Somewhere in the 1970s the post-World War II boom ended. Some date it to the 1973 gas price hike, triggered by OPEC. Since then the nature of US manufacturing has changed. Manufacturing wages have been flat, and more important, the number of manufacturing jobs has declined. That doesn't mean manufacturing has declined; the US still produces lots of stuff but it does so with fewer workers.
This trend is worldwide: the French call the post-World War II period "les trentes glorieuses" (thirty wonderful years). They have also suffered a decline of the traditional working class.
In the economy we have seen a shift from manufacturers to retailers. When we were young the big brands were manufacturers: Ford, GM, Chrysler, GE, Westinghouse..... They were the center of the economy. Now where is it? Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Lowes, Home Depot. They are the ones who stand by their suppliers. Much of their stuff comes in containers from China, although that may change.
And then there is financialization: financial services are now 4%+ of the economy. When we were young financial services was simply a place where we opened an account, maybe had savings etc. Now they are huge too-big-too-fail corporations that are able to lobby for what they want in DC, and certainly have both parties in their pockets.
In 1975 the US made a calamitous withdrawal from Vietnam; Nixon had removed combat troops in 1972. It was a defeat, although for about thirty years no one in the US could use that word. Yes, I know some say the military fought with its hand tied behind its back but more ordinance was dumped on Vietnam than was used in World War II. My point here is that the myth on which we had been raised that the US had "never lost a war" was punctured, even if people had a hard time saying so publicly.
The US is no longer omnipotent. That doesn't mean that some other nation has displaced it but simply that the period of unquestioned US dominance has come to an end.
There have been various attempts to overcome the "Vietnam syndrome": the 1983 invasion of Grenada (a nation which literally could fit inside a large football stadium), the 1989 overthrow of Noriega and the 1991 ouster of Iraq from Kuwait.
And to some extent that syndrome has been overcome. Otherwise, how explain the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which lasts until this day?
To bring this back to the original topic, if we're trying to make sense of what we have observed in our lifetimes, it is entirely too narrow to think that somehow a cultural shift in the 1960s has brought about calamity. We should at least take into account major changes in the economy and the end of the myth of US invincibility.
It certainly helps explain the success of a candidate who says he's going to "make America great again," says we'll win again, and when asked when he thinks the US was great says the 1950s.
Does this sound negative? Perhaps, if you're an American nostalgic for a past (that may not have been as wonderful as you think it was). But let me point out that on a world scale we've seen the largest rise out of poverty ever. People are living longer than ever, a point made in a news story this past week which said that Korean females born a couple decades can now can expect to live to 90 years old. China has seen the greatest rise out of poverty, 300 or 400 million people. More modestly 30 million or more Brazilians have arisen from poverty. A majority of countries in the world (120) now have some form of electoral democracy, up from two or three dozen at the end of World War II.
I haven't said anything about developments in the Catholic Church. I won't go into that here, but am simply noting it.
Likewise, I haven't said anything about technology. Most people on earth now have a mobile phone and before long they'll be smart phones.
Phil Berryman (born 1938) is the author of several books on both liberation theology and the Christian experience in Latin America. After his ordination as a Roman Catholic priest in 1963, he spent two years at a church in Pasadena, California, before working in pastoral ministry in the Panama City barrio of El Chorrillo from 1965-1973.
That year, he left the priesthood and married. He later worked with the American Friends Service Committee, living in Guatemala but traveling throughout Central America. He returned to the United States in 1980 and began writing the next year. He is a retired professor of Latin American Studies at Temple University. He now lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Angela, with whom he has three grown children: Catherine, Margaret and Elizabeth.
Berryman, Phillip (2005). "The Bush Doctrine: A Catholic Critique." In America Magazine. The National Catholic Weekly.America Magazine
Comblin, J. & Berryman, P. (2004). People of God. Orbis Books. ISBN 1-57075-521-3
Berryman, Phillip (1996). Religion in the Megacity: Catholic and Protestant Portraits from Latin America. Orbis Books. ISBN 1-57075-083-1.
Berryman, Phillip (1995). Stubborn Hope: Religion, Politics, and Revolution in Central America. New Press. ISBN 1-56584-137-9
Berryman, Phillip (1987). Liberation Theology: Essential Facts About the Revolutionary Movement in Latin America - and Beyond. Meyer Stone Books. ISBN 0-940989-03-4
Berryman, Phillip (1984). The Religious Roots of Rebellion: Christians in Central American Revolutions. Orbis Books. ISBN 0-88344-105-5
Hinkelammert, Franz (1986). The Ideological Weapons of Death: A Theological Critique of Capitalism, translated by Phillip Berryman, Orbis Books.