the american decline meme


Last fall, television stations carried a 60-second ad for Audi’s A6 car. The opening images showed a pitted, potholed American road while the voice-over gloomily intoned, “Across the nation, over 100,000 miles of highways and bridges are in disrepair.” Fear not, said the voice; Audi’s smart gizmos would help. The spot’s message was clear: Roads in the United States are now so bad, you need a foreign car to negotiate them. The Audi ad was seized upon as evidence of American decline, now such a regular meme that the Foreign Policy magazine Web site runs a dedicated blog, “Decline Watch.” Books have been in plentiful supply, and now come two more, helpfully approaching the subject from left and right, as if to demonstrate declinism’s bipartisan credentials. The authors are big hitters in the geopolitics genre. Robert Kagan coined what passes for a catchphrase in the international relations field when he declared a decade ago that “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus.” At the time, Kagan, a veteran of Ronald Reagan’s State Department, was one of the leading advocates of military action against Iraq. Zbigniew Brzezinski, still best known for his service as national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, has filled the three intervening decades with a throng of books on the same terrain: what America should do in the world.

more from Jonathan Freedland at the NY Times here.