Decline and fall
Here is how a famous western historian wrote about the collapse of a famous western empire – Rome:
The story of its ruin is simple and obvious; and, instead of inquiring why the Roman empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long. The victorious legions, who, in distant wars, acquired the vices of strangers and mercenaries, first oppressed the freedom of the republic, and afterwards violated the majesty of the purple. The emperors, anxious for their personal safety and the public peace, were reduced to the base expedient of corrupting the discipline which rendered them alike formidable to their sovereign and to the enemy; the vigour of the military government was relaxed, and finally dissolved, by the partial institutions of Constantine; and the Roman world was overwhelmed by a deluge of Barbarians.
Thus, in 1776, Edward Gibbons summarises his famous ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’.
As with Rome, it has been clear for some time that the global dominance of the USA is over. Even Trump’s MAGA (Make America Great Again) is acknowledgement of that. As has every ‘empire’ before it, the USA power is waning. For now, it probably remains the world’s largest economy with, probably, the world’s most advanced military. As all the world’s empires have done, it will try to hold its supremacy for a few years beyond its ‘sell by’ date. But the USA’s claims for ‘leadership of the free world’ are no longer valid or achievable.
Many writers agree. In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Pippa Norris writes that democratic backsliding should not have been a surprise:
The blame for the chaos at the Capitol lies primarily with the president. Trump has an us-versus-them mentality. As he sees it, when defending “us” against the existential threat of “them,” nearly everything is justified. That was why the rioters were to be praised, not denounced. “We love you,” Trump said in his video response to the mob. “You’re very special.”
How like many of the latter-day Roman Emperors who bought crowds with ‘bread and circuses’ and then encouraged them to destroy Rome in order to demolish rivals.
But the rot goes deeper than one man. The World Values Survey asks whether people approve of various types of political systems. In 1995, 25 percent of Americans said it was a good idea to have “a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections.” That already alarming share rose steadily and by 2017, 38 percent of Americans embraced this belief. Trump was thus throwing a lit match into a puddle of gasoline when he chose to claim that Biden had stolen the election. In one poll taken just before the riots, 75 percent of those who voted for Trump said that he should not concede, and 88 percent believed that there was enough electoral fraud to change the outcome. Immediately after the Capitol was stormed, another poll found that 45 percent of Republicans approved of the attack, and only 27 percent of them considered it a threat to democracy. Republicans were more likely to see participants as protesters or patriots, whereas Democrats saw them as extremists or domestic terrorists.
At least for the next four years, then, it will be up to the Biden administration to attempt to do what needs to be done: restore the civic culture, rebuild trust in government, and convince the country to choose unity over division, tolerance over hatred, and decency over corruption.
Indeed, in a recent Tweet, Arnold Schwarzenegger, movingly describes his upbringing in post-Nazi Germany. He, a Republican, declares his full support for President-elect Biden. He praises the strength of American democracy. He declares that, through strains and difficulties, it will lead the USA back to greatness.
It will be too little too late.
The decline began long before Donald Trump. The USA’s equivalent of the golden Augustine era in ancient Rome ended soon after the Second World War – at the height of American power and influence.
The Roman Empire declined without anyone noticing except, perhaps, predatory ‘barbarians.’ The ‘bad emperors’ were succeeded by ‘good’ ones. After Tiberius (good) came Caligula (bad). After Caligula was Claudius (good). After Claudius came Nero (bad). Arguably, the last good emperor was Marcus Aurelius who died in 180 CE. After him, almost all the emperors were bad. Most were murdered by their successors. None attended his predecessor’s inauguration.
The time of Rome’s greatness had gone long before anyone realised. But even after the best years had passed, Roman people and Roman armies still struggled to recapture their past glories.
As it was in Rome, so it is with the USA today.
Over half of the Republican party, say one quarter of the voting population of the USA, supports the objectives and style of presidency represented by Donald Trump. They will not go away. They will not accept President Biden as legitimately elected. When Donald Trump fades from the political scene, which may not be soon, others will take his place.
Neither Biden nor any future ‘moderate’ president, will bridge the gap between the fervent emotional beliefs of the many factions in the USA. The USA is doomed to political strife and civil unrest for decades to come. There may be ‘armed neutrality’ from time to time, as there was in Rome.
But the USA’s decline will continue.
There will be those who rejoice. There will be many who are scared. And some who will be sad. Everyone needs to start adapting to a new world order. Eyes might turn to China, Russia, or perhaps, India as potential leaders.
But does the world need a ‘leader’? Suppose there were to be no dominant state? And just suppose too that, without a dominant state, genuine global co-operation begins to occur…
It could just happen….