Perhaps nothing has more defined America and its promise than immigration. In the future, immigration and the consequent development of what Walt Whitman (1855: iv) called “a race of races” will remain one of the country’s greatest assets in the decades to come.
The announcements by Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) that they would not run for reelection reflects what may be the last gasps of the Great Plains Democrats, much as California’s 2010 Democratic landslide assured that Republicans are soon to become endangered species in places like Los Angeles and Silicon Valley.
The conventional explanation for these trends centers on culture or ideology, but the real cause may lie with an evolving conflict between two dueling political economies.
To some, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to demur from the new euro rescue plan has made the U.K. irrelevant on the world scene. Yet by moving away from the euro zone, Cameron did something more than reaffirm Britain’s opposition to a German-led Europe: He asserted Britain’s greater, historically grounded legacy as the center of the Anglophone world.
Mitt Romney’s collapse in South Carolina reflects the larger, long-term decline of the American patrician class he represents. That decline was accelerated by the 2008 financial meltdown that resulted in both the wave of populist anger now being channeled by Romney’s Republican competitors, and the rise of the new post-industrial elite championed by President Obama.
The vast majority of Americans believe the country is heading in the wrong direction, and, according to a 2011 Pew Survey, close to a majority feel that China has already surpassed the U.S. as an economic power.
These views echo those of the punditry, right and left, who see the U.S. on the road to inevitable decline. Yet the reality is quite different. A confluence of largely unnoticed economic, demographic and political trends has put the U.S. in a far more favorable position than its rivals. Rather than the end of preeminence, America may well be entering a renaissance.
America has two basic economies, and the division increasingly defines its politics. One, concentrated on the coasts and in college towns, focuses on the business of images, digits and transactions. The other, located largely in the southeast, Texas and the Heartland, makes its living in more traditional industries, from agriculture and manufacturing to fossil fuel development.
In the last years of his life Dr. Martin Luther King expanded his focus from political and civil rights to include economic justice. Noting that the majority of America’s poor were white King decried the already huge gaps between rich and poor, calling for “radical changes in the structure of our society,” including a massive urban jobs program.
“I refuse to take ‘No’ for an answer,” said President Obama this week as he claimed new powers for himself in making recess appointments while Congress wasn’t legally in recess. The chief executive’s power grab in naming appointees to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board has been depicted by administration supporters as one forced upon a reluctant Obama by Republican intransigence. But this isn’t the first example of the president’s increasing tendency to govern with executive-branch powers.
In an election year, politics dominates the news, but economics continue to shape people’s lives. Looking ahead to 2012 and beyond, it is clear that the United States is essentially made up of many economies, each with distinctly different short- and long-term prospects. We have highlighted the five regions that are most poised to flourish and help boost the national economy.
Along with the oft-pronounced, desperately wished for death of the suburbs, no demographic narrative thrills the mainstream news media more than the decline of the Sun Belt, the country’s southern rim extending from the Carolinas to California. Since the housing bubble collapse in 2007, commentators have heralded “the end of the Sun Belt boom.”
For a generation American manufacturing has been widely seen as a “declining sport.” Yet its demise has been largely overplayed. Despite the many jobs this sector has lost in the past generation, manufacturing remains remarkably resilient, with a global market share similar to that of the 1970s.
To many, America’s industrial heartland may look like a place mired in the economic past—a place that, outcompeted by manufacturing countries around the world, has too little work to offer its residents. But things look very different to Karen Wright, the CEO of Ariel Corporation in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Wright’s biggest problem isn’t a lack of work; it’s a lack of skilled workers. “We have a very skilled workforce, but they are getting older,” says Wright, who employs 1,200 people at three Ohio factories. “I don’t know where we are going to find replacements.”
Most critics of Barack Obama’s desultory performance the past three years trace it to his supposedly leftist ideology, lack of experience and even his personality quirks. But it would perhaps be more useful to look at the geography — of Chicago and the state of Illinois — that nurtured his career and shaped his approach to politics. Like with George W. Bush and Texas, this is a case where you can’t separate the man from the place.
Wall Street is disdained in the court of public opinion — detested by the tea party on the right and the Occupy movement on the left. The public blames financial plutocrats for America’s economic plight more than either President Barack Obama or former President George W. Bush. Less than a quarter of all Americans, according to Gallup, have confidence in the banks, which vie for the lowest spot with Big Business and Congress.
This past weekend the New York Times devoted two big op-eds to the decline of the suburb. In one, new urban theorist Chris Leinberger said that Americans were increasingly abandoning “fringe suburbs” for dense, transit-oriented urban areas.