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Against Empire

It seems like no one outside of the “American Conservative” is thinking about the US as a declining empire. Contrary to what some thought, Trump has no interest in scaling back the US to a “normal” country. That wasn’t what MAGA meant. Quite the opposite, Trump and his goons think the post war international order isn’t US-centric enough. This is where Trump and the neoconservatives find common ground. 

What’s more interesting to me is the Democratic Party, and the liberal/left in general. The Dems are historically the war party, and they have renewed that patriotic passion in the Trump era. The shameful treatment of Ilhan Omar is a good example. This charge of her being “anti-Semitic” for questioning Israel’s influence in US foreign policy is disingenuous and disgraceful. (People are acting like we didn’t already go through this silly “debate” when Walt and Mearsheimer’s book came out over a decade ago. It’s infuriating. These are also the same people who can’t go a half an hour without calling Trump a foreign agent beholden to Putin, who secretly controls the world through some sort of Slavic curse, but I digress.) Omar is a principled anti-interventionist. That’s what has really pissed off the war party, and pleasantly surprised me. Although groomed to be part of the new look Democratic Party, Rolling Stone cover and all, her brave insistence on criticizing US empire is pushing her into Tulsi Gabbardish persona non grata territory. (The Dem leadership is willing to put up with stuff like “the green new deal” so long as AOC continues to refrain from criticizing US empire in any substantive way.) 

Even a section of the left, sensitive to the aesthetics of outright supporting US empire, has bought into cheering on phony internationalism as a substitute. A few weeks ago, or maybe years ago who knows anymore with these sorts of things, author and long time left activist Barbara Ehrenreich tweeted: “I will be convinced that America is not in decline only when our de-cluttering guru Marie Kondo learns to speak English.” This was attacked as xenophobic, racist, etc. This is unsurprising as Twitter is full of people waiting on seat’s edge for someone to say something stupid so they can own the cleverest tweet during the pile on and maybe gain some fake fame. The interesting thing about the reaction to me though, if I’m allowed to humor myself with a little armchair psychoanalysis, is the underlying support of empire in the denunciations of Ehrenreich. The critics all pretended the tweet was about an immigrant being told to speak English by an old white lady rather than an acknowledgement that US cultural power couldn’t compel an international tv star in America to learn English as was once the case. The Twitter left didn’t see middle America reading subtitles as a decline in US power, but rather a win for their phony internationalism, which of course is still dominated by the US. 

The sun will set on the US empire, as it has on every one before it. Right now those true believers tend to go for Trump’s Pax Americana or liberal interventionism. Those who reject both will be attacked by both. We need to make this the issue, regardless of the attacks. The same way evangelicals, when pressed, will admit almost everything they do politically is to end legal abortion, we should be ending empire. Indeed, we should end the very notion of American exceptionalism. Should the United States be a Republic or an empire? This, dare I say, is the fundamental question of the century. At some point (sooner rather than later) we won’t be able to be both. 

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