Americans have every reason in the world to be clear-eyed about what is happening to us right now. We know how this “world domination” thing usually turns out- and we’ve been riding it hard since the end of World War II. Eventually, it always comes to an end. We know this because we have institutions of higher learning that teach a new wave of students every year about the fall of great empires throughout world history. But we are a tragically distracted nation. And as a result of our extreme distraction, we have become delusional in our belief that we have some kind of an exemption from the gravitational pull of history. We have lost track of the fact that we are all a part of living history every single day that we wake up, watch the news, Tweet, like, and retweet.
Like the Romans, Americans absolutely love our games and our grand public spectacles. They had their gladiators in the Colosseum and we have the National Football League. Like the British, Americans obsess over celebrating and promoting our cultural influence through the arts. They had the literature and theatre of William Shakespeare and we have pop music divas like Beyonce’ and block-buster movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Who has time to worry about the pesky details of maintaining a healthy functioning democracy when Kardashians are bouncing across our television screens and the new “Spider-Man” movie just came out? Plus, the Rams are back in Los Angeles and they are REALLY good this year. So maybe people will pay closer attention to the traitor in the White House AFTER the Super Bowl is over.
Or maybe not. Far more Americans are tuned in to those spaces than are tuned in to the absolute demolition of our governing norms and the integrity of our institutions. And even more than the treachery of any outside adversary, that is what is doing us in. The world stage has seen this dynamic play out before and if we pay attention we can see they are already moving toward the future- and away from us. Russia has us by the short-and-curlies and we are in deep denial over it.
Like us, both the British and the Romans were so arrogant and so in love with themselves that they never seriously considered the possibility that they could be overtaken by any lesser nation. Their military might and financial dominance bred the complacency that led to their demise. And now America is doing the very same thing. Those who raise their voices to draw attention to these parallels are usually shouted down, mocked or worst of all ignored. We should consider that a super-power falling is like a man who dies suddenly of a stroke. The first symptom of the stroke WAS the stroke. Or perhaps a super-power falling is more akin to a man with high-blood pressure: he ignores warning signs for years because he feels fine and then- boom. He has a heart attack and he’s gone- leaving a vacuum in the spaces that he once occupied. And we all know that nature despises a vacuum and will fill it with something. When America falls, what will fill the gigantic power vacuum that is left? You can bet the house that the member nations of NATO and the G-8 are already answering it amongst themselves. And here’s a clue: they ain’t looking to the United States anymore. Even when this ugly episode is over, we are damaged goods. Our reputation has taken a direct hit and it will not be easily restored.
The fall of America from its perch as the singular world super-power is certain to be both sudden and subtle- entirely different from anything we can compare it to in history. Many voices argue that it has already happened- and if the 2020 election in any way validates the 2016 election it will be self-evident that those voices are correct. The world that America dominates has become a world where information- both true and false- moves at warp speed from one end of the globe to the other. Because information is so much faster, so too are the responses and consequences of that information. So to dominate a nation today, you don’t need to enslave or imprison the citizenry. You don’t need to lord over their land. Those are costly, dangerous and tenuous propositions at best. And as a matter of pure logistics, amassing and committing the resources required to physically dominate a powerful nation with a heavily armed population is as impractical as it is impolitic. Besides, physical occupation is SO 20th century. In the new millennium, you only need to occupy and colonize the minds of the people to guarantee rotting the body politic from the inside.
Those who doubt that America is falling are still thinking about our film reels from high school history class. In those old movies, when empires fell and nations failed there was visual footage of the vanquished being overrun by the victors. Who can forget the pictures of the Nazis hanging their flags all over Paris while demoralized Frenchmen looked on helplessly? Sometimes we still think that way- failing to account for how different the world is today than it was then. America’s enemies, though smaller and weaker than us, recognize those differences and that is how they struck the fatal blow that we still don’t seem to realize hit its mark. Our smaller and weaker enemies were smarter than us and they directed their efforts where they could really win while we focused on the areas where we knew they couldn’t. Our efforts have been focused on MATTER while theirs have been focused on MIND. That is how Russia- against all odds- finally got on top of the United States.
They understood the modern world where any effort directed at forcing the people of another powerful nation to salute YOUR flag or pray to YOUR god is a colossal waste of precious time and energy. Why bother with all that drama when all you really need to do is get the leaders that those people love to adopt YOUR financial interests as their own? Why bother with messy invasions (which are doomed anyway) when what really pays off is getting those beloved leaders to normalize and promote YOUR geo-political interests? Aren’t you infinitely better off leaving those people with their patriotic illusions intact?
Let them keep believing that they are patriotic patriots doing all the things that patriotic patriots do: saluting their flag, singing their songs of pride and reveling in their cultural rituals. They will barely notice that they are advancing YOUR cause by denying the inconvenient truth that the power shaping the world and setting the agenda is not sitting in the White House anymore.
The moment we elected an un-vetted pop-culture and entertainment figure as president, the White House and the American presidency became mere stagecraft because Russia already had him on a leash. When Trump was sworn in Russia finally made good on Nikita Khrushchev’s threat to defeat America without firing a single shot. It really happened and we helped it happen. Is there really any surprise that Russia exploited America’s greatest weakness of all- the original sin of institutionalized racism? They deftly used white voters’ racial anxieties and the antiquated Electoral College system to install the stooge they’ve wanted since the Cold War. That is what great fighters do when facing a more powerful opponent- they hit him in the spot where he is most vulnerable. And they did. It was no accident that Vladimir Putin publicly referred to the American President as “Donald” when praising his bizarre snap decision to withdraw American troops from Syria AND Afghanistan in the same news cycle. Just like it was no accident that a big show was made of this president’s private meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki this summer. Russia beat us on November 8, 2016 and has been taking a long slow victory lap ever since. The longer we are in denial, the longer it will take us to recover. Don’t expect the tanks to roll down Pennsylvania Avenue alerting us to the take-over. Remember, Trump’s not getting the parade he wanted so desperately so you’ll have to see the evidence in less conspicuous spaces- like your laptop or new i-Phone.
Because Gil Scott Heron was right: this time, the revolution was NOT televised. It was on-line. It was on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap-chat and I’ll be damned if I didn’t read somewhere that it was on Pinterest, too. But here’s the thing: America has fallen but America ain’t dead yet. Unlike that poor old lady in the “call of life” commercials, we’ve fallen but we CAN get up. But we can’t get up until we first recognize that we have fallen down. The longer it takes us to acknowledge our fall, the longer it will take us to stand up, dust ourselves off and move forward.