Greider, national affairs correspondent for the Nation, plays the parent in this scenario. He argues that the U.S. needs to shape up, in particular on matters of the economy and international relations. Most of all, though, the nation needs an attitude adjustment.
The U.S. will be 233 years old this July. That’s an old teenager, of course, but young when it comes to countries. With a long future ahead of us, Greider writes, we do not know what the defining outcome will be. Will the state succeed or will it fail? A lot of this depends on our actions, which can be rash and have often hurt our global reputation, he says.
In fact, because of the U.S.’s headstrong decisions in recent years, China and Russia will be the rising powers of this century. Greider points out that the U.S. invasion of Iraq helped Russia become a major supplier of energy — oil and natural gas. After the invasion, oil prices spiked, making the rest of the world reliant on Russia. While part of Russia’s success should be attributed to Vladimir Putin’s move to renationalize the energy industry, America’s own haste gave it an extra push.
With China, the U.S. need for cheap goods contributes to China’s growing economy. China has also bought U.S. debt, causing the U.S. to be reliant in more than one way. While the idea of China as a rising superpower appears threatening to the U.S., should the U.S. change its attitude, Greider thinks the two countries could form a symbiotic relationship, with China as the banker and the U.S. as China’s best customer.
“I think we misunderstand China,” Greider says. “China wants to become a major economic power … that is history unfolding. Our problems are our own. The government circles made them over a number of years. They won’t be solved by changing China; they’ll be solved by changing us.”
There needs to be innovation in Washington, Greider writes. He relates the economic situation that the country is in now to its situation in World War II. Like American spirit then, the public should become more involved in the government, whether it is contacting Congressmen or becoming politically active in communities, he says. He wants citizens to make politicians stick to their job, which is representing the people, and to make incumbents nervous, instead of letting them sit comfortably in their seats. This way, citizens can stop complaining and set the priorities, disassembling the exclusive Washington that holds power over them.
This sort of change could also improve our global image, he writes. Arrogance is unflattering enough, but ignorance is worse. Greider offers a telling example: Jeff Stein, national security editor of Congressional Quarterly, asked high-ranking intelligence officials, FBI executives and Members of Congress who served on intelligence committees whether they knew the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Many admitted they did not know or guessed incorrectly. He had to explain the difference to former Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.). “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” Everett said, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.”
As the U.S. pushes for democracy and equal rights, Greider points out, it may want to look at its own history first. While there have been numerous accomplishments, African-Americans weren’t guaranteed civil rights until 100 years after the abolishment of slavery, and Americans didn’t vote directly for Senators until 1913.
“Americans need not dwell guiltily on the historic failures,” Greider writes. “But they might exercise a little more humility when lecturing other nations on the virtues of our democracy.”
According to Greider, the U.S. needs a good history lesson to avoid repeating mistakes. However, more importantly, he argues that the country will only reach adulthood through the help of its citizens.
“They need to develop a politics that doesn’t depend on approval by either political party or by the president or by anyone else,” he explains. “This is the way America has changed in fundamental ways, people reorganizing politics.”