Is America the New Sick Man?

Many across the world watched in shock as mobs descended on Capitol Hill, the seat of the US government. With domestic problems growing in depth and scope for the US its beginning to resemble the latter phase of the Soviet Union before its collapse
Adnan Khan Adnan Khan14th January 20217 min

Many across the world watched in shock as mobs descended on Capitol Hill, the seat of the US government on 6th January 2021. The fact that the global superpower had marauding crowds attacking the seat of national politics raises some serious questions about domestic stability. It shows the US has as many challenges domestically as it has externally. Some may say what the US is currently experiencing is just another tumultuous phase in its history, like many other nations also experience. But with domestic problems growing in depth and scope is the US beginning to resemble the latter phase of the Soviet Union before its collapse?  

The last two decades have seen the US embroiled in two wars in Eurasia, which lasted much longer than anticipated and cost more lives and treasure then expected. The military received more and more of America’s budget and debt to fund America’s global empire at the expense of education, domestic infrastructure and healthcare. During this period, the wealth of America’s 1% grew ninefold,[1] whilst many Americans have seen their personal debt burden grow. US household debt of $14.3 trillion would be the second largest economy in the world if it were a country.[2] This economic inequality was compounded by the 2008 global economic crisis and the subsequent bank bailouts confirmed to many Americans that the government exists solely to represent the 1% and not them. Donald Trump ran for president in 2016 and reached out to all those Americans who felt they have been abandoned by the corrupt government who only serve the 1%. Whilst Trump was a populist, many turned to him in the hope things would change and Trump confirmed every stereotype, prejudice, myth and half-truth they believed causing a major fracture in American society. Whilst previous administrations attempted to paper over such inequality and undertook token policies to placate such people, Trump went into fifth gear and emboldened such elements of American society and confirming for them, that the government represents a small oligarchy.

America constantly being at war and getting entangled in foreign issues far from home has raised the question that the US will need to decide if it wants to be a republic or an empire, it can’t have both

The US maintains a global empire that many in America do not see the benefit of. This global empire includes a global military presence with over 800 military bases, 200,000 troops permanently based abroad and significant funding from America’s domestic budget, which is then not available domestically. This empire now see’s the US national debt at $27 trillion, which is more than its GDP. Trump’s slogan of ‘bring the troops home’ and ‘end the wars’ were popular with the public as it represents what they believe. America’s national security establishment, the defence industry, America transnational corporations and its 1% are the ones who see the fruits of this global empire, many of the public do not see the benefits but are on the receiving end of its costs. America constantly being at war and getting entangled in foreign issues far from home has raised the question that the US will need to decide if it wants to be a republic or an empire, it can’t have both.

The US has long had a problem with race, which it has failed to solve. The US was created by conducting a genocide of the indigenous people of the continent. Slavery was an essential part of America’s evolution. Animosity due to slavery persisted until 1865 and ignited into a  Civil War. After the war’s end, racism was tolerated, and institutionalised segregation remained for another hundred years. Racial hierarchies today are nowhere near as rigid as they were 50 or 100 years ago, but they still matter more in one of the most open societies. Viewing the non-white population as inferior is still held by a large section of the US public. The race problem has been getting worse whether it’s with policing or economic prospects. But future trends do not bode well for a nation that has a problem with black people in its history. Today 40% of America’s population is not white. By the middle of the century the white population will no longer be the majority, and by the time the century ends the white population will be a minority in the US. Rather than addressing the fear around this, Trump used the prejudices for his own political ends.

Today 40% of America’s population is not white. By the middle of the century the white population will no longer be the majority, and by the time the century ends the white population will be a minority in the US

Currently the world’s richest nation is struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and this has destroyed what image of global leadership the US had. The American response to the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced doubts about American competence. US officials admit that their country is overstretched having to deal with so many domestic issues and international commitments. Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former Director of Policy Planning for the US Department of State made a damning conclusion: “The turmoil in the United States, set before the eyes of the world, raises questions about American power. To distinguish between absolute power and available power is useful here. The country’s absolute power, above all military and economic power, is still considerable. The bigger question concerns its available power. Is a country with 42 million people unemployed, a declining GDP, shuttered factories, widespread protest that at times turns violent, and deep internal divisions in a position to act internationally?”[3] The US has for long been living beyond its means and now its domestic challenges are reaching a point that it may well struggle to maintain its global position with so many problems at home. The US needs the cooperation, submission and coordination of its people to maintain its global empire, but with so many internal fractures the US is fast reaching an inflection point. 

Comparisons with the Soviet Union are quite revealing here. The Soviet Union hid for decades its weakening domestic situation by maintaining a strong global position. The KGB maintained internal stability whilst externally Moscow was engaged in an ideological battle with the US. The global nature of this ideological war, the increasing money that went to the military instead of the domestic economy saw the domestic situation from the Mid-1970’s deteriorate for Soviet society. The arms race, the Space Race and the need to remain toe-to-toe with the US was all possible as most of the Soviet Union’s wealth, budget and resources went on this at the expense of its people. In the 1980’s the Soviet Union was exhausted, it could no longer hide its domestic problems and from the Chernobyl disaster in 1985, every year events would confirm Moscow was punching above its weight and could not sustain its external position with the domestic situation in such disastrous state. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, there was no revolution in Russia, the people were exhausted from standing in queues for hours to buy basic necessities. Despite being a global power, it was domestic challenges, as result of Russia’s elites being focussed on a global struggle, at the expense of their people that brought it down.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, there was no revolution in Russia, the people were exhausted from standing in queues for hours to buy basic necessities

In the 21st century the US has trampled over all its values and ideas it stood for. The Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay etc have all undermined America’s soft power. The US now relies on having the biggest hammer to get its way in the world. Donald Trump undermined America further in the world with his transactional and America first mantra. Now the US can no longer hide the myriad of domestic challenges it faces, and nearly all of them are exacerbated by the 1% wanting US resources to be focussed abroad for US primacy. The gap between this 1% and the rest of the population has never been wider. What took place on 6th Jan 2021 was a mob that represents a segment of US society refusing to accept the outcome of an electoral result due to what that means racially, economically and politically. They took their grievance into their own hands, egged on by the US president, as the system doesn’t just not work for them but no longer even represents them. This all has the hallmarks of what happened to the Soviet Union and has major implications for America’s global position.

 


 

[1] American Billionaires by the Numbers, tracking their wealth in real time (americansfortaxfairness.org)

[2] Consumer debt hits new record of $14.3 trillion (cnbc.com)

[3] Pandemic and Protests at Home Makes the United States Vulnerable Abroad (foreignaffairs.com)

 

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