America is an empire, albeit a reluctant one.
I made allusions to this notion in a recent column here two months ago. Frankly, I was stunned by much of the reader response. In that piece, I detailed how American influence has risen since 1900, while China's has fallen. Readers passionately wrote about America's current malaise and assumed decline was already well underway.
It seems far too many Americans do not know what so much of the rest of the world does: the United States is the fulcrum of power on this planet.
This doesn't mean that the U.S. is omnipotent and all-powerful. Instead, it signifies that what happens here impacts more of humankind than any other single factor.
Home to one-quarter of the world's total wealth, the U.S. is, by far, the biggest investor and recipient of foreign direct investment. And while America is also the world's largest borrower, it speaks to its power that foreigners are willing to lend hundreds of billions of their Dollars at incredibly low rates.
America's insatiable appetite for "creative destruction"- and the innovation and entrepreneurship that feed it- keep America always looking forward. When America changes directions, tastes, or policies, it is supply chains in China, India, Brazil, and elsewhere that must adapt- or die.
Empire also stems from America's control of the world's oceans and the shipping lanes through which move the goods that drive the global economy. The only true continental power in human history, America is buffeted by the U.S. Navy, which is more powerful than Britain's ever was.
It is disheartening to have to explain to Americans that we are indeed an Empire, as much, if not more, than Athens, Rome, or England ever were.
We are not comfortable with Empire. It goes against the grain of our own Revolution. Moreover, Empire has never been the stated goal of the United States. But that doesn't change the fact. America has been an Empire since at least 1991.
As a commercial empire, America must be engaged in the world. Isolation and withdrawal from foreign entanglements are not options, anymore than returning to the days of the one-room schoolhouse.
In short, the American people need to grow up and realize that our actions will help some, and will also create enemies. And, despite our best hopes and intentions, we will inflict pain and suffering. Recognizing Empire is the first step to wielding immense power wisely.
We may not have wanted this. Nevertheless, history doesn't care. It is time to accept this reality. Failing to mature will lead us down the path of decline that so many people fear. We will elect the wrong leaders and enact damaging policies.
As it says in the New Testament:
"When I was a child, I spoke like a child.
I thought like a child.
I understood as a child.
But when I became a man, I put away childish things."
Time to man-up.