It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” I am not one of the doomsayers about America’s future. I think the American “empire” has a long way to go yet. Economics, productivity and demography are all in America’s favour (although politics, a widening gini coefficient and education are not). But even so, there has been a lot to concern even optimistic observers over the past few months.
In case you didn’t pick them up, here is my partial list of things that concerned me (some packaged in a fun way, via The Daily Show – note, if you can’t see the videos of the Daily Show, let me know and I’ll help you out):
- President Obama signed a bill into law on New Year’s Eve that allows for indefinite military detention of American citizens suspected of terrorism. Obama says he will never use this legislation, but he has nevertheless made America quite a lot less free than it was. You could argue that if Islamic Fundamentalists hate America’s freedom and have been trying to destroy it (I don’t believe that analysis or pretext for the so called “war on terror”), then they have just won a big victory. See a news report here. Is Islamophobia even more dangerous than Islamic Fundamentalism to America? I think so.
- Updated on 9 January 2012: The Daily Show investigated a Muslim American Republican who was battling to find support within the party, purely on the basis that he is Muslim. He was opposed, bizarrely, by a group called “Americans against hate”. Click here to see the video insert from The Daily Show. It ends with an absolutely genius musical reference to one of my favourite movies of all time, the satirical “Wag the Dog“. Pure genius!
- On a related note, an isolated incident, but still significant is the media generated “outrage” at a TV reality show that was attempting to show American Muslims as moderates and, well, just Americans like everyone else. The controversy, fuelled by (who else?) Fox News and The Florida Family Association complained that the Muslims shown on the show did not fit the mental model of Muslims (i.e. radical terrorists) that “a normal American” apparently believes. See Jon Stewart’s reporting of this.
- On a more serious note, as demographics predicts that there will be an increasing proportion of Hispanic and African-American people in the USA in future, it’s horrifying to read the story of Bank of America’s acquisition, Countrywide Bank’s utterly disgusting and completely racist, predatory lending policies. Just when you thought you’d heard the worst about banks, you can read this story…
- Another issue driven by demographics has to do with pensions. The public sector pension issue is getting the most press around the world, but the problem is with public and private alike. There is no country in the world that can afford to fulfill the promises it has been making its citizens. That much is clear to pretty much everyone except the Union bosses. But in America, it seems that bankers, investors and senior corporate leaders have been raiding even the funds that retirement schemes have been able to save over the years, making the problem much worse in the USA. This scary information is detailed in an excellent book, Retirement Heist, by Ellen Schultz. See a video interview with her on The Daily Show here. This is frightening and enraging stuff!
- The Occupy movement is only just beginning… In history, this is how Revolutions between rich and poor have always started. And when the rich act like this, they’re just fuelling the fire.
- And, of course, The Establishment will try and fight back. However, unlike previous eras in history, they cannot do this in secret these days. One early way in which the “land of the free” is trying to fight back is to restrict the voting rights of its citizens. As bizarre as this might sound in what is supposed to be the greatest democracy in world, many voters in the USA will find themselves ineligible to vote in the coming elections. And most of them are the young; the students who have also found it more difficult than ever to find jobs – read this unbelievable story here.
- And if you need to be a bit more scared, read this article about how Americans spent more on guns as Christmas presents than ever before in 2011. That’s right: it’s estimated that nearly 1 million people received guns as Christmas presents in America. I’m speechless.
- The divide and discord between the Democrats and the Republicans came to a dangerous head over the issue of the debt ceiling in mid 2011. The Republicans seemed comfortable to bring the government finances crashing down rather than engage in anyway with the Democrats (they were not at their best either, it must be said). Is anyone in Washington really there to help the country be its very best? This is a sad and scary portend of what could come.
In an election year in America, and as someone who has “futurist” as a label on my business card, let me make this suggestion: it will be a close election, because the factors that will be top of mind when voters finally go to the polls will be huge and stark. This is not going to be a subtle election. Obama ended the Iraq war and is likely to get help from an economy that will stabilise and maybe even show signs of recovery by the election. Unless he does something really dumb, or something big and negative comes his way, it’s his election to lose. But he won’t win big.
His likely opponent will be Mitt Romney. As much as Republicans say they want “The Right Republican” and that doesn’t include “Mormon” on the label, they want someone who can beat Obama even more than that. When it comes down to the wire, Romney’s their only viable candidate. I actually think he’d be excellent for America. It doesn’t really matter who the next President is: either way there is only one job to do. He (it will be a he) will need to reduce the size of government, cut back on military spend, reduce government spend, stimulate the economy, begin to deal with unrealistic social contracts (pension age, medicare, etc), and raise taxes. The most important of these (reduce government size and cost) should be easier for Romney than anyone else in the Presidential race. I think he would raise taxes and reduce military costs, even though that will probably mean he won’t get re-elected.
And then Obama can come back for his second term, with a much better fiscal platform and complete his change agenda for America.
I am not sure that’s as much a prediction as a suggestion for the best case scenario for America. My prediction is that Obama will win. I think a much cleverer futurist would try to predict who the two candidate teams will be. Will Obama stick with Biden, or switch to Hillary? Those are the only two options, in my opinion. And who will Romney pick to run with him? Santorum? Gingrich? My guess would be someone who has not been in the race at all.