Christmas Musings 2018: Will America remain a beacon of hope?

George Abraham

Another eventful year has quickly passed on. We are once again on the threshold of a new year, a time to introspect and make new resolutions. I have been living in the U.S. for the last 50 years. To be specific, I have arrived on these shores in the fall of 1968. It was a time of great political upheaval across the country. Students at almost every University were protesting the War in Vietnam and expressing their disgust over the draft. The Presidential elections were weeks away and Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey were the opposing candidates fighting to win the highest office in the land.

Despite all the turmoil in the streets and around campuses, foreign students like me were looking forward to a life of learning and opportunities… there was a sense of optimism about the country and its future. Notwithstanding the Cold War challenges abroad, America remained the pre-eminent power house, a land of freedom and innovation. The capitalist system and the market economy the nation championed brought unprecedented growth and prosperity to its citizens. While the countries that implemented socialist models or centralized planning either failed or made slow progress, the American political and economic system provided stability and steady growth. Its dynamism and energy in setting up goals and achieving them were unparalleled in history and the people around the world started paying close attention. It was America everyone wanted to learn about as it became the frontier for many from developing nations to explore.

Therefore, I am quite bewildered to see the young people of today are clamoring for a socialist model that has been experimented with and failed many times. This new movement includes children of the last generation of Indian immigrants who are gaining political traction in the arena. I am beginning to wonder what they have learned from their parents! Previous generations of immigrants came to this country, rolled up their sleeves and worked hard and realized their American dream. I believe that dream is still attainable, though it is getting harder, for this generation as well – if they put their minds into it.

Today, the global situation has dramatically changed with more demand for resources among America’s strategic partners and competitors. This nation is also quickly piling up debt with no end in sight. If America was any other country today, it would be knocking at the door of the IMF for debt relief. What saves America today is that special status for the US dollar as the World’s Reserve Currency as a result of the Bretton Woods agreement. That enables countries to buy the U.S. debt and allow U.S. to keep on printing the money.

Undoubtedly, America is living beyond its means. On this trajectory, there will come a day of reckoning and it will only be a matter of time before a country like China not only catches up with U.S. but may even surpass it in terms GDP as well as innovation in science and technologies. In that scenario, whose treasury securities will be in demand?

I recollect a story a German national told me about how Germany became a power house in engineering and manufacturing of quality products like in Automobiles and heavy machinery. After the industrial revolution, England was the epicenter of manufacturing and Trade. However, as the number of colonies grew, the brightest of its young people were sent abroad to administer territories controlled by the British Empire. Therefore, they have decided to outsource many of the products manufacturing to Germany and the rest is history. For many of us who are skeptical of the quality of Chinese products now, the British history is a good lesson to learn from.

Indian Americans already have a number of legislators in the upper echelons of the power centers at the Capitol. Their parents came from the middle class or upper middle class family background in India who were impatient with the political system and slow growth economics of the country and decided to venture out. With all its deficiencies, America was still the shining city on the hill and a place where their skillset and dynamism would eventually prove to be a bonanza where they built successful families with top-notch education for their children. Now, these same young people appear to be repudiating the very system that has helped them to succeed and become influential voices in this country.

In the United States, what we are witnessing is an unprecedented level of polarization on the basis of race and culture. The leadership appears to be only exploiting those negative sentiments rather than healing the wounds. The new immigrants tend to push the narrative that their language, culture, and traditions are more sacrosanct and need immediate recognition and acceptance from the majority community. The very idea of ‘melting pot’ has given away to ‘balkanization’ based on identity politics. Unless this trend is reversed, the United States may be in danger of becoming another third world nation with warring factions always on the prowl.

I hope and pray that there will be great healing across the globe so that current divisions and conflicts come to an end. The warring factions in America ought to sit down together and resolve issues with a focus on keeping the nation still a beacon for the rest of world that promotes freedom, liberty and pursuit of happiness. For India, I am looking forward to a verdict of the people in 2019 that may restore real democracy to the nation so that the country could get back to the business of uplifting the poor, and ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity for all its citizens!.

Wishing you a very happy and peaceful New Year!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations)