Faced with a fading superpower incapable of paying the bills, China, India, Iran, Russia, and other powers, great and regional, provocatively challenge U.S. dominion over the oceans, space, and cyberspace. Meanwhile, amid soaring prices, ever-rising unemployment, and a continuing decline in real wages, domestic divisions widen into violent clashes and divisive debates, often over remarkably irrelevant issues. Riding a political tide of disillusionment and despair, a far-right patriot captures the presidency with thundering rhetoric, demanding respect for American authority and threatening military retaliation or economic reprisal. The world pays next to no attention as the American Century ends in silence.
Under pressure, is she not? What a fitting soundtrack for the United States' managed (?) decline.
I do not know if the Imperial United States will go out with a whimper or a bang. As I wrote a few weeks back, I never would have imagined that the passing of the guard from America--failed hyperpower in the moments following the fall of the U.S.S.R.--would occur in my lifetime. But alas, all signs seem to be pointing to "go." The pundits at Tom Dispatch have been kind enough to map out a few possible scenarios, some bad, others horrible, and a few truly frightening.
I would like to believe that just as the British Empire bowed out (and America filled the vacuum) that this transition to a post-American world will come with a whimper and not a bang. Here, vacuums are filled by rising powers, regional hegemons, and other actors. But the decline of the United States is occurring at a moment coterminous with the end of peak oil. The new powers, China and India, have just as much need for these resources as the former big dog on the block. So is a graceful handing off of the reigns even feasible? I would not hold my breath.
Because of the collateral damage caused by the religion of American exceptionalism, some folks may forget that there is a global context for domestic politics. Moreover, one that determines the contours, health, and trajectory of the centuries-long Black Freedom Struggle.
For example, the trans-Atlantic slave trade brought about modernity and linked much of the world together in a forced exchange of cultures, peoples, thoughts, and ideas. The Cold War and the global struggle against Communism, as well as for the "hearts and minds" of Third World peoples, was the context for the Civil Rights Movement and American elites' understanding that Jim Crow was a net liability. The post-Civil Rights moment, globalization, and the end of the Cold War was the stage upon which the managerial class of the United States embraced diversity as a mantra. In that moment it became self-consciously more integrated, all the while the rank and file remained racially segregated.
For a variety of reasons (as this past created our present) it appears that the confluence of events at the nadir of American Empire could be a perfect storm which upsets much of what has been accomplished since the end of the Civil Rights moment.
First, the end of American empire will no doubt impact the intersections of race, politics, and society. Race will continue to over-determine life chances, all the while macro level forces relentlessly impact all Americans across the colorline. Whiteness will remain a buffer. But the breakwaters provided by white skin privilege will be fewer. And we know that Whiteness does not surrender its power easily...
Second, in this time of economic decline, the State will have no choice but to further limit services. The Culture Wars will only be amplified by this practical reality of realpolitik. Consider the following set of circumstances for a moment. Ironically, Red State America Tea-Party GOP country receives more federal monies per capita than any other part of the country--all the while these same anti-government types rail against the nanny-state. Unaware of their own entitlement, these folks are perhaps most sensitive to any change in their share of the federal lucre.
America is becoming more diverse and less white. The Black underclass remains mired in pathology, even while the black middle and professional classes have grown at record rates. Perhaps most damning, the American middle class is being decimated by extreme wealth inequality, outsourcing, flat wages, and a global kleptocracy continues to gain traction by marshaling the misdirected Right-wing populism of the tea bagger set to act against their own economic self-interests.
The racial resentment mined by the Palin Tea Party GOP in the Age of Obama is a signal to these bigger forces. The "us versus them" politics of the New Right is one more data point that the racial heliocentrism of Whiteness, as interchangeable with privilege, and an almost divine right inspired belief in by the birth entry into middle class status, is under siege.
Ultimately, the liberalization of American race relations occurred if not precisely because of economic prosperity, but was most certainly strongly correlated with it. What happens when the apple cart is turned over? When the gravy train dries up? The buffet closed? How soon until the implicit economic privilege of Whiteness becomes explicit race baiting, bigotry and provocation that goes beyond code words, anti-immigrant sentiment, the "real American" nostrums of the Palin Tea Party crowd, neo-secessionist, quasi-polite brown shirts, and evolves into something more naked?
The juvenile platitudes of American exceptionalism aside, "It" can happen here. Empires rise and fall. This is one singular lesson of history. Why should the United States be any different?
The full piece, "Taking Down America" can be found here. The most frightening scenario (at least to my eyes) is excised and follows:
World War III: Scenario 2025
The technology of space and cyberwarfare is so new and untested that even the most outlandish scenarios may soon be superseded by a reality still hard to conceive. If we simply employ the sort of scenarios that the Air Force itself used in its 2009 Future Capabilities Game, however, we can gain "a better understanding of how air, space and cyberspace overlap in warfare," and so begin to imagine how the next world war might actually be fought.
It’s 11:59 p.m. on Thanksgiving Thursday in 2025. While cyber-shoppers pound the portals of Best Buy for deep discounts on the latest home electronics from China, U.S. Air Force technicians at the Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) on Maui choke on their coffee as their panoramic screens suddenly blip to black. Thousands of miles away at the U.S. CyberCommand's operations center in Texas, cyberwarriors soon detect malicious binaries that, though fired anonymously, show the distinctive digital fingerprints of China's People's Liberation Army.
The first overt strike is one nobody predicted. Chinese "malware" seizes control of the robotics aboard an unmanned solar-powered U.S. "Vulture" drone as it flies at 70,000 feet over the Tsushima Strait between Korea and Japan. It suddenly fires all the rocket pods beneath its enormous 400-foot wingspan, sending dozens of lethal missiles plunging harmlessly into the Yellow Sea, effectively disarming this formidable weapon.
Determined to fight fire with fire, the White House authorizes a retaliatory strike. Confident that its F-6 "Fractionated, Free-Flying" satellite system is impenetrable, Air Force commanders in California transmit robotic codes to the flotilla of X-37B space drones orbiting 250 miles above the Earth, ordering them to launch their "Triple Terminator" missiles at China's 35 satellites. Zero response. In near panic, the Air Force launches its Falcon Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle into an arc 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean and then, just 20 minutes later, sends the computer codes to fire missiles at seven Chinese satellites in nearby orbits. The launch codes are suddenly inoperative.
As the Chinese virus spreads uncontrollably through the F-6 satellite architecture, while those second-rate U.S. supercomputers fail to crack the malware's devilishly complex code, GPS signals crucial to the navigation of U.S. ships and aircraft worldwide are compromised. Carrier fleets begin steaming in circles in the mid-Pacific. Fighter squadrons are grounded. Reaper drones fly aimlessly toward the horizon, crashing when their fuel is exhausted. Suddenly, the United States loses what the U.S. Air Force has long called "the ultimate high ground": space. Within hours, the military power that had dominated the globe for nearly a century has been defeated in World War III without a single human casualty.