Ezra Klein spoke for progressives throughout the land when he expressed a certain personal irritation with the “America No.1” cheerleading portions of Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
One of the first big applause lines of the speech came when Barack Obama said, “For all the hits weâ€™ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world.” But as Matt Yglesias notes, soon, we won’t. China will. And that’s okay.
A decent future includes China’s GDP passing ours. They have many, many more people than we do. It’s bad for both us and them if the country stays poor. …
In the best global economy we can imagine, the countries with the largest GDP are the countries with the most people. That’s not America. And that’s okay.
Klein proceeds to assure us that his preferred vision of the future is not all that bad for America. We have not declined into a state of want or hardship or oblivion. We’re just going to be No. 2, and content with it, since prosperous and successful China will be innovating for us.
What’s wrong with decline and fall? Klein argues. Britain declined. Why not us?
A world in which China becomes rich enough to buy from us and educated enough to invent things that improve our lives is a better world than one in which they merely become competitive enough to take low-wage jobs from us — and that’s to say nothing of the welfare of the Chinese themselves.
But perhaps it’s better to think of it in terms of Britain rather than China. Was the economic rise of the United States, in the end, bad for Britain? Or France? I don’t think so. We’ve invented a host of products, medicines and technologies that have made their lives immeasurably better, not to mention measurably longer. We’re a huge and important trading partner for all of those countries. They’re no longer even arguably No. 1, it’s true. But they’re better off for it.
Of course, Ezra Klein’s sunny picture of a modest swoon to position 2, purely on the basis of comparative demographics, old boy, is a puerile, historically illiterate assessment of how things work.
Loss of stature and decline typically does not cease when you hit number 2. If we look at Britain’s decline, we see not only loss of economic preeminence. We see a fundamental loss of national self-confidence, the abandonment of Britain’s civilizing mission abroad, diminishing military strength leading to dependency on the United States, surrender of the country’s domestic economy to the domination of trade unions and socialism, industrial collapse, decades of economic decline, mass emigration of the ambitious and enterprizing, and ultimately even the calculated remodeling of the ethnic character of the nation through Third World emigration policies covertly imposed by Labour leaders. Britain did not just sink to Number 2. Britain lost just about everything, including its national character.
Matt Yglesias echoes Klein, without bothering to sugarcoat the message.
[S]omething I thought was really striking about Barack Obamaâ€™s speech last night was how utterly unprepared American political culture is for the idea of a world in which weâ€™re not Top Nation. And yet the reality is that while weâ€™re the worldâ€™s largest economy today, and will continue to be so tomorrow, we really just wonâ€™t be forever. The Economist predicts that China will pass us in 2019. Maybe itâ€™ll be 2018 or maybe itâ€™ll be 2022.
But it will happen. And fairly soon. And itâ€™ll happen whether or not we reform education or invest in high speed rail or whatever. And the country doesnâ€™t seem prepared to deal with it.
We had a similar discussion, a few months ago, on my Yale class’s email list. Some liberal classmates had condemned the US Constitution and argued that, since it allowed slavery, Constitutional Originalism was obviously undesirable. The US Constitution had always been defective.
They went on to cite demographic prediction of larger Hispanic birth-rates, and gleefully predicted that in a few more decades, the United States would be a nation in which current minorities would be a majority.
I pointed out that the ongoing line of argument demonstrated only too clearly that the perspective of the left was, in fact, hostile to the political system of the United States as founded, and to the Constitution. That the same perspective, moreover, also did not like the majority of European-descended Americans, and took pleasure in imagining this country’s people and culture swept away and replaced by a different people.
Why, I wondered epistolarily, should anyone who actually supports the Constitution, loves America, or feels affirmative ties to the America people even think of listening to leftists?
As we see, in the cases of Messrs. Yglesias and Klein, in their heart of hearts, they are not on our side. They are our adversaries and opponents.