Can America Fail?
A sympathetic critic issues a wake-up call for an America mired in groupthink and blind to its own shortcomings.
In 1981, Singapore’slong-ruling People’s Action Party was shocked when it suffered its first defeat at the polls in many years, even though the contest was in a single constituency. I asked Dr. Goh Keng Swee, one of Singapore’s three founding fathers and the architect of its economic miracle, why the PAP lost. He replied, “Kishore, we failed because we did not even conceive of the possibility of failure.”
The simple thesis of this essay is that American society could also fail if it does not force itself to conceive of failure. The massive crises that American society is experiencing now are partly the product of just such a blindness to potential catastrophe. That is not a diagnosis I deliver with rancor. Nations, like individuals, languish when they only have uncritical lovers or unloving critics. I consider myself a loving critic of the United States, a critic who wants American society to succeed. America, I wrote in 2005 in Beyond the Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust Between America and the World, “has done more good for the rest of the world than any other society.” If the United States fails, the world will suffertoo.
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Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, is the author most recently of The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East (2008).more from this author >>