From First To Third: An Introspective Look At America's Post-Cold War Decline

An abandoned Third World Country factory.  From www.huffingtonpost.com.

An abandoned Third World Country factory.  From www.huffingtonpost.com.

At the height of the Cold War, it was easy to self-identify your own country. 

You see, in the decades-long ideological conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, there was a simple, time-honored philosophy at stake:  You were either with us or against us.  Those countries that identified themselves as American allies became to be known as First World Countries.  First because, well obviously America was number one.  Those countries that identified themselves as Soviet allies became to be known as Second World Countries.  Second because they clearly weren't as good as America and our allies.  All other countries that were too selfish to join in this ideological battle for world supremacy became known as Third World Countries.  

In the four decades-long conflict, the terms First and Second World Powers would become common vernacular.  However, since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 we hardly see either term appear in today's media.  However, the term Third World to this day remains a prevalent term and it just so happens to be a convenient term for lazy journalists and media outlets to use.  Today, the term Third World has come to mean a "developing country."  In other words, a country that lacks the resources, infrastructure, political stability, etc. of countries that today's media considers major world powers.  When modern day high schoolers learn about Africa in their world history classes, they are often told that the majority of the continent is made up of Third World Nations.  They are not given the historical context behind this term, they are simply told that a Third World Nation is a country that has a long way to go to be seen as a model country for the world to emulate.

In other words, exactly what the United States of America has become in 2014.

Ever since its inception, the United States of America has considered itself a nation unlike any on Earth.  This view is deeply rooted in scripture and in the country's use of Judeo-Christian traditions to understand its place in the world.  Rather than see themselves as a nation just like any other, Americans have used religion to prove the country's moral superiority.  From John Winthrop's 1630 sermon "City Upon a Hill" to describe the Massachusetts Bay colony to the use of Manifest Destiny in the 19th century to expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean to the genocide of the "heathen" and "uncivilized" Indians that roamed the plains, America has a long history of being able to sell its people the idea that our nation is superior to all others through a religious lens.  It is that same superiority complex that convinced the American people that we needed to prove we were better than the Soviet Union after World War II.  Having two co-world powers was one too many.  We needed undeniable proof that we were number one.

And yet, in the twenty-five years since the Berlin Wall came tumbling down the United States of America has repeatedly shown itself to be anything but the undisputed champion of the world in regard to a wide range of issues.  In fact, on paper the United States now has adopted many of the qualities we used to associate with Third World Countries during the Cold War era.  Don't believe me?  Let's take an in-depth look at the United States of America in 2014 to see if we are, in fact, still the greatest country on Earth.

Let's start with something we tend to identify as a trait of Third World Countries:  infrastructure.  According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the United States got a D+ on its annual report card in 2013.  The ASCE found that 1 in 9 bridges were structurally insufficient, the average bridge was 42 years-old, and that funding for repair projects was short by an average of $8 billion per year to get the needed repairs by the year 2028.  In addition to bridges, the country's train system remains grossly outdated and inefficient.  Even liberal California is running into problems trying to complete a high-speed rail option for state residents.  The current issue revolves around the fact that the proposed high-speed train from L.A. to San Francisco won't be able to do the trip at speeds of 240 miles per hour, which was the speed promised to California voters.  Never mind the fact that Chinese bullet trains have been clocked at over 300 miles per hour and they seem to work just fine.

Which brings up the second issue we need to consider in analyzing America's superiority:  education.  For a country whose universities were the envy of the world just a half-century ago, the current crop of American students don't seem to be able to measure up to previous generations.  American students consistently perform poorly on math, science, and reading exams and scores have seemingly flatlined in the past decade.  In addition, although American graduation rates are at their highest levels in 40 years, there still are three million annual drop outs for our nation's high schools.  Those are three million students who aren't in classes during the day and are forced to find other ways to make a living.  With three million students on the street, unfortunately but inevitably, there are those that make poor choices and decisions with their lives.

Which brings up a third issue:  crime.  The United States has five percent of the world's population but one-quarter of its prison population.  The situation has gotten so bad that the nation's prison system is grossly overcrowded, so much so that President Barack Obama is considering granting clemency to thousands of non-violent drug offenders as a way to help ease the prison overcrowding issue.  Americans, especially people of color, have earned a healthy skepticism of policy policies that target certain groups such as New York City's stop and frisk policy, and it has gotten to the point now that the average citizen is aware of police mistreatment, as was demonstrated by last week's Twitter fiasco by the New York Police Department which was supposed to showcase photos of the department's helpfulness but instead turned to an outlet for citizens to showcase mistreatment and policy brutality.

It is this idea of mistreatment that leads us to our fourth issue:  civil rights.  Specifically, the major issue in America today is that of LGBT rights.  Despite the fact that seventeen states as well as the District of Colombia recognize gay marriage, the United States is not one of the sixteen countries that recognize gay marriage for all its citizens.  Despite recent court victories at the national level there still remains a large and vocal population that refuses to recognize gay marriage, mainly on religious grounds.  There currently are thirty-three states that have gay marriage bans in their state constitutions, and it seems like every other week there is a story about a local business that refuses a gay couple a product or service because they disagree with that couple's lifestyle.  It's almost as if these people refuse to believe in truth because they are easily convinced otherwise.

Which brings us to our fifth issue:  Propaganda.  For a so-called world power, the United States sure seems to have an easily persuadable population.  In fact, a recent AP Poll revealed the following statistics:  51% of Americans don't believe in the Big Bang, 42% don't believe in evolution, 36% don't believe the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and 15% believe vaccinations are ineffective.  In fact, the United States even has an entire political party that has staked it claim that global warming is a hoax, even though 97% of climate scientists agree that man has impacted climate change over the last century.  It's almost as if there is some intentional and deliberate action on behalf of our nation's leaders to keep the population intentionally uninformed.

Which leads us to our sixth and final issue:  corruption.  Now, it should be noted that corruption is common with all nations throughout the globe.  However, the ease in which it happens in the United States does not happen just anywhere.  With the recent McCutcheon vs. FEC court case, the United States Supreme Court has stated its belief that millions of dollars in politics is not a cause for concern.  Never mind the fact that two billionaire brothers are single-handedly attempting to buy the American government through false campaign attack ads or by using an entire news organization to sprout off their anti-government views.  This is only a natural process and it would happen even if the Supreme Court decision had not had occurred.  Because let's be honest:  As the world's foremost superpower, there is no way that a little thing such a little government corruption could bring down the entire nation from the inside out.

And herein lies the great fallacy of America in the year 2014:  It can't happen here.  It won't happen here.  We're America, the greatest nation on Earth.  And yet, let us look at the facts.  America in the year 2014 is not the "city upon a hill" we consider ourselves to be.  Our infrastructure is collapsing.  Our schools are failing.  Our penal system is failing.  Our citizens don't equal equal protection under the Constitution.  Our media lies to us and we believe the lies.  Our government had been bought and sold to the highest bidder.  What does an America under these circumstances look like?  Go ahead and scroll up to the photo at the top of this article.  That isn't a Third World Country.  That is Detroit, Michigan.

How bad has it gotten for America?  Our middle-class, the staple of what made us great during the Cold War years is now second to Canada.   Yes, you read that correctly.  The middle class of our neighbors to the north now has more wealth than we do.  They also have legalized gay marriage and universal health care, but those are examples of socialism so we won't discuss those here.  And yet, maybe we should.  Maybe we should start having these conversations.  Maybe we should admit that America isn't so "special" after all.  Maybe if we can realize that we're all in this together, then maybe, just maybe we can have the kind of conversations where we take a step back and realize that it's okay if America isn't number one in everything as long as we can give all our citizens the chance for a better life.  Maybe if we have those kind of conversations, then we can turn America around to where we know it can be.  Because if we don't change the trajectory we're on, America will become an afterthought within a couple generations. 

Not even good old fashioned propaganda can shield us from that reality.



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