If one relies on Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy In America, the great strength of the U.S. in the nineteenth century was its mediating structures that maintained social equilibrium. By that, Tocqueville meant the family, the church, the schools and the associations – institutions that created coherence and solidarity without reliance on government.
However, a different America has emerged. As books like Charles Murray’s Coming Apart and Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republicindicate, America is facing disequilibrium due to a host of harmful social trends.
The family is in disarray with the percentage of children living at home with two married parents in their first marriage going from 73 percent in 1960 to 46 percent in 2014. Illegitimacy rates have skyrocketed among most groups with 72 percent of Afro-American children born without fathers in the home. Labor force participation rates have sunk to levels last seen during the Great Depression.
The garment of social bonds is gossamer thin. Community volunteer activity is in decline and organizations like Rotary and the Lions Club are filled with aging participants. Mainline Protestant churches are devoted to a left wing social justice agenda, but lack a devotion to religious principles. Popular culture has been debased by vulgar and common-place boorishness. Fewer Americans believe in God than ever before and manners and morals have been buried beneath the tide of tolerance.
While some of these trends are worldwide the U.S. is still considered the “trendsetter.” As a consequence, nations view with interest the ability of the U.S. to overcome these new social contingencies in order to deal with the demands and expectations of foreign policy. For example, can the U.S. mobilize a fighting force large enough and committed to the sacrifice militaries in the past have exhibited? Or have Americans grown soft and uninterested in foreign commitments?
Chinese leaders are perplexed by conditions in the United States. There is the widespread belief that the cultural advantage the U.S. had is on the wane, but they are mystified by the rapidity of the change. Vladimir Putin believes – to the extent his beliefs are discernible – that the U.S. desire to withdraw from foreign commitments offers an opportunity for the enhancement of Russian interests, i.e. the restoration of empire. Iranian leaders are persuaded the U.S. under former president Obama’s guidance will do whatever it can to maintain the flawed and one-sided deal so that former President Obama can contend he avoided a war with the putative representative of the Shia people.
Hence, the apparent cultural evolution in the U.S. has had a relationship to foreign policy that is correlational if not causal. An America that turns inward is a nation unwilling to pay the price for the maintenance of global stability. Needless to say, this claim will seem exaggerated. However, President Trump has talked about “America First,” an America raising questions about international obligations of the past. Foreign policy, notwithstanding the struggle against radical Islam, has been relegated to a backburner political matter.
From a simple accounting, the financing of a $20 trillion debt will soon be the equivalent of the defense budget. The U.S. maintains the largest and most effective military in the world, yet it should be noted that there is little political support to sustain that level of military preparation should entitlements be reduced for defense expenditures.
Sacrifice is not a condition millennials consider. Hip hop doesn’t prepare the young for the vicissitudes of war against a foreign foe. And the implacable voice of narcissism in social media suggests you don’t do for our country, you do for yourself. The state of America is grim amidst the corrosion in the culture. Of course, one should never rule out redemption in a nation that often exhibits resilience. At the moment, however, a U.S. coming apart influences a world in disarray. The beasts of evil are watching with anticipation at this social epidemiology thinking this may be their moment to leap forward.