America’s Decline Is Relative but Real—and Potentially Dangerous

The Rest of the World Is Catching Up, and the Nation's Cluelessness About Its Weaknesses Will Accelerate the Trend

Is the United States in decline? The debate on the subject lacks both content and context. To take the conversation about American decline away from arbitrary and subjective claims, we require an indisputable criterion. And the only criterion that really counts in international relations is comparison: How does the United States stack up as compared to other powers?

By that measure, the United States has been in relative decline since at least the 1960s. Yes, the economic strength of America has grown, and continues to grow, in absolute terms. But its …

More In: U.S. history

American Segregation Started Long Before the Civil War

How the Founders' Revolutionary Ideology Laid the Groundwork

Segregation remains an intractable force in American life, more than 60 years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling outlawed racial separation in America’s schools. The …

Remembering 9/11, From a Scrawled Note to a Bit of Fuselage

How Objects Both Ordinary and Extraordinary Help Us Reflect on the Devastation

Three months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress officially charged the Smithsonian and the National Museum of American History with collecting and preserving artifacts that would tell …

How William T. Sherman Helped Create California

And How His Golden State Past Influenced the Civil War General’s Most Famous Decision

This month, as California celebrates Admission Day—a legal holiday in honor of our officially joining the United States on September 9, 1850—we should give ourselves an overdue present:

A founding story …

A Punk Rock Tour Across Europe Gave Me Hope for Philly’s Revival

Photographing My Hometown’s Urban Neglect Captures the Hidden Potential in a City’s Ruins

Growing up in Philadelphia, I played and photographed in the ruins of buildings—some noble, even ones designated as important national historic landmarks. I wasn’t really cognizant of their importance in …

How World War II Turned Soldiers Into Bookworms

American GIs Devoured Paperbacks on the Front Lines, Spawning a New Generation of Readers

In January 1942, thousands of New Yorkers gathered on the steps of the legendary New York Public Library, at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, wearing their Sunday best and warmest …