American Decline

The Cat is Out of the Bag

By Keith Preston

For an opposing perspective, see this article by Joseph Nye. For an article that makes comparable arguments, see this piece in Foreign Policy by Gideon Rachman.

When the future history of the former United States of America is written, the pivotal turning point that likely marked the downfall of the USA will be the events of September 11, 2001.

The United States emerged from World War Two as the most powerful nation-state in the world, rivaled only by the second-rate Soviet Union. American hegemony and dominance spread throughout the world as Western Europe became protectorates of the USA, and the colonies of the former European colonial empires in Asia, Africa, and Latin America became U.S. client states. However the postwar era and the late 20th century were also a time of anti-colonial insurgency, leading the U.S. to get bogged down in the anti-colonial war in Indochina and eventually experience defeat. This had the effect of de-legitimizing U.S. militarism to a great degree. For example, the military draft disappeared after Vietnam never to return, and the U.S. has not embarked in a military effort on the level of Vietnam since.

Meanwhile, the unprecedented levels of economic prosperity that the U.S. achieved during the postwar era began to dwindle by the early 1970s. Multiple factors contributed to this ranging from the growing economic power of trade rivals such as Germany and Japan which had originally been cultivated as export markets by the U.S. following their defeat in WW2, to the  rise of neo-liberal economic ideology which has contributed to an increasingly widening gap between social classes in the subsequent forty years. Another was the ongoing growth of the global economy, and the implementation of a variety of economic policies too numerous to mention that have led to either stagnation, inflation, unemployment, excessive credit expansion, or other economic ills. This has been a lengthy and cumulative process that has occurred over a period of four decades, but whose effects were really only seriously realized by the Great Recession of 2007-2008, and the ongoing economic deterioration and class polarization that has occurred since then.

The events of September 11, 2001 were pivotal because they had the effect of luring the United States into two wars that proved to be lengthy, costly and tiresome, with de facto defeat being the end result. These military defeats were being experienced during the same time that the economic downturn was dramatically escalating. Further, the forty year escalation of the domestic police state that began with President Richard M. Nixon’s initiation of the “war on drugs” continued to expand into a general war on crime, guns, gangs, terrorism, and other more obscure and seemingly innocuous categories. This had the effect of allowing state repression to grow the point where it began to impact not only traditionally marginalized populations, but strands of “Middle America” as well (particularly the rural gun culture). Meanwhile, incarceration rates have reached record levels in U.S. history and on a worldwide basis.

This has had the effect of de-legitimizing “the system” across the board. Now, every major institution consistently maintains a negative approval rating. Meanwhile, political opposition movements have begun to grow, both in the mainstream society and on the margins. The Tea Parties, Occupy Wall Street, and the Ron Paul libertarian/anti-Federal Reserve movement are examples of mainstream opposition politics. The militia movement, which is now larger than it was during its supposed 1990s heyday, and the recent riots in Ferguson are examples of opposition emerging from the margins. Further, movements with a radically anti-state bent are continuing to grow and develop, including anti-capitalist anarchists, libertarianism in all its forms, the right-wing patriot movement, and the sovereign citizens. All of these movements have grown substantially in the past decade, as have new movements with a serious contrarian stance such as the so-called “neo-reactionaries.”

Additionally, opinion polls now say that 1 in 4 Americans would favor the development of a secession movement in their region or locality. This is up from 1 in 6 in 2008, and would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.

This is also a time a rapid cultural, generational, and demographic change. Caucasian-Americans, the historic ethnic majority of the United States, are now only two-thirds of the U.S. population, down from 90% a half century ago. Mass immigration will insure even greater demographic change in the future. Same-sex marriage, an unthinkable concept a generation ago, is well on its ways to being legalizing in every state and culturally normalized. Support for military intervention is now at an all time low. The fastest growing religion in America is now non-religion. Opinion polls even indicate that public opinion is turning against the war on drugs. Support for marijuana legalization now has a majority, and opposition to the mass incarceration state is growing on the Left and Right. Meanwhile, domestic political conflict within the U.S. is becoming increasingly hostile, polarized, and lacking in civility. Cultural leftists are becoming ever more fanatical and social conservatives are becoming ever more militant in their opposition.

It is unlikely that very many of these trends will be reversed in the foreseeable future (or ever). Perhaps none of them will be reversed.

The result of this situation that is likely to emerge in the years and decades ahead is one where an increasingly diverse society begins to fracture on a very significant level. While U.S. military intervention overseas will likely decrease due to its increasingly cost prohibitive nature and lack of popular support, domestic repression will likely continue to increase. The wider society will become ever more diverse and multicultural. The prevailing cultural trends will lean leftward in every major area, but the socially and culturally conservative opposition will continue to become increasingly militant, and extremism from the Left will become increasingly prevalent as well. Deep cleavages will emerge in society along racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, and geographical lines. Class divisions will continue to widen and the ranks of the poor, unemployed, and homeless will continue to grow. The middle class will continue to shrink. Wealth will continue to become concentrated at the top and pockets of Third World levels of poverty will increasingly appear in North America. Meanwhile, millions of young adults will discover that their worthless degrees in cultural anthropology and gender studies are just that…worthless. More and more adult, middle aged and elderly people will be working in bars, restaurants, retail chains, and fast food outlets. More young adults will be living in their parents’ basements, and more elderly people will be living with their adult children.

Meanwhile, everyone will be ruled over by a political class that no one likes or respects. Government will increasingly be seen as oppressive, unreasonable, and incapable of accomplishing anything. Opposition movements will continue to appear both in the mainstream and on the margins. Breakaway movements will continue to pop up in regions and communities as the state continues to lose its legitimacy. Meanwhile, the BRIC axis will be rising on the international level and challenging American hegemony. Then there is the potential impact of pending ecological crises, and various wild cards that will likely emerge from rapid technological expansion.

The cat is out of the bag. Hold on, folks. The roller coaster ride is starting to begin.

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