The proposition that President Donald Trump, a narcissistic, white nationalist sleaze ball landlord from Queens, might be dismantling the American empire, is hard to take seriously. We’re talking about the largest military behemoth in human history, after all.
Trump can barely string together a coherent thought. He delivers rambling, incoherent “speeches” that seem more like poetry slams delivered by a combination of Scrooge McDuck, Eric Cartman, and a tequila-soaked carnival barker.
The last time the Republicans had such an obvious dunce in the Oval Office, one Ronald Wilson Reagan, the military-industrial complex was jacked up and helped cause the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But, if you bear with me for a moment, I can explain why Trump could well be a sign of imperial collapse, even if not knowingly but as a symptom of a much larger set of processes.
- For reasons that are too complicated to go into here, Trump pissed off the wrong people when he said he wanted détente with Moscow on the campaign trail. As something of an aside, I know someone who had pretty deep connections to a New York City prosecution of the Russian mob in the past twenty years. That person had to go into hiding at an undisclosed location during the trials because they obviously were onto something hot. This makes me think that if there’s anything seriously connecting Trump to Russia, it probably is by way of his gauche casinos and shady business in Atlantic City.
- In Bob Woodward’s book Fear, we have a brilliant opening scene that testifies to how seriously Trump is pissing people off in the Pentagon: “In early September 2017, in the eighth month of the Trump presidency, Gary Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs and the president’s top economic adviser in the White House, moved cautiously toward the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office… On the desk was a one-page draft letter from the president addressed to the president of South Korea, terminating the United States–Korea Free Trade Agreement, known as KORUS. Cohn was appalled. For months Trump had threatened to withdraw from the agreement, one of the foundations of an economic relationship, a military alliance and, most important, top secret intelligence operations and capabilities. Under a treaty dating back to the 1950s, the United States stationed 28,500 U.S. troops in the South and operated the most highly classified and sensitive Special Access Programs (SAP), which provided sophisticated Top Secret, codeword intelligence and military capabilities… This all stemmed from Trump’s fury that the United States had an $18 billion annual trade deficit with South Korea and was spending $3.5 billion a year to keep U.S. troops there… Trump was always shifting, rarely fixed, erratic. He would get in a bad mood, something large or small would infuriate him, and he would say about the KORUS trade agreement, “We’re withdrawing today.” But now there was the letter, dated September 5, 2017, a potential trigger to a national security catastrophe. Cohn was worried Trump would sign the letter if he saw it. Cohn removed the letter draft from the Resolute Desk. He placed it in a blue folder marked ‘KEEP.’ “I stole it off his desk,” he later told an associate. “I wouldn’t let him see it. He’s never going to see that document. Got to protect the country.” In the anarchy and disorder of the White House, and Trump’s mind, the president never noticed the missing letter.” [Emphasis added]
- Our gargantuan empire has been a shambling mess since 2003, when George W. Bush and the neocons overestimated U.S. power and put boots on the ground in Iraq. That miscalculation caused a seismic rupture, resulting in the the U.S. having its collective pants down, dick in hands. International players spotted a vulnerability. Iran, China, and Russia began to take advantage of the power vacuum. There’s no argument that Iran today has more influence in the Middle East than ever before. China’s economy is on the road to surpassing America’s and its various intercontinental commercial trade projects will be setting the rules of the road for Eurasia, Africa, and the Pacific (including very likely Australia and New Zealand) in the next century. Russia’s entry into the Syrian civil war (awful and full of carnage as it was) demonstrated that Moscow is not frightened by American reaction to its overseas ventures.
- Regardless of how you feel about former President Obama (for me, the less said the better), the final years of his presidency were undeniably defined by endless, vulgar and pathetic legacy shopping. Whether it was the so-called Iran deal (ick), John Kerry’s efforts regarding Israel-Palestine (oof), or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama was seeking, precariously, to rebuild and redeploy American power and return the U.S. to its role as the world’s sole superpower. For eight years his entire foreign policy was built around this reconstruction project, something that was openly referred to as “restoring America’s standing in the world.“
- RussiaGate itself is testimony to all this. Here you have a fabricated scandal the Clinton campaign began formulating as a talking point on Election Night 2016 (see Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, pg. 395, for more info). It metastasized in the public mind like a brain tumor, eating away at the critical thinking capacities of most liberals and many progressives who couldn’t comprehend the basic logic of an atrocious candidate, Hillary Clinton, suffering a clear electoral loss. Quickly it ramped up, like a 21st century Tonkin Gulf episode, into an extremely jingoistic saber-rattling exercise where the voice of God himself (or at least in Bruce Almighty) said the country was under attack from the Kremlin — which by now is a Third World tin-pot dictatorship known mostly for raw material exports. Is the uproar all about Hillary, one of the most noxious and unpopular liberals in contemporary times? Nah, that’s ridiculous. It’s because of something much deeper. Clinton could have furthered Obama’s efforts to reassert American superpower domination. Trump, the rube and buffoon with a phallic-shaped headquarters (like in a Bond movie), could never do that. To claim that the man is capable of implementing a grand geopolitical strategy defies reality. His major international goal is boosting his brand, which has a near-Freudian direct link to his bloated ego. Trump’s self-worship gets in the way of the operational procedures of empire.
- Rather than isolating other countries with sanctions (i.e. Iran, Russia, Venezuela, North Korea), the United States is instead isolating itself from the rest of the world. Multiple governments and international institutions are beginning to develop alternative commercial methods for doing business, most notably the Saudi Arabia-China effort to develop a petro-yuan that could ultimately replace the dollar as the global reserve currency. We are a long way from that project succeeding being fully implemented but the fact Riyadh and Beijing are even having the conversation speaks volumes.
- Even mainstream voices are publicly proclaiming that, to quote Yeats, “the center cannot hold.” Take, for example, an article by Brown University economist Mark Blyth titled Global Trumpism, written just after the 2016 election. Context here is key: Blyth is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and this article, which summarized the past fifty years of economic history, was published by the think tank’s journal Foreign Affairs. The CFR is a longtime bastion of liberal political thought, an incubator for the type of thinking that used to be the realm of “Rockefeller Republicans” and now is symmetric with the Clinton-Obama wing of the Democratic Party. Blyth closed out his article by saying, The era of neoliberalism is over. The era of neonationalism has just begun. For the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations to publish something like that is a fantastic indicator of just how deeply ruptured the body politic is.