When I was a little girl growing up in Canada, we all looked on the United States as a sort of marvelous big brother. Having two big brothers of my own, I was familiar with the concept. Big brothers might push you around a bit… but God help anybody else who tried to hurt you. They were capable, lordly, godlike… but willing to kneel and lend a hand if you needed it. They could do anything… and do it better than anybody. They beat up bullies and comforted the oppressed. They were awesome.
And America was just like that. Americans could outfight, outthink, outmuscle and outfox any enemy. They were our super-heroes. With a scrap of hair and a speck of dust they could find a criminal anywhere in the world and bring him to justice. They could build anything, no matter how high, how wide, how impossible. They could cure cancer and put a man on the moon. Americans were awesome. They made us all feel safe. We adored them.
Then somehow, around the end of the millennium, it all began to change. The world’s big brother lost its mojo; fumbled and stumbled and looked uncertain. When it was hit hard it reacted like a bully, and blustered about “shock and awe” instead of being silent and deadly and right on target. It sat back helplessly and allowed a beautiful city to drown; let vital infrastructure begin to crumble away while thieves slipped in the back door and stole everybody’s life savings. American intelligence could no longer find a needle in a haystack in Siberia… it couldn’t even find the weapons it was certain were in the desert, or the man who killed 3,000 innocent people on a clear autumn day. America wasn’t the lean, hard-jawed warrior with an army of secret agents who kept their counsel and struck without warning… it was soft bureaucrats who’d never been in danger but had no hesitation about exposing the identity of a secret agent for personal gain.
Now America has gotten fat and aimless and started wearing its pants way down below its belly. It can hardly fit into a military uniform anymore. Its educational and cultural standards have begun to slide and coarsen, and some of its bridges are tumbling into the water. It took longer to fix a destructive little hole in the ocean floor than a tiny South American country took to flawlessly hoist 33 men to safety from the bowels of the earth.
And like a bewildered animal floundering around in the water and trying to decide which side of the river is safest, America is about to re-elect the very people who presided over the worst of its abrupt decline.
Suddenly America is no longer the country that can do anything. The whole free world is terrified by America’s inexplicable weakness and confusion. It’s so scary when your big brother is no longer there for you, quiet and strong and competent.
Oh Brother… where art thou?