Is the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency the sign of a failed empire?
“Make America Great Again” is a campaign slogan that seems to acknowledge the country’s fall from grace. Tom Engelhardt certainly thinks that’s the case, as we noted in a previous Hunt the Devil post. In Engelhardt’s words, Trump is “our first declinist candidate for president.”
Trump’s victory is a convoluted concession that world dominion has been a ruinous pursuit. Of course, he promises to recover the country’s greatness by reinvesting in its military might, as if the US military is not already rich and mighty. But, for now, the premise stands: The US is no longer great.
What happened to bring down the empire, or at least the country’s collective faith in it?
Engelhardt traces the fall to Afghanistan before 9/11. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and the US responded by funding Islamic fundamentalist resistance forces. The Red Army was trapped in a quagmire. The Cold War soon ended with the collapse of the USSR. A decade later, under the sign of a global war on terror, the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, opening the gates of hell but unable to close them with all its military might. Everything the US military touched “turned to dust.”
With the election of 2016, Engelhardt continues, the “empire of chaos” came home to roost. A “deep and spreading sense of disorder” roiled the country in an election campaign that brought racism and xenophobia back into the political mainstream. What the US experienced was an extreme case of imperial blowback that warped its system of democratic governance, such as it was, and replaced it with a “post-Constitutional governing structure” and the likelihood of a “celebrity presidency of chaos.” The American “experiment” had run its course.
This is what my colleague, Oscar Giner, calls Trump’s apocalypse. We at Hunt the Devil interest ourselves in political projections. In the persona of Trump we see the dark image of failed empire, an affirmation by denial, a lament of lost greatness as measured against the standard of world domination. The old and thin democracy is humiliated by Trump’s Electoral College victory. He has been crowned “Emperor of Ourselves” with nobody to blame but ourselves. He is a “walking cadaver” of old ideas about white supremacy, keeping women in their place, oppressing people of color, and more.
We can only hope that After Empire we will see the dawn of a new, thicker democracy, one that is more inclusive and less militaristic. Peace abroad starts with peace at home. That’s what the members of Veterans for Peace believe. In their words: “This election season has been one of the darkest and [most] disappointing in recent history. Peace was missing from all the debates.” Yet, they insist:
We must stand in solidarity with domestic struggles that move forward women’s rights, immigration reform and all forms of racial, economic and social justice. With our allies across all struggles, we must build a full spectrum movement to create peace at home and abroad.