“We are witnessing America as a failed social experiment,” Ivy League philosopher Cornel West has said.
West is not alone in this assessment. Numerous scholars are expressing similar concerns, including University of British Columbia professor Wade Davis, who recently published The Unraveling of America in Rolling Stone magazine.
Are we really seeing the end of the American empire? If we are headed in that direction, is there anything we can do about it?
All through history, empires have come and gone. The age of Britannia has passed, though Great Britain remains a viable state. History has been less kind to empires in Rome, Greece, France, Spain and many others regions.
We need to be concerned about the future of the United States for many reasons. It’s Canada’s largest trading partner and remains the centre of the industrialized world. If it did indeed fail, who would take its place? Will we one day be pining for the good old days of the American empire?
In studying the history of empire, we notice that it’s usually a combination of internal and external factors that cause the state to decline. One might think that the consolidation of power in the hands of a few and the use of violence would strengthen a state. However, the opposite is generally true, at least in the long run. It’s the sharing of wealth and power that brings the greatest stability to a state.
Great Britain remains one of the oldest governments in the world because those in control chose to share their power. The Magna Carta remains one of the most renowned power-sharing documents in history and though the British have faced their share of usurpations, the passing of power from the monarchy to the common person (at least ideally) was gradual and largely peaceful.
After witnessing the destruction caused by violence and force in the early part of the 20th century, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This gave us something to strive for and these principles are now the foundation of every stable social democracy, including Canada.
What’s the lesson in this for the United States of America?
Throughout their history, Americans have faced numerous threats. Their leaders have responded with wisdom to steady the ship of state.
In the 1930s, for example, the Great Depression caused tremendous unrest, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt government responded with the New Deal. This gave rise to a state that was able to outproduce any other and contributed greatly to victory in the Second World War.
The rise of corporatism in the United States since the Ronald Reagan era has resulted in almost unbelievable income disparity and a decline in the standard of living for much of the population. Today, the U.S. is far behind the social democracies of the world with regard to education and the health of its population.
Many blame President Donald Trump for this state of affairs, but Davis says he isn’t the cause of the crumbling of the American state, he’s the result.
Are we seeing the end of the American empire?
West tells us that the choice in the 2020 presidential election is between disaster and catastrophe, and he may be right.
One can only hope that our neighbours to the south will recognize the dire condition of their state and that their leaders will have the moral fortitude of an Abraham Lincoln and the wisdom of a Roosevelt.
If America can prioritize the well-being of its people and return to the ideals under which that nation was established, it will weather this storm and the world will be better because of those efforts.
May we send them our good wishes.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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