As our financial crisis unfolds, Americans suffer a serious bout of existential ennui. Unsure of who we are or our global role anymore, our self-doubt scares the world in near-equal measure. Predictably, both skeptics at home and challengers abroad tell us that we must get used to this post-American world. My advice is to resist these sirens' song.
From the perspective of grand strategy, such pessimism is unwarranted: Just as our international liberal trade order - known now as globalization - encompasses the near totality of the planet, vastly outreaching all previous attempts to establish a global order and doing so in a manner that both enriches and empowers individuals, too many Americans feel alienated from this world so clearly of our creation.
Dr. Frankenstein should recognize in this alleged monster the sum of his ambitions.
America has always been a land to which strangers came for re-invention, for we choose our family instead of merely accepting what tradition mandates. We have abandoned homelands and clans, married outside of race and class, and swapped religions with a unique urgency. The chance to be born again is the quintessential American right - the pursuit of happiness individually defined.
As such, the proximate causes of our angst are readily identified: We've taken in a record number of immigrants in recent years, giving us a relatively high percentage of foreign-born residents, and we're suffering a magnificent economic correction. In the past, when such conditions have met, we've isolated ourselves from a chaotic world, painfully attempting to transform our decidedly blended identity into one uniformly organic - as in, real Americans.
That instinct abounds in this presidential election. In their second debate, John McCain referred to Barack Obama as "that one," subtly singling out his otherness. Even more to the point, McCain's campaign has promised an "American president that Americans have been waiting for," as if meeting the constitutional requirement of being American-born isn't quite enough in Obama's case.
But to me, this phobia isn't about a black man ruling America but Americans succumbing to "them," meaning a world beyond our perceived control - our ultimate fear. Given globalization's stunning advance these past three decades, this concern is understandable but misguided: We equate a post-Caucasian world with a post-American one.
Nothing could be further from the truth, either at home or abroad.
Check out New York City, California, or our nation's 0-to-5 demographic cohort and you'll realize we're already processing our post-Caucasian future, our immigrant nation logically achieving an inverted globalization. Around 2042, according to our latest census, European-descent Americans will slip into nonmajority status across our nation as a whole.
Remembering that Americans are the world's most synthetic political creatures, you'll see right through this alleged paradigm shift, recognizing it as merely the latest among many in our national journey as the world's oldest and most successful multinational political and economic union. Far from surrendering our status as globalization's cutting-edge experiment, we continue to purposefully push that envelope while continuously updating our rules along the way.
For the foreseeable future, America appears certain to lean in the direction of more regulation, after a three-decade streak of deregulation that was pivotal in fueling globalization's rapid expansion. In many ways, this course correction will feel like a rerun of our turn-of-the-20th-century Progressive Era - in effect, first shaming and then taming a capitalist market that's become too rapacious and uncontrollable.
Pursued with real vision, our example should trigger similar policy innovation and clean-up efforts on a global scale, meaning a "league of democracies" constitutes an insufficient quorum for making globalization's consolidation both sustainable and more just.
Instead, it is a league of capitalist great powers that must be immediately called to order but with the clear understanding - unclouded by fear-that globalization comes with rules but no ruler.
And that is a most American world.