More than relief or pride, I feel that this act of justice puts America in position to meet the newest challenge. Our future had not looked promising for young people, whether those born here or coming as immigrants. Those of us fairly settled, like myself, are at least aware of the roads that lead us to nowhere; the ones we had to backtrack from. But those starting, or halfway, out are being confronted with new uncertainties on a daily basis. Namely, were their best efforts for a productive life going to be pulled down along with a nation in its decline.
Will Bin Laden’s death really make a difference? If it does, will America only be able to retain its image as a world leader because of that single military exploit, albeit one that occurred at a convenient time? Because if that is the only reason, then the decline will resume with cruel momentum.
But don’t misread me. I am a plodding optimist by nature, and I have held on to the belief that we can collectivize again into a vigorous, expansive force in the world; that we will be base camp, as it were, for the next ascent. But, surprisingly, Saturday’s triumph makes me even more apprehensive. This is because meeting the new challenge cannot be achieved without some clear commitment by all of us, collectively, on how to proceed from here. It won’t come from our political leaders. Even if President Obama is re-elected — as is almost certain now — neither he nor his successor can frame that choice for us. The years since 9/11 show that clearly. The recent recession was only a symptom.
But a symptom of what? Well, if you’ve read this far, you may bail out after I tell you. The challenge is no less than our economic survival. In political terms, we have demanded so little of our leaders that they never made us face the harsh choices that we cannot avoid facing now. There is simply no other way to “survive” the challenge of the future except to compete with those who will try to dominate us. And to compete means to dominate them. Do we have the will to do that? Well, we’re going to find out. The only policy choices facing us — whether in taxes collected, regulations imposed or benefits reduced — will be painful ones. But I cannot see us maintaining the quality of life that we have unless we arrest this surge from the emerging economies. Hundreds of millions of new workers in China, Brazil, India, Singapore and elsewhere, are all being told by their leaders that we are ready to topple over, like a tower. That now is their chance to dominate us, and to thrive because of it.
Can we meet that challenge? I know we can, but not if we accept “survival” as anything less than dominance in their markets, as well as our own. To do otherwise would be like claiming “victory” over Osama Bin Laden if we had achieved something less than his execution. Something like, say, if we just made him promise not to hurt us again. Could we have settled for a “victory” like that?