2016 Election and Post-Imperial America

Many of us look back on the 2015-2016 election season as a surreal time of sun-glint nightmare, in which the public was stupefied that such liars, hacks and backwardness could emerge into the top rung of American political space. Perhaps, if we think of Baudrillard’s perspective on democratic politics, the American public was well-served – for in his view, democracy is but a theater where politicians perform for public’s amusement. If that is so, the 2016 presidential election was the tragedy of all tragedies – Antigone and Oedipus Rex held nothing on the 2016 campaign!

During this time, we fell asleep, dreamed, woke up and realized that it is a different country than we thought. It is not the welcomer of immigrants, the Dream of unmitigated social mobility, nor a place replete with compassion for the poor. Instead, it is a country in steep decline in many ways: morally, economically and internationally. The power that the U.S. once exercised with such ease throughout the world, as though it were a natural right, is now highly in question. Rising powers will increasingly take advantage of American global decline, as they have done in the post-Iraq War period.

While we can try to fight back against inevitable post-imperial decline, it will likely only make us fall faster and harder. If the US tries to militarily assert itself against rising powers, the latter nations may scent a dying hegemonic beast and ally against America – so it could be a losing game on our end. Instead, we should be cautious and judicious in asserting power and try to transform our remaining international power into more morally-guided action. Perhaps this new morally-guided policy may have some influence on the behavior of future great powers; albeit, truth be told, this may be wishful thinking.

By beginning to roll up our military overextension overseas, the US can consolidate military power for primarily for defensive purposes, while remaining a force to be reckoned with. Yet at the same time, no longer will we futilely intervene in other nations to protect the ‘international order’ or the heavily self-interest based ‘international human rights’ regime. Thus, we can reaffirm our hold on a certain degree of global power and influence, while going forth into the future as a more moral and contained post-imperial nation. Detractors who love the call to arms and resultant bloodshed will refer to this policy as ‘isolationism’. However, it would, at last, extend the ‘live and let live’ spirit that is embedded in American DNA to our 196 neighbors throughout the world.

Unlike France and Great Britain in their post-World War II period of imperial decline, the US should realize Pax Americana has officially ended. The success of Donald Trump’s ‘isolationist’ campaign rhetoric is proof that the American people have come to terms with this. (If the American people ever wanted to be an imperialist nation, in the first place, is a question that has never been sufficiently addressed.) In contrast to post-imperial Britain and France, who futilely fought against the Kenyan Mau Mau rebels and Algerian and Vietnamese anti-imperialists, respectively, let us not waste our money, our soldiers’ lives; and of equal importance, the soldiers and civilians’ lives of our ‘enemies’ to retain a global hegemony that is all but lost.

Our imperial days are over – and that is a good thing! Let us celebrate, rejoice and not desperately cling onto what has passed. But let this not mean that we shall disconnect from the world; but, rather we simply appreciate freedom and autonomy worldwide, accept that people don’t want to be under our thumbs any longer, nor to be told what system of government is best for them. For the US thumb no longer holds the power nor the will to keep people underneath it any longer.

Peter Crowley is a recent graduate from the Northeastern University Global Studies’ Conflict Resolution MS program. He works as a Workflow Coordinator for a prominent library science company. His writings can be found in Boston Literary Magazine, Mint Press News, (several publications in) Wilderness House Literary Review, Mondoweiss, Green Fuse Press, Inquiries Journal, and a periodical publication of the Brookline, MA Historical Society.