Those old enough to remember the 1929 crash on Wall Street and the US exit from the Gold Standard under Franklin Roosevelt – thin in numbers these days – will recall the pervading sense that America had already peaked, its capitalist model overtaken by history.
The Russian trade agency Amtorg in New York famously advertised for 6,000 skilled plumbers, chemists, electricians, and dentists, and suchlike, to work in the Soviet Union, then deemed the El Dorado of mankind, or the “moral top of the world where the light never really goes out”, in the words of Edmund Wilson. It is said that 100,000 showed up.
The commentariat went into overdrive, more or less writing off the United States. The Yale Review, Harpers, and the Atlantic all ran pieces debating the risk of imminent revolution.
Just 12 years later the US accounted for half of all global economic output and was military master of the West, literally running Japan and Germany as administrative regions.
Those a little younger – like me – who remember the impeachment of President Richard Nixon and the last American citizens being lifted by helicopter from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon in 1975, will recall the ubiquitous claims that the US could never fully recover from what looked like a crushing defeat.
The Carter Malaise, the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Iran hostage humiliation all followed in quick succession, and seemed to seal the argument.
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