Friday, December 28, 2018

The decline of the American Empire

Much has been written and said about the decline of democracy in the USA, and the grave, possibly lethal, threat to it from the current occupant of the White House and his regime. But at the same time, and because of that same man and his regime, respect for the USA around the world us plummeting, and the country’s adversaries are pouncing to fill the vacuum. That could end very badly.

We saw the first signs of the USA’s decline way back in January when Gallup released poll results that showed that global approval of US leadership had plummeted to 30% approval, with 43% disapproving. At the end of President Obama’s Administration, 48% approved of US leadership and a mere 20% disapproved.

That means that only a year into his regime, the current occupant had destroyed the USA’s image, reversing the positive feelings the world had for the USA under President Obama.

Ten days ago, Pew Research issued a report (see chart above) indicating that 93% of International Relations experts said that the USA is less respected that in the past. 68% of the general public said the same thing. By a margin of more than three to one, both thought this was “a major problem”. Probably because it is.

The views of the American public are also sharply partisan. Only 42% of Republicans think the USA is less respected that in the past (a notion I’ve personally seen expressed by Republicans), so it’s not surprising that only 28% of Republicans see this decline as “a major problem”. Among Democrats, a whopping 87% say the USA is less respected than in the past, more than double the percentage of Republicans, but still fewer than among the experts. Similarly, 70% of Democrats see this loss of respect as “a major problem”, again more than double the rate of Republicans, and still a lower percentage than the experts.

The partisan divide isn’t the least bit surprising: Over the past decade or so, the USA’s partisan division has become more rigid, absolute, and bitter. Throughout the Obama Administration, Republicans consistently thought that the USA was far less respected than did Democrats, and they felt that this was “a major problem”, which Democrats didn’t. Those views have now reversed.

What this means is that Republicans believe, without any reason to, that the USA became more respected after the current occupant took office, while Democrats believe it is less so. The evidence is clear and undeniable that Democrats are right, and Republicans are wrong, but that’s not the interesting thing about that. Instead it’s that at various points during the Obama Administration majorities of Democrats believed the USA was less respected, which is more evidence that Democrats are more influenced by facts and reality than are Republicans. If the percentages remain so widely divergent as the current regime lurches from one foreign policy disaster to another, the proof of this difference will be further reinforced.

While the USA’s various partisan factions argue with each other about their country’s position in the world, the USA’s adversaries are filling the vacuum left by an absent USA.

China is working hard to extend its influence throughout the world. That’s not necessarily popular, as I said earlier this month about China’s image downunder, but at the same time, a huge margin says China is “playing a more important role in the world today than 10 years ago” while a mere 31% said the USA is (this was the eleventh of Pew’s “Most Interesting” findings of 2018, a list I talked about recently). Despite the reality people see, by far most respondents saw this as a bad thing, with 63% believing it would be better for the world to have the USA as the leading power, with a mere 19% thinking it would be better with China.

The world is at a crossroads. Germany is assuming greater leadership in Europe—and NATO—because the UK is embroiled in Brexit-related chaos and France is consumed by internal political divisions. Russia is exploiting that reality to
assert its influence everywhere it can, including Eastern Europe (this was the whole reason they wanted their man installed as US president—to destroy the Western Alliance so it would descend into chaos, thereby allowing the Russian dictator to recreate the Soviet Empire unimpeded).

Neither Russia nor China are democratic, both are hostile to democracy and freedom, liberty, and self-determination of people or countries. They are not in any way friends of Western nations. Yet with the USA in decline, incompetent in foreign relations, and an unreliable ally, they’re moving quickly to assert world leadership in the vacuum the current regime has created.

This could lead to global war. Either China or Russia or both could go too far even for Republican politicians to excuse or tolerate, and they could force the hand of the current occupant. Given how quickly he does something stupid (like deciding to shut down the government) just because rightwingers criticised him, it’s not hard to imagine he might launch a military strike because some bloviating blowhard on the extreme right said mean things about him.

On the other hand, other world events may slow down the progress of Russia and China, allowing the USA time to send the current regime into retirement (assuming they even can). But even then the current regime has done so much damage to the USA that it will take decades to repair it all, and the USA’s reputation and global influence will not miraculously repair itself if US voters successfully dump the guy in the White House.

And all of that is why the USA’s decline on the world stage is so frightening. The coming two years will be the most dangerous the world has seen since the end of the Cold War. Democrats controlling the US House are, at the moment, our best hope for restraining the current regime, because they’re the only ones who can. At least that’s something.

See also: "Gallup's Top World Findings for 2018" – Gallup editors' picks for some of the most important world polls.

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