In the "Afterword" (his spelling) section of Orson Scott Card's Shadow of the Hegemon, he's reviewing some of his thoughts on why he had the politics of the book play out the way they did. He describes America as "a nation in decline, and my people have little will to be well led". We prefer individuality and the modern comforts and we will not unite to change the world. In the book, America is largely taking a back-seat role in politics while the movers-and-shakers are the Russians, Chinese and Indians -- cultures with a strong sense of nationalism, easily united to focus on a common national goal (such as, e.g., taking over the world).
I can understand why he thinks this about America, and to some extent perhaps it's true. I recently saw the South Park episode where South Park is overrun by hippies. Initially, Stan and friends (minus Cartman, who hates hippies) were taken in by their desire to fight the corporations, but they eventually realized that hippie talk is really just talk, and somehow fighting the corporations turns into a big festival with lots of music and pot smoking and if you wait for the part where they actually stick it to the man, you're going to die of old age (or smoke inhalation). Like most South Park episodes, there's a seed of truth in there.
I see the same thing a lot on various political oriented websites. A lot of strong talk, but not much action. What action there is tends to come in the form of donation to charity rather than any real move. Oh, genocide in Africa? How terrible. Let's all donate to Doctors Without Borders! And then, presumably, we'll all go eat some pot brownies and that'll fix everything. Stop the genowhatnow? You want who to do what and go where to stop whowhatsit? No no, that's the MAN talkin', man! Just donate to this charity group and replace your old lightbulbs with CFLs! Wooo! Free Bird!
One might get the impression that we are becoming a nation of wusses. Big on talk, small on action, surely our days of changing the world are coming to an end.
What's more, Card seems to follow the belief that China and India will become huge world superpowers due to their massive populations. I'm starting to suspect that they may not be able to become huge world superpowers precisely because of their populations.
Look at, oh, say, the D.C. area, especially around where I am, in the Rockville area. Traffic is absolutely horrible and they're only building more places to live. I was talking to a coworker the other day, who has lived here all of his life, and he mentioned that originally, there were supposed to be 2 beltways around D.C. and several more bridges across the Potomac to Virginia. The environmentalists sacked the bridges, the second beltway never got made and the Intercounty Connector (which won't help much, I think) is having to fight in the courts. The more people you have, the harder it is to actually do anything because there are too many groups you have to appease. As it is, the planned route for the ICC is rather curvy and ridiculous looking because of all the places they absolutely couldn't go through.
If these are the kinds of growing pains that America has, I can only imagine what a mess it must be in India and China, and it seems to me that it's only going to get harder as time goes by. India has a rate of deaths-per-10k-motor-vehicles-per-year of 20 while in the U.S., it's 2. They have a huge incentive to improve their infrastructure but I'm willing to bet that right now, they can't. The large population is, I suspect, hindering their ability to adapt as much as it's helping supply a base of wealth and power.
I also figure it's a bit like chimpanzee vs elephant. For all of the elephant's brain mass, they never became kings of the animal kingdom because they're so huge, they have to spend all day finding things to eat. The basics of life are complicated enough for them that they don't have time to sit around and ponder better methods of throwing poop at the local jaguar population. It was the leaner, more efficient apes that became kings of the animal kingdom. They're the ones that ultimately invented guns.
So, is America really in decline?
I don't think so. I think we might be losing our will to go out and effect change in the world with our bombs and our bullets, but I don't think we're in danger of losing our will to maintain our position remotely, through financial clout, political manipulation and the traditional selling of weapons to the enemies of the people we don't like. India and China are like the elephant, seemingly huge and unstoppable and brilliant, but all of their strength and brains are focused internally, trying to solve the problems that are brought on by being so big. We're the monkeys. Smaller but more adaptable.
I don't think we're on the decline. I think we're just now really beginning to establish our place at the head of the table. Be glad you're here, because I think it will prove, ever increasingly, to be one of the best places to live in the decades to come. Yes, nations like Sweden have peace, freedom and universal health care, but the only thing preventing them from being stomped on by their neighbors is a temporary lack of desire to do so. Who knows what the future holds for them? Who knows where China, India, Pakistan and the volatile Muslim nations will end up? America is the greatest country on earth because I think we have the most reason to look ahead and see ourselves still in a position of strength and influence in the world. In the long run, I think we're still the place to be.