I just came across a blog post from July 20 entitled "In 1969, We Moonwalked and Chewed Gum at the Same Time; What Happened to Us?" and I want to urge you to go read it. Here are two paragraphs that summarize the writer's point:
There's more and it's really worth reading.
Compare who we were then with what we've become, and we have to ask; whatever happened to that "can-do" American spirit? Why have we gone from gung-ho idealists, capable of solving any problem, to a country of naysayers, who can't seem to solve problems without tearing ourselves apart in the process? In the forty years from 1929 to 1969, we solved the problems of an economic system that had once caused us to slide into Depression on a regular basis; we wired almost every home in the country with electricity; we created an infrastructure that was the envy of the world; we created an educational system that turned us from a largely illiterate society into a literate one; we made it possible for everyone who wanted to, to go to college; we created a mortgage system that allowed everyone who could afford one to buy a home; and we became the preeminent manufacturing power in the world. Between 1929 to 1969, a span of 40 years, we went from one of the most devastated nations in the world to being the premier economic superpower in the world. And we did it through sheer force of will.
Look at what's happened in the subsequent 40 years. We've shipped almost all of our manufacturing overseas, and we make almost nothing that has an American name on it, and we have pretty much given up on the prospect of ever competing with the rest of the world. We have gone from being the largest creditor nation in the world to being the largest debtor nation in the world. We're more addicted to oil than ever before, and more dependent on others for it than at any other time in our history, despite the fact that technology exists to free ourselves from that addiction and dependence. And we are the only country in the industrialized world (although I guess we're more post-industrialized these days) that hasn't managed to cover everyone with health insurance.
That question, "What happened to us?" is a hugely important one. I wish I knew the answer.