National Security & Defense

America Continues to Thrive

Even in its current malaise, the U.S. still soars above the global competition.

Germany’s first chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, supposedly once said that there was “a special providence for drunkards, fools, and the United States of America.”

Apparently, late 19th-century observers could not quite explain how the U.S. thrived when by logic it should not. That paradox has never been more true than today.

The U.S. government now owes more than $18 trillion in long-term debt. Even after recent income-tax hikes for the very wealthy and huge cuts in the defense budget, the Obama administration will still run an annual budget deficit of nearly $500 billion.

No government official dares to trim Social Security or Medicare. Everyone knows that both programs are fiscally unsustainable.

More than 11 million undocumented immigrants are residing in the U.S. as federal immigration law is reduced to a bothersome irritant. A record 92 million American citizens 16 and older are not working.

Red-state and blue-state animosities reveal a nation more divided than at any time since the 1960s — or perhaps the pre–Civil War 1850s.

The permanent bureaucracy is awash in serial scandals. The IRS, VA, GSA, NSA, ICE, and Secret Service have all deservedly lost the public trust.

Congress suffers from overwhelming public disapproval. President Obama’s approval rating hovers just above 40 percent.

Our new foreign policy could be characterized as managed decline. Three defense secretaries have retired or resigned under Obama. Two of them, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, wrote memoirs in which they blasted the administration. From Russia to the Pacific to the Middle East, the world seems to be descending into the law of the jungle as the U.S. withdraws from its traditional role as a global overseer of the postwar order.

The Michael Brown shooting illustrates seemingly irreconcilable racial divides not seen in 50 years. Al Sharpton once was seen as a social arsonist and tax delinquent. Now he appears to be the White House’s most influential advisor on racial matters.

Student-loan debt has surpassed $1 trillion. Six years of college has become the new normal. Even then, more than a third of the students who enter college never graduate. 

In such a depressing American landscape, why is the United States doing pretty well?

#page#Put simply, millions of quiet, determined Americans get up every morning and tune out the incompetence and corruption of their government. They simply ignore destructive fads of popular culture. They have no time for the demagoguery of their politicians and the divisive rhetoric of social activists. Instead, these quiet Americans simply go to work, pursue their own talents, excel at what they do, and seek to take care of their families.

The result of their singular expertise is that even in America’s current illness, the nation still soars above the global competition.

Only in America can you find the sort of innovation, talent, legal framework, and can-do attitude needed to invent and refine hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling. Just a few hundred thousand scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, oil riggers, and skilled craftsman have revived the once-ossified oil industry for 320 million Americans.

The United States is not running out of fuels — as was predicted over the last 20 years. It instead has become the largest gas-and-oil producer in the world. 

The epitaph for Silicon Valley is written each year. Its tech industry is copied the world over. Yet seemingly each year a new American technical innovation — the laptop, Google, Facebook, the iPad, the iPhone — sweeps the world. Apparently, American informality, meritocracy, and top-flight engineering still draw global talent into Northern California, which sends back out the latest gadgets to be gobbled up by billions.

Neither drought, nor needlessly cumbersome regulations, nor unfair trade practices have stalled American agriculture. The farms of the United States — where less than 2 percent of the population resides — have never turned out so much safe, nutritious, and cheap food that is feeding the world and earning America hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign exchange.

The U.S. military — in which fewer than 1 in 100 Americans serve — is facing record cuts. The Navy will have fewer ships than the American fleet of World War I. The Air Force and the Marine Corps are shrinking. Yet superb American forces continue to ensure that the United States and its allies remain safe. Neither Vladimir Putin’s Russia, nor the Communist Chinese hierarchy, nor the Iranian theocrats are quite ready to take the on the U.S. military. All are rightly worried that to do so would be suicidal.

America is not saved by our elected officials, bureaucrats, celebrities, and partisan activists. Instead, just a few million hardworking Americans in key areas — a natural meritocracy of all races, classes, and backgrounds — ignore the daily hype and chaos, remain innovative and productive, and dazzle the world.

The silent few of a forgotten America have given the entire country an astonishing standard of living that is quite inexplicable.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals. You can reach him by e-mailing author@victorhanson.com. © 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

Most Popular

U.S.

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More