June 26, 2011 marked the 37th birthday of Derek Jeter. On this occasion, sports writer Michael Sokolove’s relentlessly dissected Jeter’s recent rapid decline as a player from his glory days a decade ago. July 4, 2011 marks the 235th anniversary of American independence. In its own way, that day in this anxious year marks a decline in power and influence of a nation that to the rest of the world appears to be past its prime as well.
In one sense, this glum comparison looks to be far fetched. All individuals undergo a cycle of growth and decay that no one can alter or halt. In contrast, nations can be viewed as perpetually young with the youthful and vigorous replacing the old and cautious as the latter group retires or dies off. The decline of a great nation thus depends in large measure on its conscious collective choices, not on some internal, ticking clock. If individual declines are inevitable, national declines need not be.