End of an Empire

Some are saying the United States is no longer the dominant world power it used to be. See, for example, “A shattering moment in America’s fall from power” by John Gray and “Financial Hubs See an Opening Up at the Top: Wall Street’s Long, Dominant Run Is Fading, Global Financiers Say” by Ariana Eunjung Cha in today’s New York Times.

A decline from Top Dog status is inevitable; what goes up must come down, nothing lasts forever, etc. I’d like to think that if Al Gore had become POTUS in 2001 the decline would have been long forestalled. But the fact is that the social pathology known as “American conservatism” would have used its media muscle to weaken Gore and push us toward the edge of the cliff, anyway.

The Tao brings all things to equilibrium. A nation puffed up with a myth of its own exceptionalism is asking to be deflated.

I’ve argued in the past that the U.S. has to choose between being a republic or an empire; we can’t be both. The American Right chose “empire.” But if we fail as an empire, as we seem to be doing, maybe we’ve got a shot at restoring a republic. We’ll see.

I thought of this today when I read Jonathan Freeland’s column at The Guardian — “This pansy-ass limey Brit won’t butt out — the US election is our business.” Three weeks ago, Freedland wrote a column saying the world would judge America harshly if we choose McCain over Obama. Naturally, this column inspired some spirited objections.

The counterblasts featured all the usual themes familiar to any columnist or blogger who wades into this terrain. America had saved Europe’s “ass” twice before — and we would doubtless come bleating for help again when we inevitably sought rescue from the Muslim hordes imposing sharia law on London, Paris and Berlin. We can’t defend ourselves, of course, because we are limp-wristed “Euroweenies”, effeminate socialists whose own decline robs us of the right to say anything about the United States, which remains the greatest nation on earth.

Britain specifically forfeited the right to meddle in US affairs more than two centuries ago, when it lost the War of Independence. Besides, Obama is a Marxist, so Europe is welcome to him. One Bill07407 managed to capture the flavour of this virtual avalanche — including the curiously homoerotic undercurrent that runs through much rightwing American invective — with this effort: “If you want Comrade Obama we will gladly ship him over after he loses in a landslide. Meanwhile you can kiss my ass. I bet you would enjoy it faggot.” Equally reflective, this from bioguy777: “I love it! A pansy-ass limey Brit begs the US to do his bidding while his own country slips further towards total Islamic rule. We’re electing McCain, and the rest of the world can piss up a rope if they don’t like it. 1776, BITCH!”

Brits may find this amusing. They don’t have to live with these creeps.

For too long, the myth of American exceptionalism has prevented us from dealing honestly and pragmatically with both foreign and domestic issues. Too many Americans seems to think our country is a fortress of might and plenty unto itself, and what goes on elsewhere has no effect on us. If what goes on elsewhere is not to our liking, we have the almighty U.S. military and and endless flow of wealth to set things right. And, of course, God is on our side.

We can endlessly analyze the social-psychological miswiring that causes this attitude. However, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to understand there’s a deeply buried existential fear at the core of the hair-on-fire need to feel “exceptional.”

Whatever the cause, can a majority of Americans come to understand that our superpower, top dog status is not what makes us a great nation? And that we might actually be a happier, saner and more stable nation if we forget about being a mighty empire and re-focus on being the best republic we can be?


Sort of along these lines, a few days ago columnist Kathleen Parker wrote that Sarah Palin is out of her league and should step down as veep candidate. Today she discusses the reaction —

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a traitor and an idiot. Also, my mother should have aborted me and left me in a dumpster, but since she didn’t, I should “off” myself. …

…Who says public discourse hasn’t deteriorated?

The fierce reaction to my column has been both bracing and enlightening. After 20 years of column writing, I’m familiar with angry mail. But the past few days have produced responses of a different order. Not just angry, but vicious and threatening.

This must be the first time she’s pissed off the Right.

My mail paints an ugly picture and a bleak future if we do not soon correct ourselves.

The picture is this: Anyone who dares express an opinion that runs counter to the party line will be silenced. That doesn’t sound American to me, but Stalin would approve.

Readers have every right to reject my opinion. But when we decide that a person is a traitor and should die for having an opinion different from one’s own, we cross into territory that puts all freedoms at risk. (I hear you, Dixie Chicks.)

The thing is, there’s nothing new about this attitude. Anyone who has waded into the world of Free Republic has bumped into the “totalitarians for liberty” crowd. Or is it “libertarians for totalitarianism”? Whatever. We don’t call ’em wingnuts for nothing.

Whatever they are, wingnuts wrap themselves in the conceit that they are the mainstream and speak for the majority of Americans. If it ever dawns on them that they are, in fact, an unpopular minority faction, they are likely to become more dangerous.

18 thoughts on “End of an Empire

  1. It’s progress when someone as perennially obtuse as Kathleen Parker finally starts to open her eyes. Sort of like the C student in the classroom who finally starts to get it, well after the A and B students.

    It’s an open question whose answer is still in the future, whether we’ll prefer the time when our country was run into the ground by delusions such as American Exceptionalism, or whether we’ll prefer the time of sobering chaos that follows such delusion, when we’re humbled by a ruined economy and a starving people. In chaos lies great opportunity, but only if we’re prepared.

    It’s no different than the drug addict or alcoholic on the path toward hitting bottom.

  2. So…do the rightwing critics have any particular objection to being converted to basic protein and feeding the hungry in Africa. They are Christian after all, and should applaud this as a laudable lifechoice.

  3. Moonbat. Please think about the historic context of American Exceptionalism, the ideas of Manifest Destiny when Americans were pushing west are still on display today. Then we were killing Mexicans and Indians, stealing their land and then writing laws saying it was really our land all along. Today under this credence of American Exceptionalism we are just stealing whatever we can from the rest of the world because we have a superior way of life and god has justified it. Its really all the same.

  4. I hear you, Dixie Chicks. –Kathleen Parker

    And so they begin eating their own. Welcome to Karl Rove’s America, Kathleen. You helped build it.

    Great post, maha. It has a little of everything: I started out depressed, then became infuriated, then laughed quite hard, and ended up hopeful.

  5. “…can a majority of Americans come to understand that our superpower, top dog status is not what makes us a great nation? And that we might actually be a happier, saner and more stable nation if we forget about being a mighty empire and re-focus on being the best republic we can be?”

    Doubtful. I don’t know what they’ll do when “empire” eludes them – implode as they’re doing now? – but they certainly don’t want “republic.” To turn the rightie’s infamous phrase back on them, “they hate us for our freedom.”

  6. This is the comment I left at her second column on the Post’s website:
    Dear Ms. Parker,
    Welcome to the world of liberals. Now you know how we feel every time a conservative questions our patriotism or calls us traitors. I hope you will keep this in mind next time you’re tempted to do the same. Or will call out your colleagues on the right who do this with regularity, such as Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter.

    I’ve visited both the Soviet Union and post-CCCP Russia and the Republican Party of the new millenium has reminded me of the old Soviet apparatchik, with the Bush hires who were selected based on their ideological purity rather than their skills.

  7. However, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to understand there’s a deeply buried existential fear at the core of the hair-on-fire need to feel “exceptional.”

    There’s a long list of “projections” that go just like this and which also belie the fear at the core. Any nation that cannot come to grips with that is in for more hard knocks on the way to the bottom.

    The collective psychic energy required to maintain the tough guy facade consumes and election and and our national dialog. It even engages the media in the delusion which prevents addressing a laundry list of disparate problems.

  8. Really great post, Maha.. You get it, and you explain it in a powerful way. There’s so much to be said to build onto your thoughts..and one thing that jumps into my mind to illustrate the sickness that permeates the murrican mindset is Bush’s sickening display of power with his “shock and awe”. To think that Bush awarded a Medal of Freedom to Tommy Franks for that barbaric display of cretinism. What a perversion! The highest form of incivility is exalted while decency, honor, and truth are cast to the wayside as undesirable.

    Maybe Reverend Wright was right to pose the question.. Is it God bless America?

  9. Anyone who has waded into the world of Free Republic has bumped into the “totalitarians for liberty” crowd. Or is it “libertarians for totalitarianism”? Whatever. We don’t call ‘em wingnuts for nothing.

    Maha, it might not be fair to call these people “libertarians.” Of course, I know that term gets abused a lot, especially since a lot of Republicans pose as “small government” libertarians, while erecting their big government police state. Real libertarians (meaning the Libertarian Party) is something else entirely, and not at all comfortable with these Republican thugs.

  10. I read Parker’s column this morning in the Orlando Sentinel, It appears that she has been “mugged by Reality”.It seems that the moderates of both the right and left are still civil, but the extreme at both ends can be down right vile and evil.

    My first thought upon reading Moonbat’s comment was that a better comparison is the grizzly man, that sweet deluded guy that thought he has a “special” connection with Alaska’s grizzly bears….
    until they ate him and his girl friend.

    I’ve heard echos of Kippling since Bush took office, knowing in my heart what lay ahead for Iraq. It is written that the soldiers of the British empire fighting in Afghanistan were advised to save a bullet for themself. Iraq is a disaster, Afghanistan will be much worse.
    I think your Tao comment is spot on. This whole thing just went super nova, between a feeding frenzy mind set,out of control mortgages, high property taxes, and escalating insurances, the housing bubble was doomed. Add to this the costs of multiple wars and occupations, rising health care costs, fuel price inflation, and the black hole of foreign aid, the situation is unsustainable.
    Especially when the only ones getting ahead are the haves and have mores.

    I’d like to see the military spending reduced, our focus on renewable energy , higher education, and health care.If we stay on the current course, we’ll be a nation of peasants and orcs ruled by the perfumed gentry like in medieval times.
    Great comment, Swami…..

  11. #8 ugh.. shock and awe.. I am shocked at our country even now when I think of that. I also get grumpy every time I hear “_____ voted for the war” Guess what? I remember that vote and the vote was on if diplomatic efforts failed bush had the okay to do what he felt was right. At the time it was billed as giving bush a big stick to take to the table to talk to Iraq. Who knew diplomatic efforts meant one token speech to The United Nations and then we were off to shock and awe?

  12. Try living in Oklahoma! I know I’m not the only democrat in this state but sometimes it feels like it. And I love this state; I just don’t care for the wingnuts, of which there are a multitude. It’s good to come to this blog and see that I am not really a nutty idealist. Thanks Maha

  13. Consider this: Sept 11 legitimized ‘shock & awe’ and Gitmo, torture, warrentless wiretaps, etc. The EVENT gave the President enormous power. Unfortunately, the WH was occupied by a vile creature. We are in an EVENT that may be just as earthshaking as Sept 11. But maybe next year we will have a President with vision, and a clear, maybe overwhelming majority in Congress. Could the economic EVENT we are in legitimize the kind of progressive policies that would have been unthinkable a year ago?

  14. Great post Maha.
    It’s too bad that about 50% of our populace still believes in American exceptionalism.
    How do we reach them?

  15. “Brits may find this amusing. They don’t have to live with these creeps.”

    I’m a Brit. I did find this amusing. And I did ‘have to live with these creeps’ when I lived in the US. 🙂

    May I point out that while being on the other side of the Atlantic protects us from the immediate social influence of American Crazies, we still get to be affected by the foreign and environmental policies of those that the American Crazies vote into office.

    And unlike you, we don’t get a vote in this! 🙂

    So yes, we laugh. It’s the only way to stay sane.

    Best wishes!

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