(Pic source: Wikimedia)
An interesting quirk about the Americans is this penchant for defining benchmarks. For excellence in governance, Americans of every stripe pray to this one God named Ronald Reagan, even though he was nothing more than a failed B-movie actor and a crooked political operator who thought nothing of selling arms to the very same Iranians who had just a year prior held 52 of his fellow countrymen hostage for 444 days.
There is another yardstick, but let me give you the background first. It was the two decades immediately after the Second World War and here was America, unscathed and untouched by the devastation of war in spite of the fact that it had been the main participant. Industrial output and exports skyrocketed – understandable, since all the other developed nations – Europe, Japan, Korea, the USSR – had been decimated. There was a single unchallenged source of supply for everything, even toilet paper – America.
The folks who lived through the two decades of incredible prosperity immediately following WW2 are the second benchmark – a demographic Americans call The Greatest Generation. ‘They built America,’ crow misty-eyed Americans. What they conveniently forget is that the phenomenal economic growth happened over the devastation of others, not because of some kind of spectacular resourcefulness on part of Americans. When you are the last guy standing it is easy to prosper.
American economic supremacy and technological prowess in the immediate post war period was so total that it wasn’t bothered by free trade and competition. With the rest of the industrialized world razed to the ground, who was going to compete anyway? Ordinary Americans began believing that that prosperity was actually the normal, the expected, the inevitable.
Overconfident and cocky, fully expecting to keep building on the technological and economic edge, America embarked on an eventually self-defeating process that we now know as globalization. We all know how that has panned out – every nation in the world, every demographic segment has prospered, except the bottom half of the developed world, as jobs have fled. All those annual vacations in Hawaii, manicured suburban lawns and chrome-plated Impalas have moved to Asia. Every time an American buys an Iphone, it adds $200 to the already blooming deficit and it is a Chinese worker who plans his next annual vacation.
Ordinary Americans, seething with anger, believe that their current situation is the abnormal, the unexpected, the avoidable. The reality however is that this is the normal and not the era of The Greatest Generation – that was the abnormal.