourselves out of global prominence.