This is not going to be some well-earned shot against Trump and the role he’s played in devaluing the United States around the world. That is taken as a given, it could take a generation, best case scenario, for “the world” to trust the United States like they did the day before Trump was elected.
But our withdrawal from world leadership actually started long ago, perhaps as early as the late 80s. Certainly the world credited the United States from ridding it of the Soviet menace. But, at the same time, and then through the Gingrich “Contract With America,” it became apparent that – at least with respect to matters controlled by Republicans, and even “Blue Dog” democrats (Bill Clinton is somewhat complicit in this) – we began to concentrate so much on making money for wealthy Americans, that we lost some of that “generosity” that was associated with “America” since WWII.
I want to use but one example with full knowledge that each of our readers can think of their own examples demonstrating similar patterns.
I’m just a lay person with respect to emerging theories in physics, especially quantum mechanics. Without getting “into it,” the fact that an electron, or other small particles “know we’re ‘looking'” fascinates me. In one sentence: Electrons and other fundamental particles are nothing but waves, any single particle, is just a “wave” that is spread out all over, until we “look” at where that electron might be, and at that point it collapses to a particle. Physicists have admitted they’ve suppressed the true meaning of this fundamental fact; “consciousness” plays a role in our universe, indeed many believe the universe cannot exist as it does without consciousness.
I find the meaning behind it fascinating. It got me interested in CERN and the Large Haldron Collider, in Geneva. Again, our readers are the type familiar with it. The “LHC” has become the center of cutting-edge modern science of that most fundamental type, the rules of the universe. The discoveries in this area ripple out to things we use daily. Physicists “built” the internet. (Though the military is the one that said; “we need something like …)
Geneva is now the capital of the world for such fundamental science, and has been a huge lift to their local and national character. Many of the world’s best scientists, including Americans, simply moved there.
It is the most sophisticated machine ever built by man. It consists of a 23 kilometer loop that accelerates particles to a fraction of the speed of light, at temps just above absolute zero, smashes them together, and then uses the world’s most sophisticated detecting computers (they’re 3 stories tall) to figure out what these tiny things are made of, and what they do, by creating a tiny picture of the universe at .00000001 second old.
The thing many people (especially young people) don’t know, is that in the early 90s, the United States had designed and even began building, our own version of the LHC, outside of Dallas. Ours, however, was 3 times bigger in size and power, than the one in Geneva. As I said, we began building it, there are still long tunnels underground near Dallas.
Well, these are not cheap. And, as with many endeavors of this size, the costs exceeded the original estimates. Denver built an airport at the same time, it ended up costing 2-3 times more than estimates.
Well, Congress had already balked at the price from the beginning, largely the conservatives who wanted tax cuts. Back then, they also worried about deficits (unlike now, when they only care about deficits when Dems are in charge. The tax bill Trump signed will double our deficit).
It came to pass that estimates to fully complete collider – a 56 MILE loop – for which property had been obtained, much of the tunnel built – would ultimately cost $11 Billion dollars. Now, that’s one hell of a lot of money, especially then. But one must consider that our entire military/defense/intel budget now approaches $800 billion, and – at that same time – we were spending far more than $11 Billion designing military jets that couldn’t be detected. So, that must be considered when you hear $11 Billion dollars.
Believe it or not, it came down to just a couple votes in Congress for approval. One Congressman asked the lead scientist, “Will we find God?” The scientist answered “We hope to find the Higgs boson.” In a scientific sense, the answer isn’t terrible. We wouldn’t be here without the Higgs. Still, a better answer might’ve been, “We will learn about how ‘Let there be light’ happened.” Had that scientist answered that way, we would almost surely have our project. The Congressman voted “no” and convinced another.
Why does it really matter? A small part is that our would have been far more powerful. It would near surely discover things the LHC won’t be capable of until it expands, if it does.
But much much much more importantly, the center of physics and fundamental science would be just outside Dallas. Obviously many jobs would have been created, but just as importantly, many of the world’s best scientists would now be American citizens, teaching at Texas universities, and it would be a national pride that many tourists would go well out of their way to see. (There would surely be a big museum right beside it.)
Thing is, there was a time when it would have been unthinkable that the United States would let anyone else take the lead in something so important. WE were the world’s leader in so many ways, and that priority, that the United States would spend the money to “lead” and assist the world in discoveries that benefit all, ripples out in importance.
I submit that this is just one example of a changing identity in the United States, where we became far more concerned with enriching a small fraction of Americans over being that leader. Consider this, NASA, having not gotten to space first, was NOT, in any way, letting any other country get to the moon first. The Moon missions cost far more than $11 Billion dollars (relative with inflation). And, though the Moon mission had essential symbolism, resulted in science that allowed us to advance in computing and learn a lot about the moon, did not achieve the discoveries of lasting importance to the fundamental nature of our “existence” than the moon missions.
We sure didn’t downsize our military that much, and the expense of the Iraq war, when all is said and done – this includes caring for our warriors hurt, as is our sacred duty – is estimated to cost anywhere from 2-3 trillion dollars. The Iraq war devastated our national standing as a “world leader. It could not be justified in any way but oil, indeed Cheney’s entire “Energy Commission” that generated so much controversy about Executive privilege, was nothing more than Cheney and oil executives deciding which fields would go where and distribution. Documents show that Cheney started those meetings in March of 2001, six months prior to 9-11.
You obviously see the priorities here, $11 Billion to be the center of the world’s cutting edge fundamental science, making Dallas “Science Central,” was too much. Grabbing oil that they knew would cost $150 Billion to just start, not to mention KILL Americans and innocent Iraqis, was justifiable. The world saw the priorities, too.
No, the world didn’t point to: “You didn’t build the bigger bad-ass collider but you warred!” The relationship wasn’t tight. But, this is just ONE example, where the United States evolved from caring much less about “leading the world as a generous people” to caring about getting rich, above all, and even just “taking” what we wanted, oil and cash, mostly.
As I said, this is just a “little” example of a much larger pattern. Still, every time I fly into DFW, or am around the University of Texas or Dallas, I just cannot help but think; “What if all those buildings, stuffed with the world’s best, were here? What if one couldn’t hear the word “Dallas” without thinking about it being one of the smartest cities on Earth?”
But, more often, I think: “What if the United States still had that reputation as the leader for “goodness. What would the world look like?”
Trump has only made it exponentially worse, but if you recall, Bush was NOT loved by the world, either. There’s a pattern there.