American Decline

Yale history professor Timothy Snyder told Insider he fears American democracy may not survive another Trump campaign

Timothy Snyder’s viewpoint is interesting. Of course, he is a Yale academic, and therefore a high priest among the new clerisy, and his main concerns are both preserving the empire and achieving the hegemony of the Blue Tribe within the empire. His main fear is the emergence of an Orban-Putin-Erdogan-like Christian Nationalist regime dominated by the Red Tribe after a coup carried out by the Trumpists. But the scenario that he outlines is a kind of macro-level pan-secessionism of the kind that I have personally envisioned as a potential scenario for the overthrow of the empire. For 30 years, since the collapse of the USSR and the wider Eurasian Communist expanse, the model of revolution that I have favored has been based on the model of the Soviet collapse, which resulted in large-scale decentralization (relatively speaking, of course), and with comparatively limited amounts of bloodshed (except for Yugoslavia). Could it be we are actually reaching that point in the USA, which Ross Douthat refers to as the first zone of the empire? Here is the most interesting quote from the Snyder interview:

“I think the scenario we have to worry about is that there isn’t a US at that point. The kind of conflict that begins January 20, 2025, isn’t the kind of conflict that ends with one president being just unpopular, or even seen as illegitimate. It’s a kind of conflict that ends with governors seeking some kind of safe haven for their states. It’s a kind of conflict that ends with Americans moving from one part of the country to another to be with people with whom they feel safer. It’s the kind of conflict that ends with some kind of basic political reconstruction, where the US as we know it doesn’t have to exist.”

This is essentially what happened in the USSR. The central government collapsed and the 15 soviet republics, along with the seven satellites in Eastern Europe, became largely independent. A similar process occurred with the collapse of the Communist regime in Yugoslavia and the fragmentation of the six Yugoslav republics (which had previously removed itself from the Soviet orbit). And when Soviet Communism fell, it had a ripple effect that largely collapsed Soviet client states, puppet regimes, and fraternal parties around the world. When I was in high school, a third of the world’s nations and half the world’s population were ruled by Communist regimes. Now, there are only five Communist countries left (China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, and the DPRK). All of these except the DPRK have largely adopted the Zhouist-Dengist “capitalist road” model of economic development, particularly China, Vietnam, and Laos, with Cuba moving in that direction (which was Raul Castro’s preferred model) and the DPRK being the only remaining Stalinist regime and only surviving because it is a client state of China.

The collapse of the USA along the lines predicted by Snyder would, at a bare minimum, result in a much weakened US empire, if the empire survived at all. It is possible the USA would simply become a collection of former US states that were de jour or de fact independent nations from there on, with the (former?) USA having limited international reach. This would have a profound ripple effect around the world. While the majority of the world’s countries are now liberal democracies, of the remaining dictatorships, 73% of these are US client states or puppet states. Many of these regimes would either collapse or be severely diminished by the implosion of the USA.  US military actions in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America would likely be severely curtailed or abolished altogether. US drone wars against the civilian populations of various countries would likely diminish, and US aid to genocidal regimes like Saudi Arabia, apartheid states like Israel, or expansionist autocracies like Turkey would also end or be significantly reduced. Countries like Iran and Syrian would no longer be threatened by regime change wars.

The initial reforms that led to the eventual collapse of the USSR were begun by Mikhail Gorbachev, who is widely remembered by Russians today as their equivalent of Jimmy Carter, i.e. an intelligent idealist who was incompetent at actual leadership. I don’t think that is an accurate perception of either Gorbachev or Carter, but that is how both leaders are remembered in their respective countries. But the real collapse of the USSR was led by Boris Yeltsin, a buffoonish alcoholic, who was not dissimilar to a figure like Donald Trump. What did Marx say about history repeating itself as a farce?

US Support for the World’s Dictatorships, Fiscal Year 2015

US Support for the World’s Dictatorships, Fiscal Year 2015. (Chart: Rich Whitney)

2017 0923 Whitney chart 2


By   Insider

Timothy Snyder does not want to be a downer, he says, but he is not feeling too optimistic about America these days. A history professor at Yale University, and the author of a series of books on authoritarianism and the road to tyranny, he looks at the United States these days and wonders if the country as we know it will still exist in a few years.

In a recent article — marking one year since a former president, who lost an election, sought to thwart the peaceful transfer of power — Snyder painted a grim scenario where something like the January 6 insurrection had succeeded. How would the country, and the rest of the world, react to the installation of a leader who clearly did not win?

In an interview with Insider, Snyder discussed Donald Trump, democracy, and what he fears could happen come 2024.

It’s been a year now since the January 6th insurrection. What do you think the state of American democracy is? Are we on firmer ground now, a year out?

Well, I mean, obviously things could be worse. The January 6th insurrection a year ago could have succeeded. We could be living in a country that is wracked by civil and indeed violent conflict after Donald Trump succeeds in, at least temporarily, staying in power, thanks to some kind of conspiracy of his supporters, the Department of Justice, supporters in Congress and so on, right? So things could be worse. And I wouldn’t wanna deny that.

Unfortunately, that scenario is not one that is just in the rearview mirror. It’s also one that is right in front of us. The problem with a failed coup, which is what January 6th, 2021, is, is that it is practice for a successful coup. So what we’re looking at now is a kind of slow-motion practice for a repetition of all of that, but this time with the legal parts of it more fully prepared. What I’m afraid of is that now, in the shadow of a big lie — namely, that Trump actually won — the states are preparing the legal steps that will enable Trump to be installed as president the next time around. And that in turn will lead to a terrible sort of conflict, the kind that we haven’t seen before.


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