The cause of American decline isn’t “gridlock,” it isn’t catastrophic trade or economic policy, it isn’t the end of the Cold War, and it isn’t military adventurism.
All of these have their roots in a deeper problem.
The American academy is dead.
The American church is dead.
The American statesman is dead.
These are the three civic pillars of the American superego, the reservoir of grown-ups able to propose grown-up solutions to serious problems, to guide ethical reflection, and to carry and perpetuate cultural knowledge and identity across generations.
They are all dead. Some will claim that they’re alive, but I call bullshit. They’re not living, they’re tottering zombies, un-dead, with insatiable drives for consumption, but with hollow, glazed-over eyes, marked by vacuums of self-awareness, with no hint of their former selves on display. Decades of moral activist criticism have undermined and eviscerated them, but without leaving anything in their place. There isn’t an American superego any longer; what remains are the American ego and the American id, running (instrumentally and irrationally, respectively) amok.
“Where have all the grown-ups gone?” goes the common cry. The fact is that we’ve killed them, one by one, and been left with no one to lead, to sacrifice and persevere, or to teach us to sacrifice and persevere in our own best interests.
Our Very Serious People are no longer the adults in the room, they are boomer and post-boomer rock stars. And inevitably, we have thus also come to see our rock stars as Very Serious People. What’s missing are the stodgy and wise. In their place, we have Keith Richards, Hillary Clinton, Richard Dawkins, and Lee Corso.
That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with these people. Only that they aren’t grown-ups. They’re not caretaking or contributing in order to moderate, nurture, and preserve. They’re teenagers or twenty-somethings trapped in failing bodies. Their “big picture” remains forever centered around themselves.
And the same is true across society at this point, from the bottom to the top. The grown-ups have gone, like the Jedi of lore, out of our universe.