'Newsweek' Editor Declares Era of 'American Exceptionalism is Over'

NBC's "Today" show invited on "Newsweek International" editor Fareed Zakaria to promote his book "The Post-American World," on Monday's show and during his segment the author depicted the United States as a nation in decline as he declared the "era" of "'American exceptionalism' is over."

As examples of America's declining standing in the world the "Newsweek" editor cited such facts as China now having the "Largest ferris wheel in the world," Minneapolis' "Mall of America" no longer being the largest in the world and Macau having surpassed Las Vegas in the size of their casinos. 

The following is the full interview as conducted by co-host Meredith Vieira, as it occurred on the May 5, "Today" show:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: The baseball legend Satchel Paige famously said, "Don't look back, something might be gaining on you." So should the United States be looking over its shoulder? A new book called, "The Post-American World" argues that the rest of the globe is catching up to us. "Newsweek International" editor Fareed Zakaria is the book's author. Fareed, good morning to you.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Good to see you, Meredith.

VIEIRA: Nice to see you too. You say the book really isn't so much about the decline of the U.S., as it is about the "rise of the rest." What do you mean by that, "The rise of the rest?"

ZAKARIA: Well, it occurred to me really when I was in a taxi in Singapore. I saw a ferris wheel and I said to the cab driver, "Oh, this is so nice, you've got a ferris wheel," and he looked at me and said, "Sir, it's the largest ferris wheel in the world." Then I was at a mall in China and I'm looking at it and thinking, this is very large. And he says, "It is the largest mall in the world." And I said to him, "No, no, no, the Mall of the Americas in Minneapolis is the largest." He said "Sir, that doesn't make the top 10 anymore." So it occurred to me that while we were sleeping, the rest of the world had been gaining, and it's happening everywhere. It's not just China and India. It's happening in Brazil. It's happening in Costa Rica. What I describe in, in the book is the rise of the rest, that is to say, all of these countries, 140, uh, 125 countries, growing at four percent, five percent a year, and gaining on us in all kinds of ways. And it, and how important it is for us to understand this new world.

VIEIRA: Why, why haven't we paid attention, do you think?

ZAKARIA: Well, you tell me, Meredith. I mean, look at the presidential campaign. You know, we've been talking about whether Hillary Clinton landed in a corkscrew 16 years ago on a Bosnian airfield, whether Barack Obama had relations with William Ayers, who when he was in, you know, grade school may have exploded some bombs, whether McCain's used his wife's plane a couple of times. Where are we discussing the big issues? It seems to me this is the, the central issue we have to face as a nation.

VIEIRA: But what does it mean to us as a nation, this "rise of the rest?" Is it necessarily a bad thing for us, a good thing for us?

ZAKARIA: I call it, "The Post-American world," because it's not a world that's going to be dominated by the United States, but it's a world in which lots of good stuff is happening, right? The rest of the world is rising. Billions of people are coming out of poverty. They're consuming, they are investing, they're inventing, they're dreaming. So if we understand it, it could be a great world. It could be a win-win for all of us, but we have to understand it and we have to get to work.

VIEIRA: Do you get, get any sense from the candidates that they understand it. That they, that they see this? As a real issue?

ZAKARIA: I don't, honestly. I mean I think that some of them do talk about it. Obama probably most explicitly. But on the campaign trail, all you hear about is trivia. I mean so far, there have been no discussion of these issues. And what I worry about is, you know, the rest of the world is not going to stop. They're, they're moving ahead. They're gaining ground. London is now probably more important than New York as the world's leading financial center. You know, these things are happening. I was in Las Vegas the other day and I'm, was talking to some people and said, "Well, at least we have, we have casinos." He said, "No, the casinos in Macau are now three times as big as the casinos in Las Vegas."

VIEIRA: And if you look at the polls, Americans feel, a vast majority feel that we're headed in the wrong direction. They sense crisis all around. Is that a misconception?

ZAKARIA: It's stunning. You're absolutely right. The numbers are frightening. I mean, we have more gloom these days than we've had in 40 years. I think it's not a misconception. People are sensing something is going on around the world. And for the first time, they feel as though the changes in the world are not being directed from here but in foreign lands by foreign people. I think they're right, but what we need to understand is we can still be at the center of this new world.

VIEIRA: How?

ZAKARIA: We have to adjust. First of all, it's a much more competitive world. We have to be benchmarking. We have to be asking ourselves, what's going on? Give you simple example. Meredith there are three countries in the world that have not adopted the metric system: Myanmar, Liberia, and the United States. So we look around the world and "We say, that's okay. Those standards are for you. We're special, we're different." And what I'm saying is that era of kind of "American exceptionalism" is over.

VIEIRA: A real wake-up call. Fareed Zakaria, thank you very much.

ZAKARIA: Thank you Meredith.

VIEIRA: The book is called "The Post-American World."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.