The federal government, essentially busted; Congress, increasingly paralyzed and largely incapable of delivering solutions to the country’s most pressing problems; state government, largely broke; the Interstate highway system and our infrastructure of bridges and tunnels, melting away like a block of ice in the sun because maintenance and upgrading is so poor; dikes, water systems, and many other aspects of the national infrastructure which keeps the country going, similarly old and deteriorating; airlines, some of the sorriest in the world with the oldest, dirtiest, and least up-to-date planes and the requisite run-down airports to go with them; ports that are falling behind world standards; a railroad passenger system which, unlike countries from Spain to China, has not one mile of truly high-speed rail; the country’s financial system whose over-paid executives not only ran us off an economic cliff in 2008, but also managed to compromise the whole system itself in the eyes of the world; a broadcast media which -- public broadcasting and aspects of a vital and growing Internet excepted -- is a grossly overly-commercialized, broken-down mess that has gravely let down the country in terms of keeping us informed; newspapers, in a state of free-fall; book publishing, heading in the same direction; elementary education (that is, our future), especially public K-12 schools in big cities, desperately under-funded and near broke in many communities; a food industry which subsidizes sugar and starch, stuffs people with fast-food, and leaves 60% of the population overweight; basic manufacturing, like the automobile industry, evidently headed for oblivion, or China, whichever comes first; the American city, hollowing out and breaking down; the prison system, one of America’s few growth industries but a pit of hopelessness.A fair summary, though as Schell himself points out, this really only scratches the surface.
I used to say that there was nothing like travelling -- and even more, living -- abroad to make you positively reevaluate the United States's capabilities and performance. I no longer feel that way. My last trips to mainland Europe, and even to Latin America (!!), have really underscored to me the U.S.'s relative decline.