Editorial: Reinventing America

Bronwen Maddox introduces the December issue
November 14, 2012

This was the election that showed the world—and Americans themselves—the scale of the changes now reshaping the United States. Huge demographic shifts, even if long foreseen, took on hard numerical form at the ballot box and began to recolour the political map. America’s first black president was re-elected because more of its people than ever are Hispanic, and more of them young.

These changes are good for the United States, and reason to argue that reports of its decline are premature (see Bill Emmott). The stark division into red and blue states which has paralysed national politics for more than a decade is shattering under the force of shifts in the population (see Peter Kellner). That is one answer to fears that Washington gridlock is making it impossible for any president to govern the world’s richest country and its most powerful advocate of democracy. America has one of the youngest populations of any in the industrialised world, a huge advantage as its economy comes out of recession (see Google’s new “wearable computers” for one example of innovation). Meanwhile, the surge in ethnic populations is forcing it to be more open to the world.

Any party which does not recognise that is dead. The single sentence that most hurt Mitt Romney’s campaign was not about firing workers, or looking through “binders full of women,” although those remarks have earned him extra lines in the history books—and incredulous volumes on the internet. It was in the primaries, when he mused that children of illegal immigrants might consider “self-deportation.”

True, America is still deeply divided. Not only do many Republicans hate President Barack Obama—really hate him—but many Democrats competed during the campaign to pronounce how disappointed they were in him. Sometimes it seemed like a race to see which candidate was least disliked. Neither said much about how to cut the looming budget deficits, or healthcare for the elderly, the US’s greatest vulnerability, and the impetus for predictions of its decline (see Jon Huntsman on the chance to rewrite relations with China). Nor was either keen on bailing out the eurozone or rescuing Syria—the real “pivot” in the US’s focus is towards its own problems, away from those of others.

All the same, America’s strengths are clear, at least in comparison with others. As Antony Beevor writes, Europe, gripped by a financial crisis that threatens its hold on democracy, is still in the shadow of the second world war. Christine Ockrent argues that Franois Hollande fails to understand how France is losing its place in Europe. Japan, as Andy Davis reports, is becoming a place where many people cannot afford to leave their parents’ home or marry—a warning for China, as well as Europe.

Huge internal change now gives Obama the chance to begin to solve the country’s greatest problems at home. If it is more inward looking as a result, that is the price of reinvention on the grand scale.