David Brooks surveys the American scene and finds the future bright — a population boom to produce young workers, immigration to attract skilled workers, a dynamic economy to satisfy the world’s ever-growing demand for U.S. products, and a thriving popular culture. He concludes:
The U.S. is on the verge of a demographic, economic and social revival, built on its historic strengths. The U.S. has always been good at disruptive change. It’s always excelled at decentralized community-building. It’s always had that moral materialism that creates meaning-rich products. Surely a country with this much going for it is not going to wait around passively and let a rotten political culture drag it down.
That’s a comforting thought, but, of course, the political culture — and the policy choices it produces — can retard or shut off the very trends and phenomena that Brooks praises. Immigration could be choked off — as it was in previous eras of economic uncertainty. That economic dynamism that Brooks touts is not impervious to the regulatory, tax, and legal framework that political elites produce. In fact, it is the enormous uptick in debt, the growth of the public sector, the tax hikes, and the financial micromanagement that the Obama administration is pushing that threaten to make America a less productive, less dynamic, and less wealthy nation. That “decentralized community-building” that Brooks likes can be subverted by an overreaching federal government that seeks to regulate everything from the type of health insurance we must buy to the emissions that the local electric company can put out to the sorts of infrastructure projects that are funded.
In sum, the American social and economic culture that has produced tremendous wealth, upward mobility, and opportunity can be eroded by foolish policies. Similarly, our national security — which is a prerequisite for that blissful domestic environment — can be imperiled by a reckless approach that ignores looming threats, imagines our foes share common values, and alienates allies.
America is not a nation on autopilot. It remains to be seen whether we can prosper and remain safe despite the misguided domestic and foreign-policy agenda of a president who lacks a fundamental understanding of how wealth is created and how America projects its strength and defends its vital interests.