When the United States Jumped the Shark

For those of us that grew up watching Happy Days, many of us will remember this ground-breaking episode:

That particular Happy Days episode was not ground-breaking in the sense that it made for great television, rather, it was ground-breaking because it established a new phrase, “jumped the shark”, in the English lexicon.  It was at this point that Happy Days had literally “jumped the shark”; the television show had reached the point where its credulity was strained to the point where the producers were willing to take any means, no matter how ridiculous, to try to bolster their flagging ratings.  In a broader sense, we can use the “jumped the shark” idiom for many other purposes, including key moments when the decline of a nation into a degraded state becomes so obvious, showing that the nation is but a shadow of its former glorious self.

I believe that such a moment took place on May 28, 2014, a moment that received relatively little coverage at the time.  Here is a direct quote of was said at the time:

“...by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world.  Those who argue otherwise — who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away — are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.  Think about it.  Our military has no peer.  The odds of a direct threat against us by any nation are low and do not come close to the dangers we faced during the Cold War.

The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come.

But the world is changing with accelerating speed. This presents opportunity, but also new dangers. We know all too well, after 9/11, just how technology and globalization has put power once reserved for states in the hands of individuals, raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm. Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worries its neighbors. From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us, and governments seek a greater say in global forums. And even as developing nations embrace democracy and market economies, 24-hour news and social media makes it impossible to ignore the continuation of sectarian conflicts and failing states and popular uprisings that might have received only passing notice a generation ago.

It will be your generation’s task to respond to this new world. The question we face, the question each of you will face, is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead — not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also extend peace and prosperity around the globe.” (my bold)

This quote is taken from former President Barack Obama’s speech of May 28, 2014, given to the graduating class at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

By stating that the United States is the one indispensable nation, the former president is also stating the opposite, that every other nation on earth is dispensable.  China, Russia, India, Canada, the United Kingdom and all of Europe for that matter and the billions of people that live in these nations, are completely unnecessary in the eyes of the United States and may, in fact, hinder the work that the United States is attempting to accomplish, interfering with the direction that the United States would take the global village and interfering with the particular brand of democracy that the United States would prefer for the world.

Let’s close this posting with one more quote from President Obama’s speech:

America must always lead on the world stage.  If we don’t, no one else will.”

From what has happened in the intervening three years since this speech was given, I would suspect that both Russia and China would beg to differ with Obama’s conclusion about America’s leadership and indispensibility.  The greatest danger to all former world empires was their belief that they were indispensible and infallible.  That would certainly appear to have been the case on May 28, 2014 and would suggest that the United States may well have “jumped the shark”, at least in the mind of the former president.

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