- - Monday, February 22, 2016

The secular religion of America is in disarray. Black Lives Matter disavows loyalty to the Constitution. Many Americans of various ethnicities have detached themselves from the bedrock beliefs that made this nation unique in the history of the world.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently gave Congress as assessment of threats around the globe that amounted to an indictment of President Obama’s failed foreign policy. A “liturgy of doom” is on the lips of the candidates for president in both parties. Donald Trump refers to America as a “mess,” saying, “We don’t win anymore.” Bernie Sanders speaks of the unfairness in the political system in which billionaires control the outcome. Even Hillary Clinton, who walks a fine line between supporting and criticizing the Obama administration, notes that there are “mounting challenges that have to be addressed.” Pessimism is on the rise.

A “shining city on the hill” that President Reagan exalted is enshrouded in fog. Despite many of the qualities it possesses, candidates and critics have conspired to tear down America in the eyes of the world.

Clearly, the Obama foreign policy is interpreted by our enemies as a sign of weakness. Retreat and acquiescence are usually viewed that way. Now, however, perceptions run deeper. From Iran to China there is a belief the culture, i.e., the sinews of civil society, are tearing. In conversations I have had with Chinese and Japanese nationals, there is a conviction that the United States is suicidal, a nation overdosing on metaphorical valium.

This is a viewpoint buttressed by: a debt that has risen to $19 trillion; extremist political language; a breakdown in the education system at all levels; families in distress and a fundamental ignorance of the national past. The bread and circuses atmosphere has led to serious misgivings about America as a serious nation — one that misunderstands its own interests and those of its allies.

Travel to the Middle East reinforces this opinion. Leaving aside comments about Mr. Obama’s failed policies, there is a growing belief that there is a cultural cancer metastasizing throughout the American body politic. The fact that a campaign for president on both sides of the political spectrum deals almost exclusively with failure demonstrates this point. This is what many foreigners see in the United States today.

The land of opportunity, of hope and virtue, the beacon of light across the ages for liberty has foundered on the shoals of self-doubt. A loss of confidence is palpable. China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Ali Khamenei recognize this condition in addition to recognizing Mr. Obama’s strategy of withdrawal.

Our Founders understood this danger. George Washington argued: “If in the revolution of ages, virtue should give way to a corruption of morals, profligacy of manners and listlessness for the preservations of the natural and unalienable rights of mankind, then usurpation may arise upon the ruins of liberty against which no human prudence can effectively provide.”

Here is the dilemma: We amuse ourselves into listlessness, and our enemies and friends sense it. The island of hope has become a nation of despair. We talk ourselves down and wonder why the United States isn’t appreciated. Hope has not evaporated, but the ability to recall the romance and achievement in our history have gone out of favor. That is a shame that awakens a call to action.

Those who remember what America was recall the virtue, the liberty and the confidence this nation gave as gifts to the world. It helps to cite what America has accomplished in addition to what it might accomplish.

Herbert London is president of the London Center for Policy Research.

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