America: That Old Gandhi Quote, But In Reverse


We’ve all heard the old quote generally attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Well, a few days ago, I ran across this post at Salon: Donald Trump, national embarrassment: The rest of the world is gawking at his campaign — and us. The title of the post tells you all you need to know. And, if you’d pondered the matter, you wouldn’t have felt the need to research whether America is a subject of ridicule on the world stage these days, thanks to the millions of ignoramuses that support Mr. Trump.

Then the thought occurred to me: America on the world stage is channeling that old Gandhi quote, but in reverse.

For decades, in the middle of the 20th century, we were winning. We were the envy of the world. That feeling peaked during Kennedy’s presidency, an era often referred to as “Camelot.”

Gandhi’s four stages are of course not discrete in time. They overlap. While you’re largely still ignored, the ridicule commences, for example.

And so it was with America, but in reverse. While we were winning, we were also entering a phase of constant fighting. Starting with Korea, where we essentially fought to a tie, then in Vietnam, where we lost, the results of our fighting started trending negative, at the same time the constancy of that fighting increased.

The fighting has not only been military in character. It’s also been economic.

Ironically, it is when one stage seems to peak that it is already in decline and the next stage is kicking into high gear. Just as America landed on the moon, for example, the Vietnam war reached a point where America’s first defeat at war had become baked in the cake. And, at about the same time, Datsun (now Nissan) started selling cars on the U.S. market.

We’re still fighting, but, with the election of W, the ridicule stage began. Trump of course has taken it to a higher level, but probably not the highest level we’ll see.

And, again, the perceived peak of one stage, in this case fighting, coincides with the acceleration of the next, in this case ridicule. Nick Turse recently reported on the presence of America’s forces in 135 different countries. At the same moment, here at home we’ve gone completely round the bend. It’s not just Trump. It’s Huckabee. It’s Kim Davis. It’s Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina. It’s Fox News. Imagine how all this looks to reporters and opinion writers at BBC or Das Spiegel.

If the Gandhi principle holds, but in reverse, we’re headed to the last stage: insignificance. I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime, and it’s hard to conceive of America being entirely ignored on the world stage, but I think my kids will see a day when America plays a dramatically smaller role in global politics than it does today.

And that may not be a bad thing. It all depends on how well we can manage the transformation.


  1. steve saving the worlds children is a lot better use of are military both for children and for us then saving the multi national corporations. now that gas is $2 dollars a galloon the texas miracle of minimum wage jobs without health insurance as the ebola patient found out the hard way will soon dry up and turn texas back into the living hell it usually is!

    • I can tell you never served in the military or you would better understand why I say that would be a horrible use for our military. It is illogical to spend tens of thousands of dollars per soldier and months and months of training to teach them to kill and break things, or to support those that do, only to suddenly send them somewhere and say, “take care of these sick children.” If that is something that is important to us then it is better we should train people to do that and send them.

  2. america is pulling back ;but their is nobody to take america’s place which is a good thing. we still have the power to rescue the endangered children of the world if we will use it and the multi-national corporations will have to find another sugar daddy. america is like california before the democrats took control in 2010. the democratic party could turn america around with in a year or two if it got rid of republicans the way california did.

    • California is not the paradise that posters on this blog always paint it. It’s population growth has slowed dramatically in recent years. In the 2010 census – for the first time ever – California failed to gain a seat in Congress because of it’s change in population. The reasons for this change are many, but the primary one is people are leaving California in droves. Whether it is taxes, the changing culture, the over regulation, the anti-business attitude, or any of a hundred other negative reasons, California has lost it’s luster under the control of Democrats, and it isn’t likely to get it back any time soon.

      As far as using our troops to save the world’s children, that is not why we have them. We train our military to break things and kill people, NOT to rebuild nations or rescue children or prop up failing regimes in other countries. If you want to do that, then you use the Peace Corps or some other such organization(s). As we withdraw from the rest of the world, it is these “peace keeping” projects that need to be curtailed first.

  3. I have enough to say about our dwindling significance in the world to write a book, but this isn’t the place for it. Would it really be a bad thing for us if we did play a far less significant role in the world today? Haven’t we lost our way in trying to be “the good guy” in the world? We have even forgotten what it is to be the good guy. As a result of our trying to be all thing to all people, we became jaded, radicalized, balkinized, amoral and a threat to the stability of the world. In trying to defeat our enemies, we became like them.

    Like you said, Bob, we haven’t yet gotten there, but we are well on our way. I don’t think it is reversible because we could never agree amongst ourselves on what it it would take to reverse the trend. And there are many amongst us that would like to see us fall out of some misplaced social justice.

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