Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Collapse Of The American Empire

There is a future day coming where historians will look upon the Trump years as the definitive end of the American Empire, and in particular 2020 as the end of the ability of law enforcement to maintain civil society.

I do not merely speak of the riots currently going on in the US over George Floyd's murder at the hands of police.  Nor do I simply refer to the economic wreckage that will be the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic - those are but symptoms of a far greater ailment that afflicts the American state.

In 2016, the United States elected Donald Trump as their president.  He rode to power not on a greater vision for America, but on a populist wave of rejecting reasoned government and evidence-based policy making.  His victory was largely on the basis of convincing people that there are simple things that can be done which will "make America great" - and most of the people he convinced are those who are seeing the world move beyond them and leaving them behind - and they are rightfully scared.

Unfortunately for the American people, what they really elected was a kleptocracy.  Trump was well known as a grifter in business circles.  He made millions marketing his name through a variety of enterprises that ultimately failed.  Suppliers and contractors often found their bills being slashed in half and renegotiated when they tried to pursue unpaid invoices.  Trump would structure everything he could to funnel money into his businesses, and no doubt future digging through the archives of his administration will find much more chicanery which would benefit both himself and the GOP legislators who have chosen to support him.

It is not merely Trump's personal greed that serves to undermine things.  It is his willingness to take corrosive actions which erode civil society.  Trump's association with truth has always been a little dodgy, but his outright temper tantrum when Twitter fact-checked one of his tweets about mail-in ballots is a huge clue to how bad things really are.

However, Trump's presidency exists not because he can unify people, but rather because he exists in an era where multiple corrosive factors have been weakening civil society.  Systemic racism is the obvious factor in the current riots, but we cannot ignore the epidemic levels of mass shootings witnessed in the last 15 years, nor the growing economic inequality as the wealthiest manage to lock down their control over the majority of the wealth.  Perhaps even more concerning was Trump's placement of his children at the cabinet table - not because they are domain experts, but really to set up a line of succession.

Trump himself is corrosive to the idea of civil discourse, doubling down on overt lies for the purpose of propping himself up.  While I understand the idea that truth can be subjective, cooking up a pack of lies simply to support a particular position is not merely unethical, but it is corrosive to the idea that there can be multiple perspectives on a topic which are worthy of debate.  Trump's approach is "I'm right, you're wrong", which weakens a fundamental pillar of the concept of an elected government.

However, Trump is no grandmaster in this game.  At best, he is the opportunistic person who happened to be in the right place to take advantage of it.  There have been decades worth of moves which have created the environment that enabled Trump.  Failures to address societal inequality issues; groups like the NRA pushing to create an armed society; the erosion of public education starting in the 1980s with Reagan; and on the list goes.  All of these are corrosive to the cohesiveness of society.

While I do not expect the current riots to collapse the USA, make no mistake that the cracks in the foundation are clear. How long it will take to collapse fully is an open question, but the collapse is arguably underway.

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