He didn’t get his wish. Judged by the standards he himself set, Obama’s presidency has succeeded. We have seen America transition into a period of long-term stagnant wages, low labor force participation rates, and seemingly permanent anemic economic growth. Government debt has doubled. The coal industry has been destroyed—other politically incorrect industries to follow. Obamacare is undermining American healthcare. Dependence on government for basic needs has grown substantially. Obama’s belief that America is not a force for good in the world and that its influence needs to be curtailed has become a reality; U. S. strength abroad has been severely weakened, and our enemies emboldened.
These developments, however, as alarming as they are, do not capture the deeper transformation occurring. As Ben Shapiro noted this week, “We are watching the end of America in real time.” The point he makes is that America as an idea has always required fealty to “a common definition of being American: a love of country on the basis of its founding philosophy.” That common definition is fraying badly.
Past generations embraced the ideals of America and loved their country for its striving toward those ideals. America, for all its imperfections, had proven among nations to be the greatest source for good the world had ever known. After decades of increasing anti-Americanism in education, the media, and entertainment, this generation sees things differently. To many of them, America has been and remains a source of considerable evil. It needs to be transformed. Its values need to be remade. Large percentages of millenials do not believe in the founding ideals of America. Freedom of religion must give way to freedom of gender identity and sexual orientation. Freedom of speech must give way to freedom not to be offended.
E pluribus unum is giving way to simply E pluribus as the country embraces a culture of victimization and its logical consequence, a retreat into competing victim groups warring against one another. As Victor Davis Hansen noted this week, no nation in the history of the world has successfully endured true multiculturalism. Only when diverse peoples are committed to a common overarching cultural identity (while retaining their unique sub-identities) can a nation of heterogeneous people groups survive. It is this common cultural identity that is so strongly under assault today.
There are no quick solutions. Long-term, we must reintroduce ourselves, and especially our younger generation, to why the principles of the American founding provide the best possible framework by which a people can govern itself. The Founders understood what they were doing. It is we who have lost that understanding.