Defining moments, political realities, and the autumn of American supremacy
For those of us living in the United States, the delusion of American supremacy has historically been sustained in our collective psyche by the sheer size of the nation’s economic, military, and financial power. The reality, however, is that American power is fragile, and has been fragile for decades, both internationally and domestically. Over the course of the last few weeks, a microscopic novel virus has laid to bare the arrogant, self-aggrandizing, and ill-conceived reality of American dominance.
While it is the novel coronavirus that has unleashed carnage and death on the world stage, it is America’s political order that has exacerbated havoc, both in American cities and across the globe. A mass shortage of ventilators, a reluctance to make use of the Defense Production Act to produce medical necessities, and the cruel inability of American political leadership to provide adequate virus tests to its citizens has pierced the delusion of American dominance once and for all.
We, as a country, and as a people, must choose between who we were prior to this moment in history and who we aspire to become. It is a moment of immense reckoning and we must decide our path. Do we hope to occupy a country and a world grounded in disciplined justice, or succumb to a world order held hostage by a privileged few? The widespread greed suffocating our economy and government cannot sustain a robust human society. It will deface it. This is a moment of extreme moral reckoning, political awakening, and the manifestation of a bold and disciplined new possibility. What was once deemed impossible is the least we can now demand.
Close to a century ago, World War I uprooted the world in unimaginable ways, leaving those in Europe and the Global South yearning for a new, more inclusive World Order that championed a more robust international governance. It was known as the “war to end all wars,” and it ended with over nine million soldiers and five million civilians dead. With blood shed, came potential for a New World Order.
For many in the Global South, the end of the war marked a clear end to European hegemony. WEB DuBois remarked, “the Great War is the lie unveiled,” viewing the carnage of war as a symptom of Europe’s failure to reckon with its raw imperial ambition and white supremacy. For those in Europe, the war underscored the manifest danger of militarized nationalism and provided civil society with the political will to transform its institutions towards a more robust democracy. Unfortunately, rather than fulfilling these audacious, yet urgent goals, the end of the war came to perpetuate and prop up already fragile and illegitimate European empires, setting off regional conflicts that continue to dominate our political landscape. Punitive measures placed on Germany inspired a generation of chauvinist demagogues, such as Hitler and his Nazi regime, determined to obtain revenge.
Like the end of WWI, we are currently at a similar crossroads between transformation and regressive politics. This time, however, we must be disciplined and alert to the ways in which power operates. In the midst of chaos, power always coalesces. It solidifies in dangerous and virtually irreversible ways. This is well demonstrated in the lobbying success of corporate actors in the recently passed $2 trillion bailout or the rise of Trump’s approval ratings over the course of this pandemic. Those who yearn for more a humane and sustainable world order are often outmaneuvered politically by those with narrower and more pernicious agendas, who also happen to be better resourced and connected. This is what happened after WWI, and this is what may happen now. History has taught us that moments of crisis provide windows of opportunity for revolution, but only when combined with rigorous ideas, a disciplined meticulous political agenda, and organized mobilization.
We who are weary of the savage encroachments of power that take place under the guise of protection, who yearn for a new world order, must engage in conversation about what is possible on the other side of this particular crisis and spur movement for coalition building and action towards a completely different paradigm, a true New World Order.
To be clear, the New World Order will not be defined by the United States, nor will it be defined by Americans. Far from it. The new paradigm must come from communities ravished by the grueling political, economic and militaristic realities of the status quo. However, this moment offers America the opportunity to redefine itself as a mediator for the birth of a new world. We can begin this conversation around four structural changes which are the necessary responses to the abject failure of the US imperial project:
We need to break the chokehold of political control and economic austerity measures that the US has imposed on relatively weaker countries, allowing independent nations to determine their own needs and chart their own paths out of crisis. In the recovery period after the pandemic, relatively weaker countries will be under great pressure to subordinate themselves to an American economic system, albeit one shrunken in importance from previous heights. Countries like Iran are currently requesting a reduction or lifting of crippling global economic and political sanctions. Continuing to sanction Iran in the wake of a global public health crisis is a testament to the unrelenting genocidal ambition of an American empire desperate to maintain international relevance and power. Similarly, debt distressed countries like Chad, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, need immediate relief from their debt chokehold in order to fulfill dire domestic monetary needs.
We must rid the world of rigid economic ideologies that dominate all spheres of human existence. The novel coronavirus is simply exploiting an underlying epidemic of scarcity and greed. Capitalism promised to deliver goods and services efficiently. To the contrary, capitalism eviscerated our health, environment, and social well being by dominating every domain of our modern world. Countries and intergovernmental actors must minimize raw capitalism to economics, and center instead on the pragmatic and moral approaches that build decision-making power for countries of all sizes through democratic socialism and government-funded social services.
This moment demands intense self-examination within the US, leading to a more restrained military posture and a foreign policy based primarily on diplomacy. This is incredibly important as China’s economic, technological and political power grows globally. In order to ensure that neither China nor America singularly define the New World order, stronger intergovernmental organizations must rise to the occasion and become hallmarks of multi-polar cooperation. The world is plagued by matters of corruption, environmental destruction, sectarian strife, and economic disability that require pragmatic solutions, and more equitable solutions are central to that transformation.
Our political apparatus, particularly our political parties, must respond and adapt to the rise of the New World Order, one in which American political capture recedes and makes way for a robust and inclusive governance. Our political parties are susceptible to sterile patterns of incremental change. However, the greatest moments of progress in American politics were a result of bold action, radical organizing and imaginative demands.
Each of these pieces are meant to invite generative conversations and debates about the possibilities for a New World Order, and spur movement for coalition building and action. Our dreams and ambitions are in dire need of revolution, an upending of the stultifying military, political, and economic structures that have dominated for far too long. This will not be a simple task, nor one free of pain and angst. But it is a worthy and honorable goal that will have consequences that far outlast our mortal bodies.