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.