Historian Arnold Toynbee observed "an autopsy of history would show that all great nations commit suicide."
It's hard not to think about this reading the results of the latest Wall Street Journal-NORC poll, appearing under the headline "America Pulls Back From Values That Once Defined It."
Only 38% of Americans now say patriotism is "very important," compared to 70% in 1998. Thirty-nine percent say religion is "very important," compared to 62% in 1998. And 30% say having children is "very important" compared to 59% in 1998.
The results that follow from these attitudes are not surprising.
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Marriage rates are way down. Birthrates are way down. In 1990, 67% of American adults between the ages of 25-54 were married. This was down to 51% in 2021. In 2020, there were 56 births in the U.S. for every 1,000 women ages 15-44. In 1990, there were 70.9.
And, among the births we do have, in 2021, 40% of our babies were born to unmarried mothers.
Not surprisingly, our population is hardly growing. In 2022, the U.S. population increased 0.4%, a modest increase from the 0.1% increase in 2021, the lowest annual population growth since the founding of the nation.
Looking at the same polling data results among the youngest sector of our population, the picture looks even more dismal.
Among those under 30, just 23% say patriotism is "very important" to them, 31% say religion is "very important," and 23% say having children is "very important."
What is important to Americans today?
Although 70% say marriage is either "very important" or "somewhat important," 65% say belief in God is "very important" or "somewhat important," 73% say patriotism is "very important" or "somewhat important," 91% say self-fulfillment is "very important" or "somewhat important," and 90% say money is "very important" or "somewhat important."
The devaluing of marriage, children and patriotism, and the focus on "self-fulfillment" and money are, of course, signs of a culture sunk into egotism and materialism, with a loss of a sense of being part of something larger than oneself.
It is not an encouraging picture for a country that hopes to have a future.
Our health care and retirement systems depend on a growing population. Stagnant population growth means more and more retirees per each individual in the workforce. It's why our Social Security system is bankrupt.
Zero population growth means an aging population and increasing health care costs. In 2019, 56% of all health care costs were in age groups 55 and above. The overall burden of health care costs will continue to increase as the percentage of the population over 55 increases.
There are also implications on national security of attitudes that devalue patriotism and national service.
We now have a volunteer military. This can't work with a population of young people who feel no sense of identity and obligation to their nation.
Again, the results are predictable. In 2022, the Army fell 15,000 short of its recruiting goal.
National defense spending is 3% of GDP, very low by historical standards.
The Wall Street Journal reports our Navy's fleet of ships will shrink to 291 by 2028 from 297 today. And the number of aircraft in the Air Force is diminishing.
Only 21% of those surveyed say that our country "stands above all countries in the world."
But our country is only the product of its citizenry. A free nation under God becomes less free, and less great, as the Creator is traded in for materialism and egotism.
We have elections coming in 2024. President Joe Biden, assuming he runs, will run on more of what is destroying our nation. It is up to Republicans to run on principles and ideals, in hope that we can mend our rapidly sinking ship of state.
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