United States of America is an empire, despite its own government’s never-ending claims to the contrary. George W. Bush famously maintained that "America has never been an empire." His Defense Secretary Rumsfeld added that "we don’t seek empires … we’re not imperialistic." And that was while they were busy invading, occupying and governing Afghanistan and Iraq!
But what is an empire and why do we love them and hate them so much? Persian Empire was arguably, one of the first empires to rule a large part of the Near East. Most Persians loved it and most Greeks have hated it to death. Roman Empire at its peak controlled most of Europe, Middle East and North Africa – again loved by many and hated by even more. Empire, when it works, is a gigantic order, a colossal conglomerate of nations, all ruled by sets of cultural and physical bonds. Empire can function like a giant body with its constituent nations working as organs, and within every nation the political and economic classes functioning like tissues, while the individual people playing the part of little cells. Evidently, god/nature has a tendency to copy-and-paste successful models at every scale!
Americans half-willingly inherited the British Empire after WWII, and half-wittedly created the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Like the British Empire, the US model has aspired to globalize capitalism, rule of Western laws and Western style governments. But like the British at the end of WWII, Americans have started to shy away from the long-term commitments of manpower and money that are required to tie the world together. Now with Donald in the Whitehouse, USA is an empire in denial - a superpower that simply refuses to admit the scale of its global responsibilities, and seems unable to understand and fulfill even its domestic responsibilities. And the domestic crowds are getting angrier and angrier!
Revolutions happen when “the top can’t rule and the bottom can’t cope”, as famously proclaimed by the master revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. Eerily, that trend seems to be gaining strength in the USA. During the elections, Donald supporters were actually cheering for a revolution, “to topple the corrupt elite”. Of course, as the famous Churchill quote goes: “Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”!
The US bottom is discontent, due to declining economic and social health, and it has shown great attraction to anti-establishment candidates (Donald and Bernie). The US top is in disarray, as is evident by the unprecedented fragmentation of the political elites. Democrats have been hopelessly split between the centrist establishment (Hilary) and the populist left (Bernie). Republicans are dealing with three internal factions: centrist, Tea Party and alt-right fascists. Although USA is not on the brink of revolution, it does not have much time to figure out a way out of this mess.
Economically, the US Empire has been a prime beneficiary of globalization, but is now turning against it. For the past 15 years, the American colossus has been spending on average about 1 trillion dollars a year more than it has made. Those 15 trillion dollars have been put on various US treasury “credit cards”, which have been mostly financed by China and Arab nations. And what is the first thing that the new president Donald does? Well he has more or less declared war on China and increased the national debt to $20 trillion, due to awful mismanagement of the Covid crisis!
Socially, the US Empire has been built on the back of immigrants, but it is now turning against them. With the exception of Native Americans who now make up only a slim minority, the United States is composed of various groups of immigrants, who since the 1600’s have left their countries to flee religious persecution and/or economic distress. Add to that the millions of captured and enslaved Africans, and you have perhaps the most racially diverse nation on Earth!
Roman Empire’s collapse was signaled by its building of “great” walls in Britain, Germany and the Balkans. It was a clear sign that the Empire could no longer deal with “globalization”, and had to retreat to within its own "safe" borders. At that point (200 AD) Romans decided that they could not only no longer lead the outside world, but also that they were mortally scared of it. Sack of Rome happened in 400 AD, but that wall-building was the Roman “end of beginning”!
Why should we care if the Empire falls? Well for obvious reasons, as we are individual cells living inside that giant order or organism called the Western Civilization, which has been held together by the USA since WWI, WWII and the atomic Cold War against Russia. When the Roman Empire collapsed, almost every aspect of the Western society collapsed and civilization dropped into the dark ages for 1,000 years. Similarly, around the globe, no one will be immune from the horrific impacts of the Fall of American Empire!
Reference: Colossus - The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, by Niall Ferguson.