The Death of a Superpower

Scores of books have been written in response to the Great Recession of 2007, but none is more provocative than Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? by Patrick J. Buchanan, a renowned conservative politician and one-time presidential candidate. Understandably, all such books have wrestled with providing answers to inevitable questions such as: What went wrong? Why is a country that has come out triumphantly from many challenging historical events pushed to the brink of downfall? Why is a country that rose up victoriously from the debilitating Second World War and even had the might to help Europe and Japan to rebuild their infrastructures, now at the mercy of China and Japan for financial resources? Not surprisingly, the diagnoses are more or less similar and the same villains are identified by almost all such authors. The villains include government forbearance, corporate greed, reckless business conduct, globalization and unfair international trade practices, lopsided income and wealth distribution, the symbiotic relationship between politicians and the rich, and misguided government priorities, especially during the first decade of the 21st century. However, Mr. Buchanan has added additional dimensions, albeit occasionally controversial, to these arguments. He insists that the demise of old-fashioned moral and religious values, focusing on egalitarianism instead of freedom, and more significantly, inexorable demographic developments such as the rise of minorities, especially Blacks and Hispanics, and diversity and multiculturalism will eventually deal a devastating blow to the America we once knew and inherited from our founding fathers.

Although most of his analyses are contentious because of their racial overtones and chauvinism, some may merit public discourse. For example, Mr. Buchanan considers, much to my chagrin, diversity to be the cause of the disintegration of this nation instead of the source of its strength as many citizens, observers, and politicians believe. He also states that this nation was built on the foundation of freedom not equality. Needless to say, it takes some valor on his part to deviate from mainstream thought and risk possibly losing his job at MSNBC and stirring up a backlash by non-white Americans. Frustrated by seeing traditional values being assaulted by left-wing politicians, academics, and activists, Mr. Buchanan takes it upon himself to tackle many issues others may not dare to talk about. He is not, I believe, hypocritical about what he says, as anomalous as some of his opinions may sound. And because he is already an established famous person, he does not need to be in search of fame and publicity by stirring controversy as is the case for some other people. Political and ideological bickering aside, it is important for us to explore the possible problems caused by, and the consequences of, the issues he examined in his book.

“Is America coming apart?” Mr. Buchanan asks (p. 2). His answer is yes; it is bound to happen in the middle of the 21st century, he surmises, when minorities take over this country. He argues that the time-honored principles white Americans inherited from their ancestors are under attack and in danger of becoming extinct. We no longer share moral, religious, and ancestral common ground. Dividing forces and racial and ethnic barriers have already overtaken the uniting forces. “By fall 2009, a majority told a USA Network polling firm we Americans are too divided over race and religion while three fourths said we are too divided over politics and economics” (p. 5). Things are different today and traditional values that linked us together as a homogeneous nation are either pushed to the periphery or no longer exist. This is the persistent theme of his book. He is not particularly diffident in expressing his anxiety over immigration and the diversification of the American population and culture, especially given the fact that some polling results indicate that only a low percentage of respondents believed that racial and religious diversity is good for America.

The U. S. is no longer the economic superpower it once was. Its total GDP, which used to be higher than 30% of the world’s total at the end of the 20th century, is now about 23%. We are becoming more and more dependent on imports, thanks to the insatiable appetite of American consumers. We borrow intensely from other nations to finance our government and our reckless spending, especially our spending on protecting the very countries we are borrowing from. Although ranked below the U. S. in terms of GDP, China and Germany lead us in regard to economic growth as well as exports and we have a trade deficit with almost every country we do business with. Our biggest trade deficit is with China at nearly $560 billion in 2011, an increase of about 11.50% compared to 2010. And, just like many other authors before him, Mr. Buchanan blames the economic demise of America on our own obliviousness to what is, and was, going on around us and our immersion in our hubris. “We did it to ourselves,” he says (p. 12). We were surprised by the triumph of other countries that were nation-building at home while we were doing it abroad.

“This is our reward [punishment] for turning our backs on economic nationalism of the men who made America, and embracing the free-trade ideology of economists and academics who never made anything,” Mr. Buchanan says (p. 17). Our stores are stuffed with cheap imports from China, the country that, according to him, does not honor the codes of reciprocity and refuses to play on a level playing field. He believes many of our so-called trade partners are actually “trade predators.” Excessive imports have weakened the demand for domestic products and hence labor, causing the stagnation of earnings of American workers. Unable to buy as much as they used to of what they helped to produce, the American middle class is left with no choice but to rely on government handouts. Buchanan argues that we have transformed our country into an entitlement state. According to CNNMoney, nearly 17% of Americans receive financial assistance from the government.

“Welcome to twenty-first century America, where globalism has become the civil religion of our political and corporate elite” (p. 21). Owing to our wobbly commercial and immigration policy, we have provided subsidized accommodations for millions of importers and the immigrants entering this country legally or illegally. The number of unauthorized immigrants in the U. S. has remained at about 11 million in recent years, nearly 3.7 % of the U. S. population. The “whole world is coming to feast at the banquet table,” Mr. Buchanan says (p. 32). “Today we have accepted the existence of a permanent underclass of scores of millions who cannot cope and must be carried by society—fed, clothed, housed, tutored, medicated, at taxpayers’ expense their entire lives” (p. 34). He is astonished, as are many others, about the sorry state of the U. S., a nation that used to be the economic envy of the world but is now in such a diminished condition. “How did the republic that came through a depression to win WW II, rebuild Europe and Japan, put a man on the moon, lead the world into the age of prosperity and triumph over the Soviet Empire after a half century of cold war come to this?” he asks (p. 44). His answer is that our social failure and moral decline have led us to economic failure. “Without religion, morality withers and dies, the communities disintegrate, and the nation falls” (p. 45). He adamantly insists that morality, as encompassed in religion, is the source of inspiration for every nation. More specifically, he states, our demise is the consequence of the death of Christianity in America. He would argue that with increasing diversity and the lack of common lineage, there goes love, mutual interdependence, and non-zero sumness. We will no longer tolerate one another since we no longer share common ground and have no mutual socioeconomic interests.

The diminution of white America is fast approaching, he surmises, thanks to bound-to-happen demographic changes, a very low birth rate among whites, and the increasing rate of the elderly white population who will soon become an endangered species. White is becoming “a new black” (p 130). It is now untrendy to be associated with white U. S. society, a society that was once so feverish with the I-am-tiger-Woods attitude. The problem, as Buchanan sees it, is the multiculturalism that protects every identity except whiteness. He expresses his anxiety over the possible dethroning of whites, not only in the U. S. but in other countries as well, and their eventual replacement by what he calls people of color. “And among the peoples of color who will replace them [whites], the poorest in the least developed nations are reproducing fastest” (p. 166). “Today, close to half of all children in most OECD countries grow up without siblings” (p 166). Seeking refuge in the Tea Party movement and turning to Rush Limbaugh express the reaction of whites to the threat of possible diminution, their descent on the political ladder, and the loss of millions of blue color manufacturing positions occupied mostly by white men. Although America is still the biggest producer of goods and services, the manufacturing share of its GDP, which was about 23% in 1970, has been dropping steadily since then to less than 13% now. Quoting Shelby Steele, Mr. Buchanan says: “Racial identity is simply forbidden to whites in America because of their history and white guilt” (p. 131).

Mr. Buchanan asserts that the economic implications of the impending demographic trajectory, the increase in minorities, mainly black and Hispanic, are grave and will lead to lower wage rates and incomes especially for the middle class, ensnare this country into a recessionary trap, and ultimately force her into the position of a third-world country. Welcome to “Third World America,” he proclaims. The decline in the white population, as he puts it, is due to their low birth rate and many decades of influx of immigrants to the U. S. “Mexico is moving north,” he declares (p. 133). The author argues that increasing minorities entails colossal economic as well as social costs on our nation, stemming especially from immoralities such as a higher rate of illegitimacy (p. 136). He believes, when it comes to people, what matters is quality and not the quantity. All human beings are not equal, he states. “Yet demography is not always destiny, for all human capital is not created equal. In making history, it has been often the quality of a people that mattered most” (p. 162). In addition to high costs, the increase of minorities, he maintains, will foment a race-based justice system and unjust rationing of economic and employment opportunities.

Western societies are becoming “self-centered” people who do not want to assume the responsibility of raising children because they are no longer considered economically expedient. With the active participation of women in the labor force demanding jobs, it is no longer practical for women to stay at home and raise kids. Doing so entails economic losses. Emerging yuppies want to benefit from the pleasure of nuptials without making a commitment and are unwilling to sacrifice and bear the hardships of raising kids. Children are now viewed as economic choices with consequential monetary and opportunity costs. In the meantime, increasing living expenses, following inflated expectations, and a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality have made it impossible to live comfortably on one salary and thus forced the steady influx of females into the labor force in recent decades. 

As Mr. Buchanan extensively explains in chapter six, we cannot have both equality and freedom; there is a trade-off between the two. America is a country founded on liberty and not equality. “No American war was fought for egalitarian ends” (p. 192) and there is no reference to equality in either the U. S. Constitution or in the Fourteenth Amendment. “The constitution not only does not mandate equality, it does not mentioned equality” either (p. 196). “The Fourteenth Amendment did not mandate or mention social, political, or economic equality” (p. 201). A classless society was not what our founding fathers had in mind, Buchanan believes. “Today’s egalitarian drive to make us all equal is no fulfillment of the vision of the founding fathers” (p 191). While Buchanan acknowledges the importance of equality when it comes to God-given rights, constitutional rights, and equal protection under the law, he argues that the fruits of economic prosperity, for example, must be distributed according to “God-given talents.” Thus, “inequalities of incomes and rewards were [are] the inevitable concomitant of competitive and free society” (p. 202). He thinks that government’s mission is to protect rights and not make them equal. He warns: “A nation that is dedicated to the proposition that all are equal and entitled to equal rewards must end up constantly discriminating against its talented tenth, for that is the only way free society can guarantee social and economic equality” (p. 209). Those who preach equality must think about the dire consequences of the long pursuit of equality in other countries and the costly fatal consequences that have befallen them. “To create the egalitarian society that exists only in the mind of ideologues, we are killing the wonderful country we inherited from the Greatest Generation” (p. 224). He even seems to advocate the belief that the drive toward egalitarianism may even be futile in today’s world wherein the knowledge-based economies engender even wider income/wealth inequality.

Is diversity the source of our strength?

In a democratic country where collective decisions are made based on the vote of the majority, it is not, of course, pleasant to be a member of a minority. This is what has made Mr. Buchanan so anxious about the loss of domination of the whites he predicts will have taken place by 2050.  He is not hesitant to express his opposition to the notion that diversity is our strength, nor his support for a more deterring immigration policy. He argues that those of us who have pushed for stricter immigration policy and better accountability concerning equal socioeconomic opportunities should not be charged with bigotry and racism because “we have only sought to preserve the country we grew up in” (p. 227). Is our country’s strength derived from its diversity? Should the U. S. become a “universal nation embracing all the races, tribes, creeds, cultures, and colors of planet earth” (p. 227) His answer to these questions seems to be, not necessarily so. “Everywhere we look, racially and ethnically diversified nations are tearing themselves apart,” he claims (p. 236).

Diversity enforced by law, such as having a disproportionate number of certain minorities in government offices and business companies, has been used by Mr. Buchanan to demonstrate the preferential treatment regarding hiring decisions; similar situations exist in American universities when it comes to accepting or rejecting applicants. He states: “Nondiscrimination laws should be applied equally among all citizens including those who happen to be white or Asian Americans (p. 261).

Population heterogeneity may create some impediments to the healthy growth of the economy because of things such as language problems, ethnic strife, envious feelings toward one another, and cultural barriers. Buchanan asks, if diversity makes us stronger and better, why then do so many people want to live in segregated, gated communities and exclusive neighborhoods? Isn’t it hypocritical that people who preach diversity tend to actually live a segregated life? “Our elites [top politicians] who vacation at beaches and ski resorts and send their children to schools that are predominately white” (p. 267) are such people.

The upshot of Buchanan’s argument is that diversity is good if all minorities are bound by the same common thread, have an allegiance to the same country, and are loyal to the same identity; he would have no qualm with that. But, if the identities of minorities are associated and often obsessed with things that happen to be at odds with the American identity, then this would create duality and often conflict. In which case, a society becomes like a disharmonized orchestra in which every member plays a different tune and thus creates irksome noises that will irritate our ears. What will be our common ground when, “in 2050, we have become a stew of 435 million, of every creed, culture, and color, from every country on earth, what will hold us together” (p. 272)? Buchanan asks over and over again throughout this chapter, should our social, political, and legal systems accommodate all these other cultures?

In summary, if Mr. Buchanan argues that this nation is doomed to dissolution because we have ignored the inevitable demographic and global realities in the past, why then does he want us to make the same mistake again by turning our backs on our current realities, the “inevitable demographic changes”? There are two things we cannot ignore, the law of the nature and the law of mathematics, and he is overlooking both.

Given the fact that the so-called suicide of the superpower, if indeed that is what Mr. Buchanan is apprehensive about, is due to inevitable demographic changes, why call it suicide and not a historical transformation? I believe this nation is not becoming suicidal; it is transforming into a nation of immigrants, always been a nation of immigrants? Its fate needs not be held hostage to “inevitable demographic changes.” Whatever its racial and ethnic mix, this nation historically has been tested tough, and its strength has been best manifested as it rose above any challenge and prevailed when faced with near-calamitous events. This time is no exception. We have rarely failed to deal effectively with our historical challenges. All we need to do is to revamp our success formula which is based on many elements, including our open-door immigration policy. As we have seen in the past, when the rich resources of this country are coupled with the talents and the determination of her people, especially of its immigrants, amazing things happen. We can remain pessimistic and upset, or we can turn our frustration into a passion to move this nation forward, regardless of its population mix. As always, our destiny is in our hands. It is up to us to use our ingenuity and imaginations to create a happy ending for our national story and prove wrong the naysaying pundits who claim to know what is inevitable.

If Mr. Buchanan believes that the demise of the white race is basically due to its low birth rate and reluctance to accept the challenges of having and raising kids in favor of their own self-pleasure, why then does he blame minorities for this disintegration?

And if the demographic changes that he is so adamantly upset about have already occurred or will inevitably occur, then what can we do about them? Who can stop the tidal movements of populations, or change the course of nature? When the jug is already broken and the milk has already been spilt, crying does not help put the milk back into the jug.

Mr. Buchanan’s repeated references to the founding fathers and his speculation about what they had in mind and what the prevalent norms of their time were does not prove that diversity is bad for America in the 21st century. We should see the realities of today’s hyper-connected world and not speculate about what the founding fathers may have thought about two centuries ago. To use an economic analogy to remind us to live in the present, if your house burns down today, the insurance company will not reimburse you based on what was true when you first bought your house, like the price you paid for it three or four decades ago. It will compensate you based on its current condition and current market value. Similarly, we cannot move this country back to two centuries ago and believe simplistically that what was true then should be upheld today. Sticking to the past means ignoring the present, ignoring cultural evolution, and ignoring our capacity to adapt to changing times and challenges.

“Where is the multiracial, multiethnic country that is a better place than the country we grew up in? Everywhere we look, racially and ethnically diverse nations are tearing themselves apart” (p. 236), Mr. Buchanan maintains. His belief that an America run by minorities will be worse than an America run by whites is a utopian idea that is indeed divisive and based on erroneous stipulations that immigrants of color are generally inferior to whites.  Miracles have happened and will continue to happen when the vast resources of this country are combined with the talent of its people whether they are immigrants or native. Plus, a strong belief in secularization does not allow our private life, religion, and cultural traits to interfere with our public life or allow public affairs to be overshadowed by private matters. That is a closely guarded pillar of democratic America.

It is said that the kind of flour one gets from a milling machine depends on what kind of seed has been put into it. Mr. Buchanan’s self-appeasing, albeit pessimistic, conclusions about America’s future are incorrect because they are based on the erroneous input he has used as the building blocks of his analyses. Those who migrate to the U. S. are not necessarily mediocre people coming from failed third world countries as he wants us to believe. On the contrary, they are mostly intelligent people who are in search of a more democratic milieu wherein their talents can excel and be better utilized. They are usually not the kind of people who come to America to place another burden on the U. S. system, unless the U. S. government has allowed them to or has invaded their countries and caused their forced displacement. Today’s many doctors, engineers, successful entrepreneurs, academics, movers and shakers who have their roots in other countries are serving this nation earnestly and leading it forward. And, it is just as unfair to portray a deranged person like Nidal Hassan as a representative of immigrants who, in Buchanan’s words, are so obsessed with their sacred identity that they are willing to commit atrocities in this country (p. 268) as it is to think that Timothy McVeigh is the representative of all American people.

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