America is finished
For some time now there has been gathering a consensus in the field of scholarship, that the United States is in decline. The world’s greatest superpower has experienced substantial economic deterioration since the 1980s and it has now become abundantly clear that their new global perspective cannot reverse or even repair such losses. America is finished.
If we cast our minds back to an America at the height of its power — in the ashes of the second world war — we see a nation with gargantuan wealth. Almost half that of global GDP in fact. Today their share of the pie is somewhere near 25%. Still a huge share in the context of global domination, but to lose half of their post war stake in a mere 70 years is indicative of their decline. What’s also indicative of their decline from a moral, social and cultural perspective is the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. The man is representative of everything that is wrong with America and is also by definition, revealing of where the US has gone wrong and why it’s only going to get worse.
Above all of the troubling aspects of the man, the racism, misogyny and the great many other moral flaws, it is the fact that he is a liar that draws such stark parallels with the state of US consciousness. Americans still believe their nation to be the land of the free, the land of opportunity and the home of the brave. They believe that America is still a place where you can come from nothing, work hard and get everything you want out of life — the American dream. They are lying to themselves. The American dream has become a nightmare. No longer is it possible to roll up your sleeves and carve out your own way to prosperity. There are scores of men and women across America who work hard their entire lives and still barely have enough to live — the working poor. What a paradoxical term that is, especially in the so called land of prosperity that “is” modern America. Working only to survive and not to enjoy life is a social pandemic that’s being totally ignored in America. The system has become rigged against them.
Some view Trump as the solution to this. The people’s champion is a man who just nominated the wealthiest cabinet in US history. A remarkable feat given the scale of wealth that has occupied top jobs in US government. Trump is a member of the Fauxletariat — a group of elites who pretend to be disgusted with the establishment, pretend as if they sympathize with the plight of subordinate America. They suppress the fact that they are the direct beneficiaries of this failed neo-liberal system just so long as they can seize power with a weak democratic mandate from a desperate public who believe any alternative is better than what they have already.
There is some truth in this submissive reasoning of ‘well, I’m fucked either way’ because as stated above the US is in deep decline. Trump will merely catalyze this harrowing process with bad economic policy and an unparalleled lack of knowledge and common sense. Under the orange one, the 45th POTUS, the scale of American decline will steepen and the disconnect between their perception and reality, between fact and fiction will become more obviously identifiable.
If rhetoric is in anyway evocative of the shape economic policy will take under this new administration, and we all have reason to doubt whether what is said will be put into action given The Donald’s track record, we may expect to see a rejection of globalization and international trade. And this is a complete strategic error. America is second only to China as the top beneficiary of the globalized, free trade world with its companies having unparalleled presence in global markets. Any rejection of this model will merely fasten the already anaesthetized state of the US economy in place.
The belief that the root cause of the decline in manufacturing and the loss of blue collar jobs is globalization is a naïve assumption. The relocation of low-skilled work to cheaper parts of the world is but one piece of an ever growing puzzle for the west. The problem that seems ever more symptomatic of the decline of production across western countries is the rapid expansion and development of technologies. A process, which we are all fervently failing to keep up with. The automation of jobs is one factor that exacerbates decline, and this will continue to play a bigger role, but it is also the advancements in how we procure, utilize and monetize materials that have dramatically decreased the value of production.
Another valuable consideration that coincides with the timeline of US decline is the financialisation of the economy under the neo-liberal doctrine, forged in the 1980s. This process concentrated and in fact redistributed wealth and power to such a degree that now we live in a world in which 1/10th of 1% have the same amount of assets as the other 99%. Although many of these 1%ers reside in the US, the total economic picture dictates that this concentration of power has been to its detriment. The power of elites is now such that the US finds itself in more of an oligarchy than a democracy. Even the ‘most powerful’ man in the world — the president of the United States — must answer to these corporate giants because they are so big and so powerful that the world cannot afford to ignore them. The underlying truth is that it is not only the general population but also the economy that suffers from the creation of an all-powerful financial elite that executes its will regardless of the human and monetary cost to the nation.
When faced with this information, it is difficult to imagine a means by which we could make the necessary changes to this broken, rigged system that would be able steady the sinking ship. US decline after all, cannot be separated from a broader forecast of deterioration in Western counties such as our own. There is a temptation to panic when faced with a vision of the future wherein the central tenets of power and world order are not stood in front of a star spangled banner. This is exacerbated by our social pre-disposition to fear change that has not been ordained from above. We have been conditioned to believe that elites are too big to fail so what could possibly happen to us ordinary citizens in the event that they do? Well, the situation for us, the subordinate majority, is already worsening at a time when elites are succeeding, so what do we have to fear from their inevitable downfall? We should think of such a moment with a smile on our faces.
Power is making its way from West to East there is no doubt about that. That is why the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, looked a very happy man this week. The narrative that our Eastern counterparts are alarmed at the prospect of Trump, Brexit and other democratic meanderings is pure deception. Whilst commentators and politicians in the West spin a false guise of prosperity and authority, leaders on the other side of the world sit back calm and collected because they know we are finished. The dominoes will continue to fall and Donald Trump may just be the beginning. What is clear though is that his brand of narrow isolationism will only play into this seismic transition of power.
We are all complicit in some degree to our decline. Yes it is the chief architects of policy — the exercisers of power that created this system but we appointed them and allowed ourselves to be deceived. Whether it was the apathetic left or the autocratic right, we have been led astray and we must therefore all share in the responsibility.
This downfall is consistent with every major empire in history. Man’s reach always exceeds its grasp. For America and perhaps for us in the United Kingdom, this is the beginning of the end. Our time has come.