From time to time, democracies with free elections seem to enter a time of uncertainty and distrust. After watching the news media during past election years we should get used to it. Those out of office know they can’t get into office by telling everyone how great everything is going. So during elections years — and we seem to always be in one — one has only to open the pages of a newspaper or turn on the TV to hear that our country is nearing disaster and it is past time to change leadership. The next 16 months will not be an exception to that pattern.

That is also true of economies such as ours that are based on the rules of a free market. Lots of complicated factors are at play in a free market economy. And from time to time the marketplace goes through an adjustment period. We have had five major market adjustments since the time of the great depression and we just went through one from 2008 through 2012. Some call it a recession and others tell us it is the beginning of the end for the United States as we know it. Former Vice President Spiro Agnew used to call those negative voices the “nabobs of negativity.”

Is it so? Is the United States in decline and are we watching the “beginning of the end” for The United States of America?

History tells us that several great empires have come and gone since history was first recorded. The ancient Persians, Greeks, Romans, Spanish and British all preceded us as world leaders. In modern times, Germany and Russia flourished for a period of time and then faded rapidly. All of the earlier empires broke up and most of those countries play only minor roles in the world we know today.

How is the U.S. different from those great empires that fell? They all began as smaller units that expanded their borders through conquest. The U.S. began as a group of individual colonies that voluntarily banded together against outside interference.

The earlier empires had to defend themselves from others who bordered the conquered territories. By contrast, the borders of the U.S. are largely oceans and only two countries, Mexico and Canada, both long-time allies touch our borders.

When trouble came to those earlier empires, armies had to be sent to hold the conquered territories together. Unlike those empires, Americans tend to draw closer together when trouble comes. We value our independence and individuality but have learned there is safety and strength in pulling together.

One of the major differences between the U.S. and those earlier empires relates to what we have come to call the “American Spirit.” With few exceptions, Americans came here from all over the world. Shy and retiring people do not venture far from their home fires. There was a confidence, an aggressiveness, and a spirit of adventure that must have been present for those brave souls just to get here. It is our diversity and that American spirit that have become our strength and the glue that holds us together. That spirit is in our genes.

Are we in decline? Only history will answer that question. But history has taught us at least one pertinent lesson related to our situation. Difficult times do come and are generally followed by a time of peace and prosperity. As Robert Schuller of Crystal Cathedral fame wrote in one of his books, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” And we have proven ourselves to be tough people.

Nikita Khrushchev, The Soviet Union’s Communist boss of the 1950s, told the U.S. “We will bury you.” Where is the Soviet Union now? To paraphrase the words of writer Mark Twain, “The report of our decline has been greatly exaggerated.”

Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. You will find Hopkins’ latest book, “Journey to Gettysburg,” on Amazon.com. Contact him at presnet@presnet.net.