Continued from page 6

Late 1980s: The academic best-seller “The Rise and Fall of Great Powers” predicts an American slide owing to “imperial overreach”; the popular best-seller “Rising Sun” predicts an American slide owing to Japanese business competition.

1990s: Actually, this decade was pretty great. (Even so, traditionalists such as “The Death of Outrage” author Bill Bennett found reason to bewail America’s moral softening, as epitomized by (a) the Monica Lewinsky scandal; (b) the hard-core gangsta rap of future “Are We There Yet?” star Ice Cube; (c) Bart Simpson’s unpardonable sassiness.)

2000s: Global rivals are going to do us in. Or maybe global warming. Or maybe America’s dystopian future will simply look like “Wall-E.”

“As Mark Twain said, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes,” Mr. Dowd said. “There’s a cycle to what Americans think of themselves. We go through these periods of intense self-doubt.

“But this is one of our strengths. We’re a very self-critical people. So we adapt and change and come out of these times better.”