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Is the American Empire out of date?

“It is one of the truisms of history that empires rise and fall”, points out Niall Ferguson, in his Colossus – rise and fall. fall of the American empire. Whether the US admits it or not, there is American imperialism and it is impossible to ignore that the “dilemmas faced by America today have more in common with those faced by the last Caesars than with those faced by the Founding Fathers”, he says.

Moral decline, inflation, public debt, economic inequality, corruption, spending on military expansion, proposed price freezes, cultural and political fissures: the same paints that painted the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD can be used to portray America today, and to regard these signs as simple cliché of “declinism” can have a high price. “It is unwise to maintain the fiction that there is something completely unique about American foreign policy”, emphasizes Ferguson.

The criticism is justified. In the book The Future of America, Simon Schama tells that almost everyone he heard from on his journey through American history “sooner or later, invoked Jefferson or DuBois, Teddy Roosevelt or FDR , Reagan or Hamilton, as if there is no distance between them and the YouTubers, which, in the long run, there is not. It is as if, in the most urgent moments of the American decision, historical time folded in on itself and all its formative protagonists were there, like a ghostly choir, to witness and instruct.”

This “habit of history in America” confers an optimism, as described by Schama: “no matter how bad the perspective, it is impossible to think of the United States as a dead end”. “This, too, the Founding Fathers hoped: that nothing would be beyond American reinvention, except its Constitution, which too, of course, could be changed. But if the country comes running out of the gates of its various calamities with a fire-driven sense of national renewal, it will be because its people relentlessly rely on the lives and wisdoms of their ancestors.”

But you have to look at History. If the experience of Rome is the first one that emanates when one thinks of the fall of an empire, the United States very much mirrors the Britain of a century ago, in Naill Ferguson’s opinion. “Americans prefer to take lessons from the history of the United States, but it may be more illuminating to compare the country with its predecessor as an English-speaking global hegemon, as the United States today in many ways resembles Britain in the interwar period”, analyzes the article. writer.

Wars, financial crises, pandemic (Spanish flu) and a “mountain of debt” marked the British nation in the first decade of the 20th century. “While the country remained the dominant global currency issuer, it was no longer unique in that role. A highly unequal society has inspired leftist politicians to demand redistribution, if not outright socialism. A significant proportion of the intelligentsia went further, embracing communism or fascism”, lists Ferguson.

Economy in crisis

America’s economic problems are on the news. At the beginning of this year, the public debt of the United States exceeded US$ 30 trillions, for the first time in history, according to Treasury Department data. The increase was almost $7 trillion compared to January 2020, just before the pandemic. In an attempt to contain the worst inflation in the last 21 years, the Federal Reserve (Fed), the Central Bank of the United States, raised interest rates by 0.5%, the biggest increase in more than two decades.

In May, Democratic Party senators proposed a price control bill, banning companies with revenues equal to or greater than US$. millions sell products or services “at an exorbitant price”. The measure recalls the saying of Maximum Prices, by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, in the year 476, which resulted in a disastrous shortage of products and services.

Chinese threat

The advance of China – which may exceed the US GDP in a few years, if the scenario continues – has effects that are already beginning to be felt within the “backyard” itself. According to an analysis by the Reuters news agency, China has grown in terms of trade in large areas of Latin America, widening its gap with the US since Joe Biden took over the country’s presidency. The agency analyzed data from 2015 to 2018 and found that, excluding Mexico, China surpassed the US in Latin America in 2015 and widened this gap last year.

According to the survey, imports and exports between Latin American countries and China reached almost US$ 247 billion in

(in 2015, it was less than US$ 175 billion). With the US, total trade flows were US$ 174 billion last year (against almost US$ 200 billion in 2020 ).

If there is a consensus between Republicans and Democrats, says philosopher and economist Francis Fukuyama, it is that China represents a threat to democratic values. In this sense, he argues that Taiwan (coveted by China) should be a deeper test for American foreign policy than Afghanistan.

Niall Ferguson agrees with the risk of an “unnecessary war”, involving Taiwan, in the same way that Churchill considered the Second World War, which could have been avoided if the Western democracies had taken more decisive measures at the beginning of the years 1930. For the historian, China is not unstoppable, just as Germany, Italy and Japan were not.

“If American deterrence fails and China bets on a coup d’état, the United States will face the stark choice between waging a long and hard war – as Britain did in 301 and 1939 – or give up, as happened in Suez, in 1956”, project.

External pressure or implosion?

Author of the famous essay The end of history, Francis Fukuyama, is among those who defend that the worst enemy of the USA is inside and not beyond the territory. “The long-term sources of American weakness and decline are more domestic than international,” he says. For him, the country will not regain (nor should it aspire) its hegemonic status, but it can continue as a great power “for many years”. The degree of global influence, however, will depend more on the ability to solve domestic problems than on foreign policy.

“American society is deeply polarized and has found it difficult to find consensus on just about anything. This polarization began around conventional political issues like taxes and abortion, but has since escalated into a bitter struggle over cultural identity. The demand for recognition by groups that feel marginalized by the elites was something I identified earlier 30 years as an Achilles heel of modern democracy. Typically, a major external threat, such as a global pandemic, should be the occasion for citizens to rally around a common response; the Covid crisis 12 served to deepen the divisions of America, with social distancing, wearing masks and now vaccines being seen not as public health measures, but as political markers”, Fukuyama points out.

This The imperative of “recovering a sense of national identity and purpose”, advocated by Fukuyama, echoes what Simon Schama says about the need to “take care of one another” in “shared misfortune” as a condition for the maintenance of American society. “American independence will not be threatened by American interdependence”, he argues.

Schama emphasizes that “American history has always been a dialogue between unlimited faith in individualism and heroism of Jefferson and the obligations of mutual community expressed by Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt”. By the way, building “a common purpose on the obstinacy of sectionalism” was, at the time he wrote the book, one of the author’s hopes for the newly elected Barack Obama — which, time has shown, ended up not materializing.

Moral decline

In addition to polarization, the decline Morale may also be a factor driving the American implosion. Last year, the country surpassed, for the first time in history, 70 a thousand cases of drug overdose over a period of 12 months.

In six states (Alaska, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont) and the District of Columbia, abortion is legal in all states. stages of gestation.

In his classic Decline and fall of the Roman Empire ), Edward Gibbon attributes to Christianity a role in the fall of Rome. In the USA, religiosity in decline – almost a quarter of the population declared that they had no religious affiliation in 2018 (in

, the percentage was 5%) – it also makes it possible to foresee its consequences.

At the beginning of the years 1990, the link between American identity and faith began to break down. “In the 12 century, ‘non-religious’ became a specific American identity – which distinguishes secular and liberal whites from the conservative and evangelical right,” says journalist Derek Thompson of The Atlantic.

In an article for The Spectator, Australian physician Graham Pinn, states that “the decline of religion has resulted in its replacement by climate change, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo [movimento contra assédio e agressão sexual] pseudo-religions, while the advent of Covid has further interfered with normal relationships and it accentuated extremist views.”

“The Western canon was based on Christianity, marriage, property rights, freedom of expression, and democracy; while its evolution comes from gradual changes in ethical standards. The abolition of slavery, the improvement of women’s rights, sexual freedom and the elimination of racial discrimination have evolved in recent years 175 years in the West. With this evolution, the traditional influence of Christianity dropped from 70% to about 21%, and the probability of couples getting married dropped from 30% for about 2021 %. Douglas Murray, in his book The Slow Death of Europe [A morte lenta da Europa], commented that although equality has been achieved in all these areas , activism demands even more changes, changes that intend to undermine our culture”, he criticizes.

Democracy at risk

Last month, US President Joe Biden claimed that after his election to the White House, he was warned by Chinese dictator Xi Jinping that democracies are dying and will give way to autocracies. “He said that democracies cannot be sustained in the 21st century, autocracies will rule the world. Why? Things are changing so quickly. Democracies require consensus, and that takes time, and you don’t have time,” revealed Biden, during his speech to the US Naval Academy graduating class at the end of May.

Biden used the war in Ukraine to argue that “Xi [está] wrong”. According to the American president, in an attempt to “Finlandize” Europe, what Vladimir Putin achieved was to “Otanize” the continent. “We are seeing the world align not in terms of geography – east and west, Pacific and Atlantic, but in terms of values. America leads not just by the example of its power, but by the power of its example. most nations agreed to support us,” Biden said. “The most powerful tool is our unparalleled network of global alliances and the strength of our partnership,” he told those present.

In the face of the decline of the American empire, analysts believe more in a multipolar world, which would be a “more normal state” in Fukuyama’s view, than in just one nation taking the position of superpower. In this new context, he states that the US continues to play an important role: “to sustain, with like-minded countries, a world order that is friendly to democratic values.”

Looking at history and a possible confrontation with China over Taiwan, Niall Ferguson warns of the risk that America’s decline is not so peaceful. “Perhaps it’s time to face the fact that Churchill understood all too well: the end of empire is rarely a painless process.”

On America’s Future , Simon Schama, the English historian who likes to point out that he spent more than half his life in the United States, is more optimistic. “I still want things to go well for this country and for that dwindling part of the world that looks to it, despite the evidence of its decay and near-collapse, for inspiration and renewal. And despite everything my head knows, my heart says it might.”

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