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Detroit: Sick Man of America

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Detroit: Sick Man of America

Can this once-prosperous city—and the entire United States—recover its former prominence?

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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The Motor City is chronically ill. Over the last 60 years, its population has wasted away from a vibrant 1.9 million to a little over 700,000. Its stout physique of a bustling metropolis has been replaced with a thin, sickly frame. Now, the bones of burned-out houses, rusted factories, and gutted high-rise buildings jut through the tautly stretched skin of Detroit, Michigan.

Until the 2008 financial crisis, however, hardly anyone took note of the ailing city. Yet symptoms of decline were there for decades: corruption and crime, drugs and destruction, overspending and under-producing.

Year after year, it has been a U.S. capital for murder, poverty, arson, illiteracy and crime.

The Great Recession put Detroit on life support, with Washington granting a $17 billion bailout for two of the big three car manufacturers: General Motors and Chrysler.

But it did not work. In July 2013, Detroit—once a symbol of the American Dream—filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. The move made it the first U.S. city to file with that large a population and high amount of debt (about $20 billion).

This was just the latest development for a metropolis already bedridden. Citing an official report to the city’s creditors, Michigan Radio stated: “Detroit’s violent crime rate is five times the national average. And it takes Detroit police an average of 58 minutes to respond to a call, where the national average is 11 minutes.

“Those harsh realities are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.”

In fact, Detroit has about a 30 percent poverty rate and a 25 percent high school graduation rate. Unemployment stands at more than 16.3 percent and an estimated 70 percent of murders—and 90 percent of overall crimes—go unsolved.

Each major blow to the Motor City brings renewed concern from politicians and the news media. America fears the disease may run in the family. The world worries it is contagious. Everyone is horrified that the city is on its deathbed.

Newspapers and bloggers work frantically to pin down the lessons of the shriveling metropolis. They call it America’s “vanguard on the way up and the way down”—the “canary in the coal mine” signaling danger—a U.S. “cautionary tale.”

Each of these analogies fit Motown. It has always been at the front edge of American trends, both good and bad. For example, its population began to decline in the 1950s when the United States as a whole reached peak prosperity.

Seemingly afraid to catch Detroit’s disease, no one is willing to get close enough to pinpoint the root cause.

J.D. Pooley/Getty Images
Defeated: A homeless man approaches a couple walking on a sidewalk in Detroit, Michigan (Feb. 24, 2013).

Blame Game

With a major American city in the throes of death, many feel there must be someone to blame. No one has been spared as a suspect. There is everything from white racism to black racism, conservative policies to liberal policies. Each accusation comes with excessive finger-pointing and name-calling.

In an extended quote from the book Detroit: an American Autopsy, journalist Charlie LeDuff detailed the never-ending list of potential culprits: “Detroit’s slide was long and inexorable. You might blame it on white racism and legal mortgage covenants that barred blacks from living anywhere but the most squalid ghettos.

“You might blame postwar industrial policies that sent the factories to the suburbs, the rural South, and the western deserts.

“You might blame the city’s collapse on the 1967 riot and the white flight that followed. You might blame it on Coleman Young—the city’s first black mayor—and his culture of corruption and cronyism.

“You could blame it on the gas shocks of the seventies, which opened the door to foreign car competition.

“You might point to the trade agreements of the Clinton years that allowed American manufacturers to leave the country by the back door.

“You might blame [labor unions], which demanded things like near-full pay for idle workers, or the myopic management, who instead of saying no took their piece and simply tacked the cost onto the price of the car.

“Then there is the thought that Detroit was simply a boomtown that went bust, a city that began to fall apart the minute Henry Ford began to build it. The car made Detroit and the car unmade Detroit. Detroit was built in some ways to be disposable.”

In the end, it seems a perfect storm of factors led to the Detroit of today. Yet these are all surface symptoms that obscure the deeper cause—one that is equally worrisome for the entire U.S.

“…So Goes the Nation”

The old adage, “As General Motors goes, so goes the nation,” could easily be, “As Detroit goes, so goes the nation.”

While naming Detroit 2013’s “most miserable city” in the union, Forbes recalled the days when the metropolis was a hotbed of innovation: “Detroit was a thriving city during the industrial revolution. Innovation in all things mechanical led to the modern automobile; a marvelous innovation which, literally, everyone wanted. As demand skyrocketed, Henry Ford’s management team developed the modern assembly line which allowed production volumes to skyrocket as well.”

“This fueled growth in jobs, which led to massive immigration to Detroit. With growth the tax base expanded, and quickly Detroit was a leading city with all the best things people could want. In the 1950s and 1960s Detroit reaped the benefits of the local auto companies, and their suppliers, as ongoing innovations created better cars, more sales, more revenue taxes, higher property values and higher property taxes. It was a glorious virtuous circle.”

Mr. LeDuff stated that the city gave birth to “mass production, the automobile, the cement road, the refrigerator, frozen peas, high-paid blue-collar jobs, home ownership and credit on a mass scale. America’s way of life was built here.”

The country’s rise hinged upon innovation and Detroit provided a blueprint.

Continuing, Mr. LeDuff noted that during the 1950s and 60s, Motor City automobile executives went to Washington to implement Detroit-style management. Notable examples include Charles Wilson and Robert McNamara, who both served as secretary of defense.

As a tenant of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the federal government poured funds into impoverished cities in the late 1960s. By then, Detroit was deep into decline. It and a few other struggling areas were intended to be “model cities” of urban renewal.

While the program never met its high aims, the Motor City has been a model city for America—for better or worse—since Henry Ford set up shop there in the early 1900s.

Other cities have already contracted symptoms of the same sickness as Detroit.

USA Today reported: “Detroit may be alone among the nation’s biggest cities in terms of filing for bankruptcy, but it is far from the only city being crushed by a roiling mountain of long-term debt.

J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

Hard times: Broken windows define the former Packard plant in the city (July 24, 2013).

“At the heart of Detroit’s problem is a growing unfunded debt on benefits owed to current and future retirees—some $3.5 billion, according to its emergency manager, Kevyn Orr—which mirrors a circumstance being seen across the U.S.

“From Baltimore to Los Angeles, and many points in between, municipalities are increasingly confronted with how to pay for these massive promises. The Pew Center on the States, in Washington, estimated states’ public pension plans across the U.S. were underfunded by a whopping $1.4 trillion in 2010.”

Taking things one step further, an expanded adage also rings true: “As America goes, so goes the world.” Similarly—for better or worse—the nation has been a model for the globe.

To understand Detroit, one must look at the U.S. as a whole. The nation came out of nowhere to become, without a doubt, the most powerful and wealthy single country of all time.

Detroit was at the heart of this. From 1900 to 1930, it was the fastest growing city in the world. It perfected American-brand capitalism. It was the engine of World War II, churning out the war machines that defeated Germany and Japan. The U.S. then exported this industrial model to the rest of the world.

Clearly this greatness is slipping away. In Detroit, it is already gone. Equally important to the cause of America’s national sickness is what caused its rise to importance in the first place.

Model Nation

The Real Truth and its predecessor magazine The Plain Truth have reported on the ongoing decline of the nation for decades. Using the Bible as a lens through which to view world events, both publications have brought clarity to what the next years will bring to the U.S.

In 1978, The Plain Truth founder and Editor-in-Chief Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in the magazine about the reason behind America’s meteoric rise and fall. He also detailed why one can fully trust Bible prophecy by stating that “there is a great God who says, ‘The Eternal wrecks the purpose of pagans, he brings to nothing the nations plan; but the Eternal’s purpose stands for ever, and what he plans will last from age to age…The Eternal looks from heaven, beholding all mankind; he who alone made their minds, he notes all they do’ (Ps. 33:10-15, Moffatt translation).”

“Through His inspired prophets, the great God caused to be written, some 2,500 years ago, and preserved in writing to our time prophecies filling approximately a third of the whole Bible. In them, He named every city of consequence of that time on earth—and also every nation! And he foretold precisely what would, through the years, happen to every city and every nation! In every instance the prophecies came to pass!

“What was prophesied happened to Babylon, to Tyre, Sidon, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron; to Egypt, Assyria, Chaldea, Persia, Greece and Rome. There has not been a miss! Those prophecies were accurate.

“And now, in other prophecies, the same supreme God has foretold precisely what is going to happen to the United States…”

(To learn more about Mr. Armstrong, read Herbert W. Armstrong – His Life in Proper Perspective.)

The Bible does make plain why America rose to great heights and why it would crash down decades later. In the Old Testament, the Creator blessed the patriarch Abraham declaring that his descendants would become “a nation and a company of nations.”

This birthright blessing was passed down until a pair of brother nations emerged to become the single-greatest nation and biggest-ever company of nations of all time: the United States of America and the British Empire.

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Penniless: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, right, and Detroit’s emergency manager Kevyn Orr, left, discuss the city’s bankruptcy filing at a news conference in Detroit, Michigan (July 19, 2013).

History brims with examples that show the connection to Abraham and ancient Israel. David C. Pack’s America and Britain in Prophecy puts the pieces together from the Bible and secular sources to prove what lies ahead for these two nations.

The intended purpose for the U.S.—and all nations descended from Old Testament Israel—include being a model nation to prove God’s Way works.

If America were to have kept the commands and statutes outlined in the Bible, the globe would have turned to it and said, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deut. 4:6).

But this has not happened. America thinks its own ingenuity, laws and principles brought its greatness—not God’s blessings.

Knowing human nature, the Creator warns of this typical Israelite response in Deuteronomy 8: “Beware that you forget not the Lord your God, in not keeping His commandments, and His judgments, and His statutes…Lest when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God…” (vs. 11-14).

The common thinking among Americans can be found in verse 17: “And you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand has gotten me this wealth.”

America thinks its Constitution and ideals brought prosperity. It has attempted to export these principles around the world. Despite good intentions, instead of the blessings of God, the U.S. has spread national illness.

Sick Man of the World

As Detroit crumbles, the darkest elements of human nature rear their heads: political corruption, debt, greed, murder and theft.

Most in the U.S. think of the Motor City as an outlier—that what is occurring in Detroit is not indicative of the entire country. But America as a whole must take a long, hard look at its national character.

Detroit: A 64-year-old in the city was beaten and repeatedly stabbed in a convenience store while onlookers watched seemingly unaffected.

America: While similar stories are widespread, in Baltimore, Maryland, gawkers “laughed and did nothing to help as a man was beaten, stripped and robbed on the street…” (CNN).

Detroit: A political pundit told ABC News that broken families helped push the city into bankruptcy, stating: “…47 percent of Detroit residents are functionally illiterate, 79 percent of Detroit children are born to unmarried mothers. They don’t have a fiscal problem…they have a cultural collapse.”

America: The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 36 percent of children nationwide are born to unmarried mothers.

Detroit: The Motor City has been besieged by political corruption and financial excess for decades.

America: Almost daily, news outlets break fresh scandals involving Washington politicians—both Democrats and Republicans.

Everywhere there are lies, deceit, adultery, covetousness and a focus on getting rather than giving.

The Bible describes the modern U.S. in the book of Isaiah: “…the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (1:5-6).

Head to toe, America is sick with national sins!

The symptoms of this sickness—namely the dramatic and continued decline in world status—should give those in the U.S. pause.

Yet this is not how human nature works.

David C. Pack writes in America and Britain in Prophecy: “Most people will not seek God unless forced to—unless severe trials or other circumstances drive them to God. During good times, most are happy to trust in their own strength, crediting themselves for their successes and achievements, when they may have had little to do with blessings that came to them. On the other hand, these same people generally blame God when things go wrong in their lives.

“But understand this. God does not and has never owed blessings to anyone. He may choose to bless individuals or nations, for His own purposes, but no one automatically deserves prosperity, wealth, abundance and a generous portion of God’s bounty.”

“So it is with the peoples of America and Britain. God has bestowed to them astonishing, unparalleled blessings beyond what any nation has ever enjoyed. He has kept His promise to Abraham to make many nations from him and to give the sons of Joseph the promised awesome birthright blessings after two and one-half millennia.

“But our peoples have neither been grateful for these birthright blessings, nor sought God, repenting of our national sins!”

Continued decline—well beyond the level seen in Detroit—awaits America unless the nation collectively gets on its knees and turns to the Almighty God.

For the individual, however, the Creator offers a way of escape, but it requires obedience to His Way.

America, fast becoming the sick man of the world, should stand as a clear example of the negative effects of ignoring the way of life outlined in the Bible. As it undergoes severe national punishment, God intends the U.S. be a powerful example to the world: “So it shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment unto the nations that are round about you…” (Ezek. 5:15).

The Creator, as a loving God, diagnoses America’s national sickness and provides a clear cure.

This diagnosis—national sins—should ring in the ears of all who hear it.

Isaiah 58 demonstrates the power with which God intends this warning to go out: “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (vs. 1).

Despite the powerful warning found throughout the Bible, however, human nature stands in the way of change.

Business as Usual?

Symptoms of decline can be found in many corners of the United States, yet there are still places that seem okay. Even in Detroit.

The Economist stated: “For visitors expecting broken windows and muggers, downtown Detroit is a pleasant surprise. Busy food stands serve diners on lime and orange picnic benches, with live music provided by a classical guitarist. After lunch you can play a free game of outdoor table tennis, borrow a bicycle or take a stroll on the lovely riverfront.

“The city may be broke, but some parts are reviving. Property is so cheap that Detroit still attracts dreamers. Perhaps the most prominent is Dan Gilbert, the chairman of Quicken Loans, a mortgage provider. In 2010 Mr Gilbert moved Quicken’s headquarters from the suburbs to the centre of town. Another of his companies, Rock Ventures, owns or controls over 30 buildings in the area…Mr Gilbert’s firms have invested around $1 billion in downtown Detroit and employ some 10,000 people there.”

The same goes for the rest of the U.S. At least for a while longer, life will continue as normal. Everything may feel okay. It may even appear that by using American grit, the nation can pull itself up by its own bootstraps.

Yet the underlying sickness so obvious in the Motor City—and seen throughout the U.S.—will not go away. Make no mistake! It will worsen unless the underlying causes are addressed.

Witnessing America’s decline is painful for its citizens who have enjoyed abundant blessings for decades. And it is not what God intended.

He admonishes the nation: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:16-17).

God longs for America to come to its senses. Notice verse 18: “Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

This offer comes with a qualifier: “If you be willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land: but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured with the sword…” (vs. 19-20).

The symptoms of national collapse are intended to shake everyone to their core. As they continue, America has a choice. Continue as the sick man of the world—or regain world prominence.

To do the latter, the nation must shake itself from complacency. It must take a long, hard look at itself. It must listen to the thundering warning from the Bible.

Wake up, Americayou are sick from head to toe!


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