For some time it's been my opinion that since America was #1 for most of the 20th century, we learned to rest on our laurels, and learned to assume that if an idea didn't come from America, then it must not be a good idea. When I was growing up, it certainly seemed that we were taught that we could only be happy if we lived in America, that America was special, that Lincoln was right when he termed America as Earth's "last, best hope." When our soldiers went overseas during Vietnam, they sometimes referred to coming home to America as going back to "the World," and laughed when the locals were offended at the idea that they and their nation were somehow not part of the World. Witness the ongoing debate about American exceptionalism; despite the fact that (along with fifteen other nations) we're twentieth on the list of nations by literacy rate, and thirty-sixth on the list of nations by life expectancy; a rank that we share with Denmark and Cuba.
I suspect that the idea of American exceptionalism exemplifies our endemic arrogance and complacency, and the willful ignorance that are their constant companions, and I would submit that these are precisely what brought down every great empire of the past. After a society and culture has spent a few generations at the top, it becomes a societal presumption that it's number one, and that's the natural order of things. And the people of that society become ever more resistant to ideas and concepts from outside that society, even when those ideas and concepts are crucial to the improvement and longevity of that society.
One of my favorite poems is Kipling's White Man's Burden. Certainly not for its apparently racist undertones, for such was the context of the times, but for how precisely it captured the passing of the torch of global supremacy from England to America. In the final verses Kipling warns us that at the end, when our time of supremacy is fast becoming a matter of history rather than of currency, we will be judged to see whether we truly belong in the first rank of the great empires of human history.