Stemming the decline in American Exceptionalism

In 1961, the New York Yankees won the World Series defeating the Cincinnati Reds going away, winning four out of five games. This team was voted one of baseball’s all time best teams, with six players hitting twenty or more home runs, led by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. What many did not realize at that time, is this huge success was the beginning of the end of a long-lasting Yankee dynasty. Yes, they made it back to three more World Series, even winning one, but that was the apex of the dynasty and its hero, Mickey Mantle and by 1965, they would be out of the limelight until the late 1970s.

I use this example as it is a metaphor for the United States that has touted its exceptionalism. Mind you, we have one of the greatest governmental constructs of any country, but we have let others catch up and pass us, by investing less in our country than others. We have also let our country drift further into a land of haves and have-nots, where not everyone has full access to the same opportunities, what Teddy Roosevelt called a “square deal.” However, it is not too late to stem the tide of decline. We have rallied before and can rally again. But, we need to recognize the world has changed and we will be only one of several great economic engines and world influencers.

Not to belabor the decline too much, but to highlight where we have lost our way, note the following:

– Our educational rankings per the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development show we have declined in rankings in math, science and reading where we can barely hear the music the band is playing. On this subject, it should be noted that India sent a rocket to orbit Mars on its first try and did it cheaper than we could.

– Our upward mobility rankings continue to decline where we are no longer in the top ten. Some measures have us even further down the list. It is increasingly more important in the US where and to whom you were born than your own relative merit to achieve success. It should be noted that Canada now has a higher median level of wealth than in the US and our bottom 90% have stagnated in earnings, while our top 10% have done quite well per a recent survey.

– Our governing process has been thwarted by special interest groups, funders and lobbyists, to the extent deadlock, gridlock, ineffectiveness and inaction are words used more often than others to describe our leaders in Congress. Plus, bizarre and hypocritical decisions are made by many and few notice. Our own Department of Defense has noted Congress as a security risk to our country, as they are not governing and prefer to grandstand.

– Our focus has been on entertainment and sound byte issues. Fewer people care to investigate and pay attention to what really is going on with some biting hook, line and sinker the propagandized version or a superficial version of the news. If it is not exciting, Americans tend to lose interest. They do not recognize when smoke is being blown at them or question rhetoric.

– Our infrastructure is declining and we need to invest in roads, bridges, ports, technology, education, and renewable energy. The fact that one major political party refuses to admit publicly climate change is man-influenced is beyond lunacy and has harmed America and our planet. This is prima facie evidence of the power of funders, in this case the fossil fuel industry which favors the continuation of non-renewable energy where their greatest profits lie. Per “The Global Warming Reader” edited by Bill McKibben, the industry sold through an advanced PR campaign the story that “global warming is a hoax” and many bought this story and some still do.

So, how do we fix this? First, we must invest in our country. We built this country with leveraged public and private investment and other countries have followed our model. Yet, we have lost sight of this and we have fallen behind. There are several books on this subject, but the best one is “That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How it Can Come Back” by Thomas Friedman (who wrote “The World is Flat” and Michael Mandelbaum.

We must provide equal opportunity for everyone and not favor those with the most money. As a 55-year-old former Republican, what I have witnessed in my business dealings and observations, is people say they want free market capitalism. What they tend to want is capitalism that favors them. Our country needs some governance on capitalism, which is why Teddy went after the Robber Barons who ran the country. Everything was tilted in their favor and they used everyone else as their pawns. We must avoid collusion, price-fixing, interlocking boards, insider trading, back dated stock options, unfair labor practices, aggressive marketing and fraud, etc. I also don’t like that long time employees must pay for the sins and bad decisions of their leaders through lay-offs while the leaders continue on or go out with a golden parachute.

We must also recognize that we have a poverty problem in this country. Most of the vanishing middle class did not go up in ranks, but fell down the ladder. We must increase opportunity through education and training. We must provide a living wage to people by increasing the minimum wage and tagging it to periodic or indexed increases. We need to embrace health care access for all, so we should refine Obamacare which is showing success in spite of its complexity. It should not be lost on others that the countries with better social mobility rankings tend to have some form of national healthcare. While Obamacare is not national healthcare, it does improve access and is dampening cost increases.

Finally, we citizens need to pay more attention and tell politicians we are watching. We need to share our concerns and vote for people who are willing to collaborate. The rigidity of a candidate in his or her belief system is in direct proportion to his or her inability to govern. We don’t need leaders shouting at the wind; we need leaders willing to listen and look at real data from reputable sources. We need leaders who are less enamored with their own voice and do not believe their own BS simply because a supposed news source regurgitated that rhetoric as fact, so it must be right.  We also need our citizens to be better informed. I encourage you to read and watch news sources that are more even-handed and in-depth, where actual subject matter experts speak civilly with informed newscasters.

It is not too late to stem the tide of our decline. But, we do need to wake up and change our behavior. The Yankees did learn from their demise and eventually rebuilt their team. They won two World Series in 1977 and 1978 and then created a new dynasty that rivaled the older ones in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Derek Jeter is retiring this year and serves as a great example to learn from. He carried himself with professionalism, came to work every day on time and ready to play and cared more about winning than individual success. Not a bad act to follow.

10 thoughts on “Stemming the decline in American Exceptionalism

  1. Note to Readers: I did not want to belabor this, but one of the reasons for the decline in the New York Yankees dynasty by 1965, was due to the American League slowness to integrate its teams. The Yankees and Red Sox, both were particularly slow, so when Mickey Mantle and others started their aging, their competitiveness waned. This was one reason the National League won so many All Star games during this time. It is noted the Red Sox could have had both Willie Mays and Hank Aaron on their team, but passed on signing them. This slowness to integrate is also a metaphor for our country’s decline.

  2. You remain optimistic, and thats great. My fear is that we’ve long passed the apex of our country’s shining moments, and it is too far back, too steep of a climb to return. There comes a point where monied interests are so overpowering, that civility and compassion cannot defeat them. The 1% will never agree to share, the CEO’s will never agree to salary cuts, and congress will never again listen to average Americans. And lastly, our social and entertainment focused citizenry will never again take part in serious democracy. We are following in the history of past, great civilizations, such as the Greeks and Romans, only we’ve destroyed ourselves in less than 300 years, where they took centuries.

    • Barney, I hope I am closer to being right than you are on this, but I am certainly not convinced of that and this is why we need to sound the alarm. Did you every watch the HBO show “The Newsroom?” In the very first episode, Jeff Daniels character answers a question from a college student about why our country is so great? He stopped from giving a pat answer and said “it’s not” and proceeding to tell her why. This was clearly not what she wanted to hear.

      My daughter and I were just talking about the school board in a Colorado county who wanted to whitewash US history. The students walked out of the classes in protest. Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald had an excellent piece in this morning’s paper. In my view, the kids are seeing it. We just need some people who look like me to see it as well. We will have to fight like hell to say over and over again, stop this BS.

      Thanks for your comments. Unfortunately, if we don’t act, you will be closer to the future prediction that I will. BTG

  3. You know, it may sound ugly, but in my opinion poor parenting should take the blame for a great deal of the problems we face. Over the last few generations quality parenting has consisted of leveling the playing field to the extent that exceptional children are dragged down to the point where exceptionalism is frowned upon, while mediocre children are showered with false expectations of glory. Not to say that children should be treated as mediocre – but should be encouraged to actually BE exceptional. Add in the fact that parents mostly ignore their children when not training them to a entitlement attitude, and they no longer learn morals – not morals in a “christian” sense but in the sense of understanding the outcome of their actions and the worth of those they consider “below” them. Give a spoiled, entitled child access to a congressional seat, a banking board seat, etc. and look what happens…..

    • Excellent points. Do you follow Hugh Curtler’s blog at He is a former college professor and he has written several posts along the same lines. You would enjoy the Professor. Per your and Hugh’s comments. One of the reason’s there is some backlash against the Common Core with all of its testing, is it showing that little Suzy and Johnny are not as talented as their parents thought. The over testing needs to be pulled back some, but requiring some basic standards is important.

      • Clicked your link, thanks. Basics are important, of course.
        But I agree, teaching to tests is a huge problem. And the parents are again the problem – little Suzy and Johnny should be held to standards, but encouraged to reach beyond them. Creativity seems to be missing in too much these days. and I don’t really blame the teachers – it is more the parents and the school boards that are causing the issues – making sure that their little darlin’s aren’t shown up in the classroom. If everyone is the same, no one is unique . . .

      • Very true. It is a collaborative effort and a good teacher cannot do a parent’s job. Plus, with a single working mother (or father), it is so very difficult to attend school and teacher functions. My wife and I volunteered at an elementary school in a high poverty school. She would help the teacher out by shepherding the kids who were have behavioral issues. My wife said these kids needed a soft place to land, so she provided that so the teacher could teach the rest of the class. It does take a village and I respect the role teachers’ play.

  4. I think the problems you mention are rife in all Western/industrialized/capitalist countries, although social programs help to mitigate the effects in some of them. I loved the Colorado story; it gives me hope!

    OK, BTG, you have got me stumped on a baseball question. I know the World Series is now the best of 7. So why, in 1961, did the Yankees not stop after game 4 when they had won the best of 5?

    • Thanks. I love the Colorado story as well. I shared it with my daughter who was inspired by it too. The World Series was best of seven in 1961, but the Yankees won four of the first five games, making the last two unnecessary. Sorry for the confusion. In a piece of irony, in 1960, the Yankees lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4 games to 3, even though theyoutscored the Pirates setting World Series scoring records. The Yankees won games like 10 – 0, 12 – 0, and 16 – 4, but lost four close games. I think the 1961 team had something to prove.

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