A visceral longing to renew America and return to its gilded age along with growing fears over what direction the Nation is headed have brought a modicum of hope to many people that presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney can restore American greatness if elected in November — so much so that renewal in America is a central theme to his election platform.
After four dismal years under President Barack Obama, it is a cherished hope for the country. Yet I believe that if Romney is elected, it will be an empty dream; he will be just the latest President to preside over the United States’ grand decline, which began decades ago. Neither Romney nor a new Congress can rebuild the United States; the Nation’s greatness is fading faster than the paint on anything Norman Rockwell painted.
Yet that is not what the Republican candidate is claiming. The Romney public relations team rightfully attacked Obama’s mind-boggling comment: “If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.”
The Romney ad campaign is entitled “These Hands.”
What are the chances that Romney — even with a new and better Congress (impossible to imagine how it could be worse) — has the tools to rebuild the Nation and bring back the America that so many of us are nostalgic for? I would lay the odds at somewhere between zero and nil.
Even Romney admits that the United States is in decline. Last month, he told a group of California donors that the Australian foreign minister warned him there is talk abroad that America is “in decline.”
That is hardly a shocker. The peak of Pax Americana happened sometime around when I was born in the 1950s. Back then, the United States had the largest trade and budget surplus ever amassed and the most dominant military since Julius Caesar. The country was producing almost half of all automobiles, oil and steel consumed by the world.
Half a century ago, well-paying manufacturing jobs accounted for more than a third of the Nation’s workforce. Today, they equal fewer than one in 10. In the past decade alone, 5 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared. Almost half of the 12 million that still exist hang by a thread as rivals such as China and India make more of the world’s goods. America is left with Wal-mart-like retail jobs that pay less than $19,000 per year (less than one-third of the inflation-adjusted salary earned on an average manufacturing job in the 1960s).
Things are not going to get better, forecasts The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI). According to MGI, U.S. manufacturing will not add any new jobs to the economy between now and 2021 and that was the institute’s “positive scenario.” A more negative prediction from the firm indicates that America will continue to be hollowed out with even greater job losses in industries that build “things.”
Steel is a perfect example of the loss of American might. Once the largest steel manufacturer in the world, the United States now employs 153,000 workers and produces just 7 percent of the world’s steel. China accounts for 40 percent of global steel output. And in the next decade, India may exceed China as a steelmaker.
The trend isn’t much better in technology. Foxconn, the Chinese computer and cellphone manufacturer, employs more people than Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Apple Inc., Dell Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. combined. At the same time, more and more American industry giants are shifting production offshore. General Electric Co. has a workforce of more than 300,000, but more than half of these highly skilled jobs are overseas. Just a decade ago, IBM had only 6,000 employees in India and 135,000 workers in the United States. IBM now employs 110,000 in India. India now has a larger IBM workforce than does the United States.
While the Administration of President Barack Obama is staffed with money men whose experience comes from Wall Street, China’s leadership is dominated by engineers. Seven of the nine members on China’s Politburo Standing Committee are engineers, yet there isn’t a single engineer that can be named among Obama’s advisers. Given Romney’s history with Wall Street, it seems unlikely that things will change in that respect.
While Washington doesn’t understand the plight of the Nation, some of the few remaining leaders in industry do. Nucor Corporation (NYSE: NUE) is one of the largest steelmakers in the United States. The company’s Website contains the phrase “A Nation that makes and builds things.” Yet Nucor’s Chairman, President and CEO Daniel R. DiMicco is fed up with the direction the United States is heading. Reportedly, he is fond of saying: “Do those idiots (that shape American economic policy) think we can survive by pushing paper around?”
The immediate problems that Romney will face if elected are even more entrenched than just our Wal-Mart-based economy. Education in the Nation is a morass; to a large degree because of the liberal education system and teachers unions. There is also a sense among students learned from their parents that they are somehow entitled, even if they are unable to achieve.
In his new book Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent, author Edward Luce writes:
More than a quarter of a million students drop out of high school. Many of the rest present a different challenge. Teachers avoid issuing verbal reprimands for errant behavior (to avoid disciplinary action). Parents remonstrate with teachers if their kids get C grades. And every child gets to win some trophy or other at school prize day (“effort” and “punctuality” are my favorite perennials). So sheltered have American middle class teenagers become that the deans of small American colleges have recently begun using the phrase “tea cups” about incoming freshman (because they are so psychologically fragile).
Luce points out that State Department officials were shocked a year ago when at the induction meeting for its summer intern program they were handed statements from students which included remarks: “We don’t like to be criticized,” and “It is really motivating to get praise.”
Yes, it is nice to get praise; but it used to be that you had to earn it. These days, in many ways the United States isn’t earning it; and the arrogance of our high school graduates comes to some extent from that arrogance in Washington that America has a preordained right to greatness. Our leaders who believe this axiom must not be listening to the markets, because the U.S. dollar has been in a downward spiral for a decade and I can’t see how it is going to reverse itself over the next four years.
I expect a Romney victory in the wake of Obama’s sheer incompetence as President, but I am not going to delude myself that Romney can rebuild the Nation. If America were a ship, then it’s already hit the iceberg. Switching captains now won’t stop it from sinking.