Divided States of America: Notes on the Decline of a Great Nation

By SPIEGEL Staff

Part 3: America Falls Behind

Photo Gallery: America Loses Its Edge Photos
REUTERS

This now seems to be dawning on many of those who used to come to the United States because it was the country of their dreams. According to new studies, highly qualified immigrants from India and China are increasingly turning their backs on the country after finishing their studies there, secretly hoping for better opportunities back home. America is no longer as attractive a magnet as it once was. And, of course, China and India, the native countries of many potential immigrants, have become significantly stronger.

America will feel the effects of this trend. Immigrants made America great and have kept it great. Immigrants, who make up about 12 percent of the current US population, founded more than half of all Silicon Valley companies and filed one in four patent applications between 1995 and 2005. Almost half of all doctoral candidates in engineering and science do not speak English as their first language.

The most talented American students will not be filling the resulting gap, because they'd rather work on Wall Street than in technology and engineering fields. About a third of the students in every graduating class at Harvard University accepts jobs in investment banking and consulting, or with hedge funds -- that is, industries that produce one thing above all: fast money.

In Today's America, Long-Term Goals Stand No Chance

Obama proposed several projects to improve the country's schools, raise education levels and promote equal opportunity for all children. But instead of supporting his efforts, governors obstructed them. Some even blocked guidelines to bring healthier food into school cafeterias, merely because they were created by people in Washington. In this environment, long-term goals don't stand a chance.

Obama's major economic stimulus package, which critics claim is more of a crisis management program than the blueprint for a new beginning, set aside $90 billion to promote renewable energy. This is a lot of money, but because the "green jobs" the program promised didn't materialize right away, the president's adversaries ridiculed the entire project and cited it as an example of his failure. Obama's search for a green future was nothing but a money pit, scoffed the Republican front men, who want nothing to do with environmental protection and ecological progress, because they assume that electricity comes from an outlet and gasoline from a pump.

Solyndra, a promising startup company in the sunny town of Fremont, California, which had a seemingly brilliant idea to make more effective solar panels, became a symbol of the fight over Obama's allegedly failed environmental policy. In March 2009, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics, awarded the company a $535 million loan.

"The promise of clean energy isn't just ... some abstract possibility for science fiction movies," Obama said. But that was wrong, at least when it came to Solyndra. The company went bankrupt in 2011, 1,100 employees lost their jobs, the government's money was gone and the Republicans had fodder for the election campaign.

Solyndra was in fact the exception to the rule. Of 63 companies that received government assistance under Obama's green economy programs, 58 were successful and only five went bankrupt -- a 92-percent success rate. But none of that mattered. Obama's opponents, or about half of the American population, ignored the underlying goal of the "green" offensive, which is ultimately to make the entire country more competitive.

Within a few years, major competitor China has increased its share of the global solar market from 6 to an impressive 54 percent. Less than two decades ago, the United States was still making more than 40 percent of solar technology sold worldwide. Today it's just over 5 percent.

Even as America falls behind, some of its more enlightened citizens sometimes return from abroad to report on all the things they have learned in other countries. For instance, while campaigning for Obama, former President Bill Clinton often cited the "German model" as one worth emulating. In "a country where on average the sun shines as much as it does in London," he told an audience, "the Germans have netted 300,000 jobs out of their commitment to a solar future." America, he suggested, could create a million such jobs if it wanted to. But in 2012, this is a goal that no more than half of the people in the United States would support, which is why the country is beginning to lose its edge.

Losing Ground

Nevertheless, "decline" is a big word, especially for a nation that is still the world's number one economic and military power, and will remain so for at least the next decade. It's also a country whose innovative energy seems unbroken in many fields, and one that, unlike Europe, has balanced population growth and enormous mineral resources. In fact, when it comes to the demise of former world powers, Europe's decline is much more evident than that of the United States.

But America is losing ground: as a model, as a driving force and as an old and bright beacon for the West. It's been half a century since a US president last promised to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." These were the words of John F. Kennedy, but even his direct successors were much more selective as to which tasks they were willing to take on to defend liberty after US withdrawal from Vietnam.

Ronald Reagan, whose fans credit him with having disarmed the "Evil Empire," sent Marines into Lebanon, and brought them home again after 241 soldiers were killed in a suicide attack. Otherwise, Reagan only captured tiny Grenada in the name of liberty. Bill Clinton recalled US troops from Somalia after images of a dead US soldier's body being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu were broadcast on television. He chose not to intervene in the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. And, like the Europeans, he spent years watching the wars of succession in Yugoslavia until he ordered the bombing of the troops of then Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

Even George W. Bush, who, at least during his first term, was convinced that the United States had to defend freedom and democracy, with military force if necessary, did so under the delusion that major successes were possible with a relatively small commitment of troops and equipment. But he was mistaken. Annual costs of between $100 billion and close to $200 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were a key determining factor in the US's current financial plight.

Obama can be credited with having finally admitted that his country's options in foreign policy are not unlimited. "We can no longer afford troop-heavy interventions, unless our national survival is at stake," he said. But in the toxically divided United States, his detractors interpreted this realization to mean that the commander-in-chief was personally preaching that the country should abandon its leadership role.

Economic Crisis Forces Foreign Policy Rethink

But it was the economic crisis and the crisis within the political system that forced the president to rethink his options in foreign policy. And it would be an illusion to believe that the outward expression of political strength has nothing to do with the economic, domestic state of a country. But it is precisely this adjustment to reality that raises the anger of those who have always seen America as the country that could tell everyone else what to do.

In fact, the more palpable and undeniable the country's economic and political weakening, the louder the nationalist bluster coming from Tea Party leaders becomes. And even as it indiscriminately demands cost cuts, especially in social and educational budgets, the Republican Party, the Grand Old Party, wants to make an exception for the defense budget. In fact, if the Republicans had their way, the defense budget would grow to historically high levels.

The Republicans paint their agenda as a commitment to a "strong America," while portraying the Democrats and, most of all, Obama, as cowards. That's why, during the campaign, there were billboards along America's highways that showed Obama bowing subserviently to oil sheikhs. And that's why the Republicans have outrageously characterized Obama's trips to the Arab world and his major speech in Cairo, offering reconciliation to the Muslims, as an "apology tour."

But foreign policy rarely decides elections in the United States. The legendary words "It's the economy, stupid" were coined by an advisor to Clinton during his successful 1992 presidential campaign. But the economy and foreign policy have never been as closely connected as they are in today's world, in which the United States faces serious competition for economic dominance. When there is talk of the Chinese challenge in the State of Ohio, whose 18 electoral votes could be critical in determining who wins the election, it relates directly to local jobs in the domestic automobile industry, so that no candidate can afford not to have an opinion on Washington's China policy.

Article...
  • For reasons of data protection and privacy, your IP address will only be stored if you are a registered user of Facebook and you are currently logged in to the service. For more detailed information, please click on the "i" symbol.
  • Post to other social networks

Comments
Discuss this issue with other readers!
58 total posts
Show all comments
    Page 1    
1. E pluribus chaos
Eleos 11/05/2012
America was founded by European Christians with a strong sense of fairness and a generosity of spirit, qualities which eventually laid the foundation for failure. At first they did not extend their rights to the slave population because it was evident to them, even to Jefferson and Lincoln, that such were the cultural differences between blacks and whites that they could not live together harmoniously. Over time they have allowed these qualities of generosity and fairness to be exploited, subduing misgivings and hoping for the best, until the swell of Third World immigration after the 1965 Immigration Act and the swarms of illegals crossing the Mexican border have overwhelmed the Republic. The USA now has an uneasy assortment of minorities, who simply do not have the wherewithal to contribute in the manner of the original settlers. Look at how Japan dealt with last year’s earthquake and tsunami, something thousands of times more destructive than Katrina or Sandy. People who feel affinity with their neighbours do not loot and cheat and mug. I am pretty astonished at how one-sided the article is, with a blanket espousal of the Democratic position and a disingenuous interpretation of the Republican one.
2. It started in the 1970tieth in the USA
SHBasse 11/05/2012
What is generally not accepted is that the decline started with the opening up of the western economies and the export of firms and jobs to the Far East. The first vissible result was the stagnation of the middleclass. For many years the accelerating decline was made invisible because of lax monetary policy. See "The fundamental causes of the crisis" http://unifiedscience2.blogspot.com/2011/02/deeper-causes-of-downturn.html
3.
tatianafromitaly 11/05/2012
Phenomenal article. I wish some America's media had valuable writers and factual JOURNALISTS to report on the US state of mind (or lack thereof). Ones has to resort to read international and reliable blogs - like Der Spiegel here - to fully acknowledge the pathetic politics and hyperbole that took over the massive 100% owned conservative media in Amerikkka - or just go online to read independents American blogs........Unfortunately the average american is too stupid or too ill-iterated pursue the reality behind the horrific Myth Rmoney. Mitt Romney is a homophobic bigot of epic proportions,has no concept that people of color even exist, and has lied pathologically throughout the campaign. He is ready to take the US into war immediately with Iran, Syria, and, if necessary, Egypt and Libya. He must be even more dishonest than Richard Nixon, which suggests an underlying psychiatric disorder. His business experience amounts to destroying American jobs and sending them to China. Is this what you mean you say that Republicans can almost "smell it." The rest of us have been smelling it since Romney opened his lying mouth. Women, of course, can look forward to his outlawing of birth control pills, much less abortion.
4.
Ernest Yates 11/06/2012
The Unites States is-- --number one in the degree of political, economic, and social freedom claimed by its citizens --number one in the number of museums and libraries --number one in the number of Nobel prizes won --number one in the number of Olympic medals --number one in GNP --number one in the number of major colleges and universities --number one in the number of books published, musical recordings produced, world-wide cinema attendance; hence --number one in world-wide cultural power --number one in military power --number one in--oh hell, i could go on, but you get the gist. Europeans are not noted for congratulating Americans on their ongoing achievements. (It's also very easy to find Americans who support any particular point of view.) The writer confuses episodes (storms, political uncertainty) with ongoing irreversible trend. Or is this just wishful thinking? If so, how ungenerous! How uncharitable!
5. Lazy journalism or intentionally spreading lies?
mae 11/06/2012
"In the show's brilliant premiere, he is asked at a panel discussion to describe why America is the greatest country in the world..... and number four in exports." Didn't Der Spiegel fact check any of the figures from this supposedly brilliant show? The USA is ranked number 2 in exports, not 4th as erroenously claimed. See link for 2011 below. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_exports I suspect the other figures have been manipulated as well to present the US in the worst possible light as well. Of course presenting lies of this supposedly brilliant show as facts is worthy of an you know what award. Go on and give yourselves a medal for it.
Show all comments
    Page 1    
Keep track of the news

Stay informed with our free news services:

All news from SPIEGEL International
Twitter | RSS
All news from World section
RSS

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2012
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH



From DER SPIEGEL

Graphic: Checking America's Vital Stats Zoom
DER SPIEGEL

Graphic: Checking America's Vital Stats


European Partners
Presseurop

Politiken

Corriere della Sera

Garlasco Acquittals Overturned

Anti-Europe Fever


Facebook
Twitter