Historian Alfred McCoy has quickened my interest in the discourse of geopolitics applied to the waning state of US empire. His book, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017), makes a clear case that the end of global dominance is near. The question is what kinds of disruption and what degree of violence the imperial fall will occasion. What might a post-imperial era mean for Americans and others caught up in the transition? From the perspective of geopolitics, McCoy sees a number of mostly disturbing possibilities. His observations are valuable for indicating the challenges ahead. (more…)
Donald Trump’s fizzled summit meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is yet another occasion for commentary on this president’s unfitness for office, particularly in matters of foreign affairs. The failure in Hanoi was Trump’s greatest blunder so far, according to Simon Tisdall, a foreign affairs commentator for the Guardian. It was another “Trump vanity project.” His “self-reverential style of personalized, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants diplomacy” is irresponsible in nuclear talks, per se, and ineffectual more generally.
Tisdall’s summary of Trump’s failed leadership is stunning: (more…)
The myth of American innocence and virtue forecloses any question about US imperialism or, at least, makes it hard to imagine that we are perpetrating harm on others for our own purposes and to our own advantage. We may be flawed, but the responsibility has fallen to us to fend off the barbarians and advance the cause of civilization. So the myth insists.
At a relatively abstract level, empire may not seem an obviously appropriate label for US engagement in world affairs. The idea of dominating extensive territories and peoples is unpalatable to most Americans and inconsistent with the nation’s self-image, as I’ve discussed in a previous post. So the myth persists.
Seen in more concrete terms, US imperialism is harder to ignore, to explain away, but also harder to confront. One response when confronted with the record of US imperialism and militarism is reflection-acknowledgement-correction. Another option is denial-repression-projection. So the myth resists. (more…)
Consider for a moment that the way we communicate is an expression of who we are or are becoming. Do we communicate as a democratic people, as citizens of a republic, and/or as subjects of an empire—perhaps increasingly less as democratic citizens and more as imperial subjects, marking the impending loss of the soul of the republic?
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s The Imperial Presidency chronicled the systematic growth of presidential power since the founding of the republic, a trend that has increased since the book’s publication in 1973. Jeffrey Tulis and his colleagues followed suit in 1981 and 1987 with a discussion of the rise of the rhetorical presidency and its deleterious effects on republican government. Demagoguery and government by mood, in Tulis’s view, mark rhetoric as a degraded form of political communication that undermines the interests of the public and destabilizes the political system. Of course, not all rhetoric is demagogic, but rule by presidential mass persuasion that bypasses the deliberative function of the Congress, by this estimation, erodes the constitution of the republic. While I have criticized the elitism of the rhetorical presidency thesis in general terms, the present degraded state of presidential rhetoric clearly is deleterious to the prospects of representative democracy and the future of the republic.
Tirelessly, Tom Englehardt works to raise our consciousness and tweak our conscience as citizens of an imperial war state. At TomDispatch.com, he offers a regular antidotal drip of posts by thoughtful and insightful critics of militarism. His newest book, A Nation Unmade by War, was released on May 22, warning that an empire made by war is also unmade by it.
A mere gesture to Englehardt’s observation is enough to underscore the country’s ominous trajectory.
We Americans do not like to think of ourselves as an empire. Nevertheless, Englehardt observes, America’s empire of chaos exists in a “cloud of hubris.” Hubris, you say? Yes, hubris—that condition of extreme pride and self-confidence, of outsized ambition that offends the gods, of overreach that leads to downfall. (more…)
Now, this is the way we give them the water cure…. Lay them on their backs, a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose, and if they don’t give up pour in another pail. They swell up like toads. I’ll tell you it is a terrible torture.
Letter by a U.S. soldier in the Philippines during the Filipino insurgency, 1899-1902.
Abject hypocrisy will bring about the collapse of the US Empire and the end of American democracy. Our tragic flaw was in resplendent, sartorial display last week: hypocrites accused each other of hypocrisy; crocodile tears were in abundance; psychological projections were the order of the day; pious, self-serving justifications were rampant; and all throughout the garish spectacle we could do no less than agree with Mark Twain and feel ashamed of the human race. (more…)
Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, as it relates to the military and war, specifies that:
The Congress shall have power To . . . provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States (Clause 1);
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water (Clause 11);
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years (Clause 12);
To provide and maintain a Navy (Clause 13);
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces (Clause 14);
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions (Clause 15);
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States . . . (Clause 16).
In short, the elected representatives of the people in Congress are constitutionally empowered on military matters and warfare, including the declaration of war. (more…)
Donald Trump’s July 6th speech in Warsaw’s Krasiński Square is a rhetorical hodgepodge of imperial angst. I won’t summarize the speech. I suggest instead either reading or watching it in full. It gets mixed reviews, largely split in the US along partisan lines.
The speech expresses an anxious mindset. It is a flailing gesture of resentment. Whether or not the gesture represents Trump’s mindset is hard to know. He has his own agenda. He may or may not believe all or part of what he says, but what he says now is consistent with what he said on the campaign trail, and what he said on the campaign trail channeled the anxieties of enough voters to get him elected. (more…)
We have used the symbol of apocalypse at Hunt the Devil to frame the political ascendency of Donald Trump in mythic terms. It is a rich and resonant symbol, a metaphor with multiple entailments, both religious and secular, each entangled with the others. Its mythos is relevant to interpreting the crisis of US empire that is reflected in Trump’s rise to the presidency.
The imperial presidency itself is a metaphorical precursor of the Trump phenomenon, a term for excessive executive power, which gained popularity in the 1960s and found voice in Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s 1973 book by that title. The power of the presidency exceeded its constitutional limits consistent with the transformation of the republic into an empire. With empire came war culture and the normalization of continuous warfare. (more…)
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? (more…)