SINCE THE RECENT 80th COMMEMORATION of the bombing of Pearl Harbour that launched America into World War II – from which it emerged as the unchallenged champion of democracy – I find it timely to ask, “Is the USA still a world superpower?”
Yes, we possess more destructive nuclear arms that any other country, but in this age of cyber warfare and fanatical, religious extremist organisations is our military sufficiently organised around affirmative responses to today’s challenges?
During World War II we fought the Axis powers on two fronts. Could we engage in two theatres of operation today? Russia is, after all, threatening to invade Ukraine and China has similar designs on Taiwan.
Alliances forged after WWII are fraying. Our commitments are subject to political whims: the last (Trump) administration cosied up to autocrats and America’s aversion to becoming involved in international conflicts until our land or citizens are attacked has centuries-long roots.
Domestically, we are a nation in transition, so much so that in a recent survey nearly one in four Americans indicated a “willingness to secede” from the Union. The percentage was markedly higher for Republicans in Southern and Mountain states.
Our politics is no longer the “art of compromise,” but rather a “winner-take-no-prisoners” form of combat.
And all the while, the infrastructure that empowered our economic strength – rail, air and highway systems, modern telecommunications, power grids, clean water supplies and industrial plants – has atrophied instead of being maintained and upgraded, while China has leapfrogged our capacities.
Perhaps a deeper question we should ask is, ‘What is the true nature of American character?’ Is it an e pluribus unum ideal (‘out of many, one’, motto of the USA). Or is it a mythologised, Western movie psyche that values the individual over collective responsibility? Has the public’s divided response to COVID – the wearing of masks and the acceptance of vaccinations – highlighted the fissures in US society?
To be a superpower democracy requires not just the consent of the governed but also an educated public, educated not just to the truths and myths of its nation’s founding but also to the mis-steps made along the way, in order that those faults are not repeated.
So is the USA still a superpower? The black box of nuclear codes a military aide carries near the president does not by itself answer the question in the affirmative.
American superpower status comes with responsibilities. It is time we rededicated ourselves to the values our mythology ascribed to the United States.