There was a time when wearing white after Labor Day was a social faux pas. One explanation is that wealthy people could afford to vacation during the hot summer months and left their “city clothes” behind in favor of lighter, whiter summer outfits. When fall arrived and the privileged upper class returned to the city, they donned darker, more formal clothing. That was then—this is now: nearly 85 percent of all Americans planned to travel this summer.
Here’s another Labor Day factoid: In the late nineteenth century, American laborers worked for twelve hours per day on average in poor conditions, leading to protests and the formation of labor unions. The Central Labor Union of New York City then staged the first Labor Day holiday on this day in 1882. Twelve years later, President Grover Cleveland signed a law making the first Monday in September an annual federal holiday.
All that to say, Americans have made great progress in many ways across recent generations. The average size of our homes has nearly tripled since 1950, for example. Technological innovations, from air conditioning to the internet, have greatly enhanced our daily lives.
“China’s economy won’t be fixed”
By contrast, our greatest geopolitical competitor has fallen on significant hard times in recent years.
Axios notes that China’s economy following its reopening after the pandemic has been plagued by weak growth, falling prices, a popped real estate bubble, and mass unemployment among young adults. Rather than dealing with these problems, China’s government is hiding them. For example, after recent reports showed unemployment among young adults reached 21.3 percent in June, the government suspended the release of the data.
The Economist agrees that “China’s economy won’t be fixed” because “an increasingly autocratic government is making bad decisions.” The article notes that China’s living standards are less than 20 percent of America’s and adds, “Many of its challenges stem from broader failures of its economic policymaking—which are getting worse as President Xi Jinping centralizes power.”
An analysis in Foreign Affairs also reports that China’s now ten-year-long infrastructure development project (known as the Belt and Road Initiative or BRI), which has lent more than $1 trillion to more than one hundred countries, is forcing many of these nations into unmanageable debt crises. The Associated Press is reporting this morning that Italy is not expected to extend its commitment to BRI when it comes up for renewal at the end of the year.
“The one thing Americans can agree on”
Not only does China face grave uncertainty, the United States can point to significant advantages in this geopolitical competition. Cambridge University political economist John Rapley notes that the US “still has sources of power that nobody can seriously rival: a currency that faces no serious threat as the world’s medium of exchange, the deep pools of capital managed on Wall Street, the world’s most powerful military, the soft power wielded by its universities, and the vast appeal of its culture.”
And so, we should feel confident about our nation’s present and future. And yet, we don’t.
A recent Pew Research Forum study reported that “Americans are in a negative mood about the current state of the country, with large majorities expressing dissatisfaction with the economy and overall national conditions.” When they look to the future, “they see a country that in many respects will be worse than it is today.”
Only one in ten give high ratings to the way democracy is working in our nation or how well it represents the interests of most Americans. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Pessimism is the one thing Americans can agree on.”
Why is this?
The Lord testified: “When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars” (Psalm 75:3). If a house loses its foundation, will those inside not see the cracks in the walls and feel the tremors? Scripture says of Jesus: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). When we forsake the “hub” into which the spokes of our souls fit, should we be surprised when the wheel disintegrates?
No nation’s future is guaranteed, including ours. Babylon was the Washington, DC, of her day, but God predicted: “She shall never again have people, nor be inhabited for all generations” (Jeremiah 50:39). Accordingly, ancient Babylon is an uninhabited ruin to this day.
Our secularized, post-Christian nation should take heed.
“Return to me, and I will return to you”
The good news is that it is always too soon to give up on God. He promises, “Return to me, and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:7). So, let’s close with an invitation from Max Lucado to make Christ our Shepherd before it’s too late:
God, our Shepherd, doesn’t check the weather; he makes it. He doesn’t defy gravity; he created it. Jesus said, “God is Spirit.” He has no limitations. Unchanging. Uncaused. Ungoverned. Don’t we need this kind of shepherd?
You don’t need to carry the burden of a lesser god—a god on a shelf, a god in a box, or a god in a bottle. No, you need a God who can place one hundred billion stars in our galaxy and one hundred billion galaxies in the universe. A God who can shape two fists of flesh into seventy-five to one hundred billion nerve cells, each with as many as ten thousand connections to other nerve cells, place it in a skull, and call it a brain. And you have one. He is your Shepherd.
Is he your Shepherd today?