During the recent crisis with Syria, the Russian government as stepped up to offer a solution. What was most interesting was that Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, chided the U.S., in response to a statement by President Obama, noting that “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”
However much we might resent Putin’s audacity to say such a thing, maybe we need to stop and think about the possibility that he could be correct.
Any illusions we might have had regarding the invulnerability of the United States as the richest and most powerful nation in the world were surely shattered in the wake of Standard and Poor’s decision to downgrade our nation’s credit rating in 2011. Our inability to dictate our political and military will in the Middle East and the blatant hatred demonstrated by the people who have attacked our Embassies are examples of a recurring theme that challenges our nation’s belief in itself as somehow special.
Maybe it is time for the American people to step back and take stock of who we are and how rate when compared to other developed and developing nations in the world.
The U.S. national debt is measured in trillions of dollars, with China, the single greatest challenge to our economic supremacy, our largest creditor. Our ability to compete in the world marketplace over the next half-century is dependent on the quality of the American workforce, which, itself, is powered by the American educational system. According to The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the U.S. ranks 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading out of the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. That China ranks first in all three areas should strike fear, if not outright panic, in every American heart.
We are in the midst of a crisis of historic proportions in which our way of life as a people is in jeopardy. It is a crisis that cries out for positive leadership and yet our elected leaders in Washington stomp around like spoiled and stubborn children who have yet to learn how to work and play with others.
The challenges facing our nation and its people are immense. Whether our burdensome debt; an economy that is only a shadow of its former self; a natural environment that seems to be stumbling under the weight of a burgeoning population that fouls the very air that we breathe and the water we drink; a system of public education that is laden with failure; a health care system that fails to meet the needs of nearly a full third of its citizens, we place our future in jeopardy unless we meet these challenges.
We use oil, a diminishing natural resource, to fuel our demand for energy even though the future will belong to the first nation to develop reliable, alternate sources of energy whether solar, hydrogen, or nuclear fusion. Worse, we are dependent on foreign suppliers of oil that are friendly to us only as long as we are able to pay.
We are a people who have forgotten that the historical strength of our democracy has always been our rich diversity as a people living together, in harmony, under the rule of law. Today we govern ourselves with a two-party system in which loyal opposition has given way to enmity and distrust to such an extent that each side feels the other is out to destroy America.
We must understand that the problems of the Twenty-first Century are of such magnitude that the politics of the past are no longer adequate to meet our needs. We must find fresh solutions that satisfy the needs of the masses on the one hand and that foster a strong economy on the other. We need the kind of leadership that will demand that its people replace a rampant entitlement mentality with an abundance mentality centered on the belief that there is enough for everyone as long as each citizen is willing to give one hundred percent of themselves through hard work and participatory citizenship.
We need leadership that understands that we cannot preserve our nation’s status as the richest and most powerful nation in the world just because we think it is our right and privilege.
We are like a baseball or football team that has been in first place for so long we have forgotten what it took to rise to the top and we have become complacent. Right now, people of other nations, with China and Russia leading the way, are working hard to challenge our nation’s status. Just as importantly, the children of China and other nations are working hard to gain what they believe is an educational advantage that will seal the deal for their people and economy in the Twenty-first Century and beyond. That they are outperforming American children by a wide margin is simply unacceptable and we must answer the bell.
It is unreasonable to think that one nation will be able to dominate the future the way America has dominated the past but if we want a place at the head table, we have to elevate our game. To do so, we must reunite as a people and demand the best from ourselves, from our fellow Americans, from our children, and from our political leadership. We can ill afford to waste a minute let alone a generation.
Stand up, toe the mark, and get moving while we can still see the coat tails of our competitors. We need positive leadership and it must start with each and every one of us. That means me and it means you!