These are humbling times to be American, or at least they should be. They are humbling times to be an American journalist, too, especially one of my generation, who spent a career spanning the 1980s to the end of the aughts traveling the wide world as a foreign correspondent.
America, of course, had problems back then, indeed very real problems. But one function of America’s immense wealth and power during this period was the illusion, which foreign correspondents could sustain without too much difficultly, that the world was innately more interesting than their own country, because the world was where most of the acute problems of the day lay.
That era—or cheery mirage, really—is fast receding in the rearview mirror. Those much younger may have never experienced it and will possibly be less sentimental and more clear-eyed about the present and about what lies ahead. We all now officially “live in interesting times,” a phrase that should be heard and understood in the spirit of the apocryphal Chinese curse on which it is based. Things are becoming much more obviously complicated now, with what once seemed certain increasingly in doubt.