The Great American Eclipse -- what did we learn?

So the eclipse is over. After all the hoopla and wall-to-wall coverage in the media; all the eclipse parties and eclipse Tweets and Instagrams; what did we learn from this extraordinary event?

First, the fact that a heavenly body 238,900 miles from the Earth—the moon—can pass across our line of sight of a body 400 times the moon’s diameter that’s more than 92 million miles away—the sun—and transform our lives for more than three hours, is a timely reminder of the awesome power of nature. 

Second, this event came at a significant turning-point in our history as a nation and a people.  The last total eclipse on June 8, 1918, when the United States was just emerging from the aftermath of World War I as the world’s most dominant power—the world’s first “superpower,” even though the word hadn’t been invented yet.

That’s the other lesson from the eclipse: the darkness is temporary. The light does return, brighter than ever. America is the one country in the world with the infinite capacity for self-renewal.

Now 99 years later, the eclipse came when many are saying it was a metaphor for America’s eclipse as a great power, and its decline as a nation and people.  Many around the world believe that decline has set in for good. Right now China is busy positioning itself as our successor, with a new world order headquartered in Beijing—or alternately, some believe, in Moscow.

Others, especially on the left, are encouraging decline. They want to see America cut down to size and want to make mainstream Americans pay for centuries of what they see as racism, sexism, and other ideological crimes—of which the current controversy over statues of dead Confederates is only the leading edge.  

Other Americans, seeing a president who speaks of “making America great again” mocked and attacked and vilified; watching the violence and turmoil in our streets; mourning the loss of traditional values and the unleashing of forces of cultural decadence and anarchy;  are wondering if the prediction of permanent American eclipse is true.  They see darkness all around them, and wonder if the light will ever come back.

But it will.  That’s the other lesson from the eclipse: the darkness is temporary.  The light does return, brighter than ever. America is the one country in the world with the infinite capacity for self-renewal.  That’s what we did after the Civil War; after the Great Depression; even after Vietnam when a president named Ronald Reagan restored American confidence and power, and America became again the light of the world.

The 1918 eclipse marked the beginning of what came to be known as the American Century.  All the pieces for a new, and even greater American Century, are now in place.

We still have the most powerful and technologically advanced military in the world, that can project power and shock and awe to any place in the world. 

We have the most innovative scientific and technical minds in the world in our corporations and universities. In the private sector we have the most gifted and dynamic CEO’s in the world—even the liberal ones.

Thanks to the fracking revolution, we have achieved not just energy security but energy dominance, as America has emerged as the world’s hydrocarbon-producing superpower.

Our education system is broken, but we have a host of fixes from online and for-profit universities to charter schools and school choice, waiting in the wings.

Above all, we have a Constitution which still protects our freedoms from those who think those freedoms are outdated or immoral, or both.  A Constitution that still preserves sovereignty where it belongs, in the American people—if they can just force those who serve in government to remember that.

Moments of temporary darkness will come and go, like eclipses (the next total one will be in just seven years). But American greatness and exceptionalism is here to stay, and will shine on long into the future. 

Historian Arthur Herman is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. He is author of several books. His latest "Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior", was published by Random House on June 14, 2016. Follow him on Twitter @ArthurLHerman.