American Decline

The War on Terror Gave Us Donald Trump

By Micah Uetricht In These Times

In an interview, Reign of Terror author Spencer Ackerman explains how the brutal legacy of America’s post-9/11 wars has reshaped U.S. society and led to our era of authoritarian demagoguery.

The September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, carried out 20 years ago, also inaugurated the era of the War on Terror — a brutal, ill-defined war that has now lasted longer than World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War. The War on Terror isn’t discussed much these days. Even President Biden’s recent pullout from Afghanistan only dominated headlines for a few weeks (and mainstream coverage was often critical of the withdrawal). At a time of mass death from the Covid-19 crisis and record inequality across the United States, Americans’ immediate day-to-day concerns tend to overshadow whatever our military is doing abroad.

But in his new book Reign of Terror: How the 911 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump (Viking, 2021), Spencer Ackerman argues that, while it’s fallen out of public focus, the War on Terror has reshaped American politics and society as we know it, at the same time as it has wrought havoc throughout the world. From the hundreds of thousands of innocent people killed throughout the Middle East, to the undemocratic nightmare of prisoners captured and held in institutions like Guantanamo Bay, to the virulently xenophobic and racist currents that took hold in domestic politics (most successfully and horrifically by Donald Trump), to the use of hand-me-down military weaponry by local police departments against peaceful American activists, we are living in a world remade by the War on Terror.


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