Two of the most widely discussed issues in National Media, over the past few months, have been Obama’s handling of US Foreign Policy and socio-economic struggles. While living in Bangkok during April and May, I have been surprised by how the discussions in both areas have shifted from tacitly implying to openly commenting on American decline. A new economic book by Thomas Piketty, which I have not yet read, has excited left wing intellectuals by returning economic debate to issues of Labor vs. Capital. Recent editorials on the subject agree that Americans will have less opportunity in the next generation. In terms of foreign policy, liberal and conservative media outlets agree that the US faces a loss of global power as well. The purported cause here is not President Obama, but rather a changing geo-political landscape, political struggling, and the aforementioned economic troubles. Instead of providing further comment, I want to share observations I have made in traveling.
First, I have had many recurring conversations with fellow American travelers about the sense of elitism within the United States. I will not pretend to comment on all Americans, but I have that found a misinformed sense of exceptionalism permeates our media and many acquaintances. Many first time American travelers abroad are shocked to find that the entire rest of the word is not backwards or under privileged, but rather that many places are more advanced. For instance, here in Bangkok, new construction is of the highest quality, and urban planning and public infrastructure meet or exceed American standards. Green technology is not a luxury here, but is standard. Motion sensing lights and escalators are everywhere. Waterless toilets, recycled markers, plastic bag free stores, the list goes on.
Beyond infrastructure, Thai culture contains others examples of forward thinking. Education is highly valued, as evidenced by ubiquitous advertisements for schools and exam preparation. Thailand’s reputation for quality affordable healthcare speaks for itself; many Americans choose to come here for treatment. Bangkok is a vibrant city and her streets hum with potential. There is plenty of visible poverty, but there is also a sense of potential. The general sense I get from being in the US is one of decay. As a society, we seem to have given up our values in education and hard work for a society of hedonistic consumption and voyeuristic self-aggrandizing reality TV. We remain exceptional because we stand on the shoulders of those before us, those who built our power and our exceptionally oversized military. There is much that I love about the United States. I just hope that we overcome the current petty political atmosphere and other societal troubles, to once again lead the world with more than just our wallets.