Mark Hopkins: Is our nation in decline?
We just finished a national election where fewer than 42 percent of those registered actually voted. The Senate leadership turned over, but many are still convinced that the two dominant political parties can’t work together.
Even a casual observer knows that the United States has hit a rough patch of road. We have been driving over the potholes for several months now and the nabobs of negativity, as former Vice President Spiro Agnew used to call them, are beginning to predict our doom. Is it so?
History tells us that several great empires have come and gone since history was first recorded. The ancient Persians, Greeks, Romans, Spanish and British all preceded us as world leaders. In modern times, Germany and Russia flourished for a period of time and then faded rapidly.
How is the U.S. different from those great empires that fell? For one thing, they all began as smaller units that expanded their borders through conquest. The U.S. began as a group of individual colonies that voluntarily banded together against outside interference.
The earlier empires had to defend themselves from others who bordered the conquered territories. By contrast, the borders of the U.S. are largely oceans and only two countries, Mexico and Canada, both long-time allies, touch our borders.
When trouble came to those earlier empires, armies had to be sent to hold the conquered territories together. Unlike those empires, Americans tend to draw closer together when trouble comes. We value our independence and individuality but have learned there is safety and strength in pulling together.
One of the major differences between the U.S. and those earlier empires relates to what we have come to call the “American spirit.” With few exceptions, Americans came here from all over the world. Shy and retiring people do not venture far from their home fires.
There was a confidence, an aggressiveness and a spirit of adventure that must have been present for those brave souls just to get here. It is our diversity and that American spirit that have become our strength and the glue that holds us together. That spirit is in our genes.
Are we in decline? Only history will answer that question. But history has taught us at least one pertinent lesson related to our situation. Difficult times do come and are generally followed by a time of peace and prosperity.
Our country has faced tough times before. As Robert Schuller of Crystal Cathedral fame, wrote in one of his books, “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”
Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union’s Communist boss of the 1950s, told the U.S. “We will bury you.” Where is the Soviet Union now? To paraphrase the words of American writer Mark Twain, “The report of our decline has been greatly exaggerated.”
Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.