The United States is collapsing. I wrote a piece with that title in June 2018. In hindsight, it was far too passive a statement. The United States isn’t collapsing. Fascists have seized the reins of power, and every guardrail, every check and balance that should have thwarted them broke like a rotten stick. They will soon have complete control of the Supreme Court. That means the fix will already be in for the November presidential election. Cries of “Vote!” are reverberating throughout the country. Americans should turn out en masse to vote to throw Donald Trump out of the White House. Things are much more complicated than casting ballots, though. Believing a clear result for Joe Biden will be enough by itself to get Trump to leave office voluntarily is to ignore everything that has happened since he declared his intention to run for president.
Trump has crashed through every norm that has confronted him. That won’t change if the Biden-Harris ticket wins. He has no intention of leaving office. Any legal challenge will go to a Supreme Court that will almost certainly decide in his favor. Where does that leave American democracy?
These are the ashes of Bush v. Gore. The only correct answer to the questions before the Supreme Court following the 2000 presidential election was that it didn’t matter how long it took, it didn’t matter how bad it looked, it didn’t matter how inconvenient it made things: those votes were going to be counted fairly, and the will of the people would be heard and respected. If that demand cannot be made and adhered to, there is no democracy. The collective shrug of the overwhelming majority of the American populace in the face of judges essentially deciding the result of an election was a defining moment in my understanding of America and the fairy tales of American Exceptionalism that pass themselves off as history and political analysis. We all know how the issue would have been framed if the same events had unfolded in [insert name of socialist country]. If they had resources the American ruling class felt entitled to, troops might have been sent to invade and “bring democracy” to the people, who deserved better. I’ve always been fascinated by how little interrogation or confrontation of real power occurred in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. Perhaps punching down at Nader voters instead of asking who the hell those justices thought they were to decide a thing like that was some sort of coping mechanism.
These are also the wages of “going high” when you should have dragged your enemy into the bowels of hell and left them with a broken back. This is what respectability politics gets you: leaders who think appeals to civility and respect for norms will stop fascists. Both sides of the American political divide are not the same. One is far worse. Even so, the overlap where they agree (militarism, imperialism, racial capitalism, etc.) laid the groundwork for fascism to gain a foothold, and the areas where one side always capitulates eroded checks and balances to the point of failure.
Whether or not this moment in America’s history is a death rattle matters a great deal. Many lives and futures hang in the balance. Americans should turn out to vote in large enough numbers to overcome interference. However, no matter the outcome, it seems unlikely that America can maintain its status in the world. Things in the country are too unpredictable, too unstable, too unhinged, too stupid. The anti-mask Q-Anoners aren’t going anywhere. The emboldened white supremacists won’t shrink back into their dark corners. The dysfunctional federal government will remain so. A host of terrible possibilities, including partition and civil war, are on the table for the United States. Even if the worst outcomes are averted, the upheaval won’t subside any time soon. The world is already rejecting and turning away from the chaos.
The United States is no longer the world’s leader. The world can’t afford for it to be when the nation is in utter shambles. The United States possessing the largest economy and most powerful military on the planet doesn’t change the circumstances — it makes them more delicate. The end of America’s reign on the global stage may turn out to be Trump’s most important legacy. The international response to covid-19 seems to be the preview of coming attractions. The overwhelming majority of the world, guided by some shared understanding of objective reality, will attempt to solve pressing problems, while the United States continues to thrash around at shadows and be consumed by paranoia, delusions, and conflict. The world has never stopped for a crumbling empire, and it won’t now. The void is always filled. The 2020s may mark the dawn of the post-American era. It will be a time of turmoil and uncertainty as the improbable continues to unfold.
Originally published on my Patreon.