The End of the American Era

Anthropologist Wade Davis, of the University of BC, wrote an amazing piece in Rolling Stone a couple months ago called “The Unraveling of America”. I hope you’ll read the full article HERE. Here is my paraphrased summary.

No empire long endures, even if few anticipate their demise. Every kingdom is born to die.

The 15th century belonged to the Portuguese, the 16th to Spain, 17th to the Dutch. France dominated the 18th and Britain the 19th.

Bled white and left bankrupt by the Great War, the British maintained a pretense of domination as late as 1935, when the empire reached its greatest geographical extent. By then, of course, the torch had long passed into the hands of America.

The United States never stood down in the wake of WWII victory. To this day, American troops are deployed in 150 countries. Since the 1970’s, China has not once gone to war; the US has not spent a day at peace. President Jimmy Carter has noted that in its 242-year history, America has enjoyed only 16 years of peace, making it, as he wrote, “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.”

Since 2001, the US has spent over $6 trillion on military operations and war, money that might have been invested in the infrastructure of home. China, meanwhile, built its nation, pouring more cement every three years than America did in the entire 20th century.

With the COVID crisis, 40 million Americans have lost their jobs, and 33 million businesses have shut down, including 41 percent of all black-owned enterprises. 

COVID-19 has not laid America low; it has simply revealed what has long been forsaken. As the crisis unfolds, with another American dying every minute of every day, a country that once turned out fighter planes by the hour could not manage to produce the paper masks or cotton swabs essential for tracking the disease. The nation that defeated smallpox and polio, and led the world for generations in medical innovation and discovery, has been reduced to a laughing stock as a buffoon of a president advocates the use of household disinfectants as a treatment for a disease that intellectually he can not begin to understand.

Trump’s performance and America’s crisis deflected attention from China’s own mishandling of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, not to mention its move to crush democracy in Hong Kong.

Odious as he may be, Trump is less the cause of America’s decline than a product of its descent. As they stare into the mirror and perceive only the myth of their exceptionalism, Americans remain almost bizarrely incapable of seeing what has actually become of their country. The republic that defined the free flow of information as the life blood of democracy, today ranks 45th among nations when it comes to press freedom. 

How can the rest of the world expect America to lead on global threats — climate change, the extinction crisis, pandemics — when the country no longer has a sense of benign purpose, or collective well-being, even within its own national community? 

Asked what he thought of Western civilization Mahatma Gandhi famously replied, “I think that would be a good idea.” Such a remark may seem cruel, but it accurately reflects the view of America today as seen from the perspective of any modern social democracy. 

Oscar Wilde once quipped that the United States was the only country to go from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilization.

Evidence of such terminal decadence is the choice that so many Americans made in 2016 to prioritize their personal indignation, placing their own resentments above any concerns for the fate of the country and the world, as they rushed to elect a man whose only credential for the job was his willingness to give voice to their hatreds, validate their anger, and target their enemies, real or imagined.

One shudders to think of what it will mean to the world if Americans in November, knowing all that they do, elect to keep such a man in political power. But even should Trump be resoundingly defeated, it’s not at all clear that such a profoundly polarized nation will be able to find a way forward. For better or for worse, America has had its time. 

The end of the American era and the passing of the torch to Asia is no occasion for celebration, no time to gloat. If and when the Chinese are ascendant, with their concentration camps for the Uighur, the ruthless reach of their military, their 200 million surveillance cameras watching every move and gesture of their people, we will surely long for the best years of the American century.

If that’s not sad enough, perhaps you’d like to hear what Don Henley says in a song originally written on the ascendance of Ronald Reagan. It is even more sadly true today.

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About lifelessons

My blog, which started out to be about overcoming grief, quickly grew into a blog about celebrating life. I post daily: poems, photographs, essays or stories. I've lived in countries all around the globe but have finally come to rest in Mexico, where I've lived since 2001. My books may be found on Amazon in Kindle and print format, my art in local Ajijic galleries. Hope to see you at my blog.

11 thoughts on “The End of the American Era

  1. isaiah46ministries

    Judy,
    This was my thought this week. I wanted to write a post on all empires come to an end and wondered if we were there? I also try to see how we can find common ground and get back to done semblance of one nation under God? This is particularly a dilemma when you consider that if one group makes progress towards justice and equality, another one feels cheated. We can’t seem to understand that unless everyone is free to be themselves, none of us are free.

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  2. XingfuMama

    Not very uplifting, but quite realistic. I hope and pray we can defeat the cancer in the White House, but fear that we are all so tired right now that the really hard work necessary to put things back into a semblance of order may be all that can be managed.

    I draw hope from things like that both of my college age nieces are actively involved with getting out the vote for people in their age range, and the young congress people, like AOC. That is really what is needed: fresh ideas and youthful energy. Among the things I really like about Joe Biden is that he openly states he sees himself as transitional. As Joe said at one of his town halls: today’s young people are smart and well educated. The right stuff for a great future is out there, we just have to find a way to empower it.

    It really is time for the older generation to start stepping back. It sounds silly, since I strongly believe that Joe Biden is what America needs right now. Because the current admin has made such a mess, someone who knows what the job is and can get the house back in order will make it much easier and quicker to undo the damage. But I also think Joe is younger in his attitude than the current incumbent. Joe sees that attitudes and industry have changed, perhaps because he clearly has strong relationships with his adult grandchildren and is good at listening.

    It may be that by encouraging and nurturing young people to take over a new republic can be formed without too much further decline.

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  3. slmret

    Unfortunately I’m afraid that this article may be right that it’s the end of our turn at first world excellence, but I’m not ready to give up completely. I think that if Biden wins, his calmness may be exactly what the country needs to return us to civility and allow the younger people to rebuild and shine — it may take a flat one-term presidency for that to happen. Although I’m not a fan of AOC, I basically agree with Xingfu Mama in her evaluation of the current situation, and hope that the younger generations are strong enough to pick it up at the end of 4 years!

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