Is This The End of the American Century?

This site features updates, analysis, discussion and comments related to the theme of my book published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2008 (hardbound) and 2009 (paperbound).

The Book

The End of the American Century documents the interrelated dimensions of American social, economic, political and international decline, marking the end of a period of economic affluence and world dominance that began with World War II. The war on terror and the Iraq War exacerbated American domestic weakness and malaise, and its image and stature in the world community. Dynamic economic and political powers like China and the European Union are steadily challenging and eroding US global influence. This global shift will require substantial adjustments for U.S. citizens and leaders alike.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Trump used to read Hitler's speeches

I was startled to learn in an essay in the Indianapolis Recorder (7/1) that Trump used to read Hitler's speeches, apparently impressed by his use of propaganda. The essay, by Dr. E Faye Williams, entitled "A clear and present danger" worries about "a fascistic takeover" of the US. For the Hitler reference, she cites a 1990 Vanity Fair article in which Ivana Trump says that her husband occasionally read from a book of Hitler's collected speeches called "My New Order." I tracked down the article, "After the Gold Rush," (it's on the Vanity Fair site), and sure enough!
I've always worried that Trump displayed many of the characteristics of both Hitler and Mussolini--ethnic nationalism, white supremacy, violence, "the big lie," and hositility to "foreigners."
Furthermore, the January 6 assault on the Capitol bore striking resemblences both to Mussolini's 1922 "March on Rome" and Hitler's 1923 "Beer Hall Putsch" (which was partly modeled on and inspired by Mussolini's march.) In the former, Mussolini used fascist armed squads (known as Blackshirts) to march on the capital, intimidating the government sufficiently that they handed power over to Mussolini. Hitler's putsch was an attempt to seize power in Bavaria, using his own armed goons (Stormtroopers), after which he planned to march on Berlin. Hitler's attempt failed, he was convicted of high treason, and spent 8 months in jail. Afterwards, he decided that instead of a violent overthrow of the Weimar Republic, he would manipulate the political system to achieve power--which he finally did in 1933.
The parallels to January 6 are scary.
Dr. Williams frets too about Trump following these patterns "If the functions of our government can be distorted to reflect the will of a malignant minority rather than the will of the majority."

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, January 3, 2020

Positives from the Past Decade?

Steve Chapman, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, cited my book in a 12/27 column entitled "Remember the good things that happened in America in the past decade."  He used a quotation from The End of the American Century, published in 2009, to compare the end of the present decade to the end of the previous one.

He recognizes the many problems we still face, not least of them due to the "poisonous presidency" of Donald Trump, but points to the many good things that have happened in the ten years since my book was published.  Among these are the continued growth of the U.S. economy; the scaling back of US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan; the expansion of LGBTQ rights; and the Obama accomplishments on childhood immigrants; health care; and torture.

What most resonates in Chapman's argument, though, is this:

Trump has done immeasurable harm on all sorts of matters. But he has also created a powerful backlash that has manifested itself in annual women’s marches, renewed awareness of the persistence of racism, and public support for modest gun regulations, climate change legislation, immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act — and his impeachment.
Ironically, then, the main contribution of the Trump presidency to this past decade is to generate resistance to the very awfulness of it. This upsurge in political involvement is indeed a positive development, especially if it can persist through the removal of this insidious president.

But this positive growth of political participation is offset by Trump's persistent efforts to undermine democratic institutions and procedures.  He has pushed to restrict the franchise in many states; manipulated and threatened our independent judiciary and legal processes; badgered and threatened his political opponents; eviscerated the governmental institutions that might provide a check on his abuse of power;  and has solicited foreign interference in the U.S. electoral process.  He expresses admiration for foreign dictators as brutal and ruthless as those we have fought against in the past.

 In chapter 5 of my book ("Ailing of American Democracy"), I document the increasing apathy, indifference and political ignorance of the American electorate, and the growing influence of money in politics.  I raise the possibility of the U.S. "becoming like our enemies."  Trump is leading us in that direction.

While I appreciate Chapman's efforts to see the bright side of the last ten years, I think it would be a mistake to underestimate just how much Trump has revived the downward spiral of the U.S. that I documented in The End of the American Century.  Middle class wages have barely budged since the 1970s.  Inequality, already high ten years ago, has rocketed upward since then.  We have not yet solved the problems of expensive health care and violent crime--both unique to the U.S. among developed countries.  Our educational system is among the worst among rich countries.  No president, even George W. Bush, has undermined science as much as the current one, even as the existential threat of climate change becomes more obvious by the day. Global opinion of the U.S. is even lower than it was under Bush, which then was at a postwar nadir.  And no president in history has so deliberately attempted to hollow out our governmental institutions and undermine our democratic principles and processes.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, July 30, 2018

Letter to Trump Supporters, Reconsidered. Better to mobilize the non-voters

I composed the open letter (below) a few weeks ago, and sent it to my daughters--both smart, professional mothers and admirably part of the #MeToo Movement.  Both thought it would not have much impact on actual Trump supporters, and instead suggested reaching out to the far more numerous NON-voters.  One sent me this pie-chart, which is both funny and sad:

In my state of Indiana, only 28% of the eligible population voted in the 2014 midterm elections--the lowest turnout of any of the 50 states!  So I agree:  no use trying to win over the Trump supporters, who seem unmovable.  Rather, get out the vote among non-voters, and especially young people, women, and minorities.

Below is the unsent letter.
Dear Fellow Americans, who support Donald Trump,

You and I probably have little in common, except for our love for country.  I expect you feel neglected, marginalized, fearsome.  I do not feel any of those sentiments, though I understand them.  I am a retired professor, and I am comfortable, secure, safe, and happy among my family and friends.  You probably worry about your future, your job, your retirement, your kid’s future.  I don’t worry about those things so much for my family, but I do about yours.

What we do not have in common is our support for Donald Trump.  I understand, to an extent, why you voted for him and support him still.  He railed against the political and economic elites, and you supported him in that.  I shared those sentiments too. The rich are too rich, and they have rigged the system for themselves.  Government is dominated by special interests, with unprecedented numbers of lobbies in Washington, and practically unlimited flow of funds from special interests to politicians.

But Trump is not the one to solve these problems.  Indeed, he is a manifestation of them:  a billionaire who has made his money by gaming the system, intimidating his lessers (as he sees them), and feathering his own nest.   Never in his life before the presidency did he promote the public good or support those less advantaged than he is.  His only charitable foundation was meant mostly as a tax dodge, and did almost nothing to support any deserving group or organization.

Most of our politicians and public officials have at least some measure of concern for the public good, and almost all of them exhibit some public virtues.   Trump has none.  It is hard to come up with a single human or American virtue that he exhibits.  He is vane, egocentric, rude, abusive, unfaithful.  He is a bully, an adulterer, an atheist.  He demeans women, minorities, the poor and the weak. He insults our friends and allies, and praises dictators and demagogues.  He belittles education, science, nature.  He even seems dismissive of democracy and the rule of law.

We need someone who will transform the system, both domestic and international, and make it more responsive to ordinary people.  But Trump is not the one to do this.  Indeed, he is a huge threat to the gains this country has already made on behalf of ordinary citizens, including especially working men and women.

Nothing much gets done in a society without power.  The great idea of democracy is that it vests power in the people.  But there are many competing sources of power in society.  For a long time, in human history, it was the church or monarchies that exercised such power.  Since the 18th century, the major sources of power have been governments and corporations.  Governments controlled by the people—democracies—are meant to be the main repository of power and the main counterbalance to corporate power.  If democratic governments are weakened, corporations become more powerful.  And corporations are subject to no democratic control apart from government.

So, when Donald Trump aims to eviscerate government, he is weakening democracy—the power of the people.  Weakening democratic government strengthens corporate power.  This is a tremendous advantage to people like Donald Trump.  It doesn’t much help people like you and me.

The answer is not to weaken government, but to make it more democratic, and more responsive.   It is true, and eminently demonstrable, that American society has recently become more unequal and less democratic.  The answer is not Donald Trump, but a reinvigoration of true American values—of freedom, equality, fairness, community, respect and genuine representative government.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, April 8, 2018

When Madeleine Albright says fascism is a threat in the U.S., we should listen

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright published this article in today's New York Times:

Fascism on the March

Among her quotes from this article:

"fascism...poses a more serious threat now that at any time since the end of World War II"
"the possibility that fascism will be accorded a fresh chance to strut around the world stage is enhanced by the volatile presidency of Donald Trump."
Trump's "words are so often at odds with the truth that they can appear ignorant, yet are in fact calculated to exacerbate religious, social and racial divisions."

Me: this is the stuff of 1930s fascism. When Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany, his associates thought they could control and limit him. They were wrong then. Are we facing the same situation now?

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Real Mexico

I was sitting in the back of Santa Lucia church, in Mérida, Mexico, waiting for the mass to finish so I could meet my wife and head to a nice brunch at La Chaya Maya.  The priest, vested in green, wandered down the aisle, came up to great me, and asked where I was from. After a few pleasantries he asked “so what about this Trump?”  I expressed my dismay and embarrassment about this president who has spoken so crudely and rudely about Mexicans.  “But it is the interaction of ordinary people that is most important,” responded the padre, and he gave me a reassuring pat on the arm.

We were in Mérida for the month of January, missing the grey chill of Indiana’s winter but also the inauguration, the women’s march, and the steady stream of stupefying comments and actions by the new American president. Not surprisingly, all of this attracted much attention in Mexico, both in the mass media and in the streets.  This was particularly the case with Trump’s very undiplomatic phone call with the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto (when he threatened—or joked?—that the U.S. might have to send troops to Mexico to deal with the “bad hombres” there); the President’s continuing demands that Mexico should pay for the wall; his threat to dismantle the North American Free Trade Agreement; and his ban on refugees.

Of course, none of this went down well with Mexicans.  The press was full of articles dismissing or ridiculing the President and his policies.  Peña Nieto, who’s own approval ratings in Mexico are only at about twenty percent, saw a surge in his popularity after he cancelled his visit to Washington and spoke up for Mexico’s “dignity” and “sovereignty.” In Mérida, where we had seen weekly protest marches against the recent increase in gasoline prices, now the marches often included anti-Trump banners and speeches as well.

My wife and I worried a bit that some of this anti-U.S. sentiment would spill over onto us, but it did not in the least.  Mexicans always treated us with kindness and respect and, with the exception of the priest, did not even raise the issue of Trump unless we did first.  Even then, they were uniformly restrained in their criticism, at least with us, reflecting a kind of politeness and civility that has been entirely missing in the rhetoric of our new president.  At one point, when I was waiting in a bus station, and Trump appeared on the television there, bombastic as usual, I rolled my eyes in embarrassment.  A Mexican man sitting nearby exchanged glances; I said “lo siento” (I’m sorry).  “No se preocupe,” he responded—don’t worry. I wonder how Americans would have responded to Mexicans if their president were publicly insulting and threatening the U.S.

During the campaign, candidate Trump castigated Mexicans for being “rapists” and criminals, though he conceded that “some” might be good people.  Indeed, in the hateful and fearful climate of the U.S. this year, more than one person expressed concern about our safety in travelling to Mexico.  But our experience in Mérida (with over one million residents) was a city that was peaceful and “tranquil” (a word often used by locals) and even joyful.  On Sunday mornings, the city center is closed off to traffic, so people can bicycle and skate in a circular route.  Whole families rent bikes and pedal around for hours.  In the evening, with the main streets still closed, restaurants move their tables out into the streets, street musicians play, and bands play in the public squares and parks while people (including a lot of old folks) dance on stages set up for the purpose.  People interact with each other, in community, in ways that seem to have disappeared in most of the U.S. 

As to the violence:  there was not a single homicide in Mérida during January, while in our hometown of Indianapolis, every few days there was a report of yet another murder.  We both felt safer in Mérida at night than we would in Indianapolis. Statistical comparisons (e.g. the web site Numbeo), bear this out: overall crime rates in Indianapolis are “high” and those in Mérida “very low.”

Mexico is our neighbor, and one of this country’s oldest and closest friends.  After China and Canada, it is our largest trade partner.  Over 30 million Hispanics of Mexican origin live in the U.S.  Some 25 million Americans visit Mexico each year and about a million live there.  Mexican immigrants to the U.S. have contributed enormously to our economy and our culture.  The U.S. should embrace this relationship and foster it.  At the moment, Washington, and especially our President, is poisoning it.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Hidden Figures, Blind Bias

After seeing the film “Hidden Figures,” my 9-year-old granddaughter Katie sent me an enthusiastic voice message, and then asked me a question that took me aback: “Did you ever see a Colored water fountain?”

 I grew up in Virginia in the 1950s, so intellectually I know there were segregated water fountains in those days.  But I could not actually remember seeing one.  How could this be?  I think the answer is that such things were such a normal part of the environment in the segregated south that they weren’t considered anything special.  Segregation, racism, bigotry and bias were the norm, and one doesn’t take much notice of things that are normal and routine.

            About 10 years ago, another film sparked a similar epiphany in me. “Remember the Titans” (2000) recounts the true story of an African-American football coach trying to integrate the team at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria Virginia in 1971.  Watching this film, I was stunned and incredulous.  I graduated from McLean High School, just a few miles from Alexandria, in 1965.  Wasn’t McLean High School integrated by then, I asked myself? 

 After all, I started high school seven years after the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision (Brown vs. Board of Education) that required the desegregation of public schools in the United States.  I knew all this intellectually.  As a professor of political science, I knew my constitutional history.

            While watching “Remember the Titans,” I racked my brain trying to think of African-Americans who must have been my high school classmates.  I couldn’t think of one.  I called my sister, who graduated from the same high school four years later.  She thought there might have been one or two African-Americans when she was there.  We finally resorted to our accumulated high school yearbooks, scanning for darker faces.  I didn’t find a single one in any of my four yearbooks.  My sister finally found one, a girl, in hers. 

            It finally occurred to me, 35 years after the fact, that I had attended an all-white, segregated high school.  But I had not realized it at the time.  White was normal, so what was there to notice?  Segregation and racism was the norm, and therefore unexceptional and unmemorable.

            In the aftermath of this stunning revelation, I began to read about the history of school desegregation, and learned about the campaign of “massive resistance” to the Brown vs. Board decision that was led by U.S. Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia.  The state, and most of the schools in the state, simply refused to implement federal law, and this went on in some school districts for more than a decade after the Brown decision.  This controversy had apparently been swirling around me when I was in high school, but I was oblivious to it.  Too many other things going on in the world and my life:  the Vietnam war, pimples, the Kennedy assassination, all-state marching band, the Cuban Missile Crisis, junior prom.

            The philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil” in a 1963 book about Adolph Eichmann, a top administrator of the Nazi death camps.  The phrase captures how easy it is for evil to become routine, even banal.  The Holocaust may have been one of the most extreme and horrific examples of this, but we have seen it in this country too with the massacres of Native Americans; the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II; the Jim Crow laws and segregation in the south; and with continuing manifestations of bigotry, racism, and intolerance, even coming from our top political leaders.

 Perhaps the teenage me could be forgiven for not noticing the evil of segregation, and the underlying racism and prejudice, in my own environment.  As adults, we have no such excuse.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Good Riddance to the American Century

My book “The End of the American Century” appeared in 2009.  There I argued that the combination of domestic decline and global change had put an end to the era of U.S. global dominance, and that American citizens would have to come to terms with a flattening standard of living and reduced global influence.  This was not necessarily a bad thing, either for the United States or for the rest of the world.
     I finished writing the book during 2008, just as Barack Obama was mounting his stunning rise to the presidency.  For the paperbound edition of the book, which appeared just after the election, I added an epilogue called “Reality and Hope in the Obama Era,” where I offered some hope that the new president could temper some of the problems I had raised.  But I also cautioned that America’s problems (for example with education, violence, debt, inequality) were so deep-seated, and the global changes so persistent (e.g. globalization of production, rise of new powers, climate change) that his options would be limited. 

     President Obama, I believe, recognized all of these problems, and tried his best to redress or adapt to them. He rescued an economy in freefall; got us moving on climate change; passed milestone legislation on health care; and restored America’s battered international reputation, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in the process.  He was on track in adapting to the end of the American Century. 

Now we have a President who is intent on returning to that era of American superiority and dominance.  Indeed, Trump rode to power by demagoguing many of the issues of U.S. decline that I had documented in my book: the stagnating incomes of the middle class; the decline of manufacturing; the continuing prevalence of violence; declining trust and confidence in government; the high cost of medical care; and infrastructure decay.   

     Trump knew which buttons to push, but he had no idea how to deal with any of these problems.  He promised to “make America great again” without having any notion of what that might entail.  His vision was to go backwards, not forward.  In a world so rapidly changing, this is no solution at all.  America needs to adapt to change—embrace it, even—and not reject it, as Trump seems to want to do.  His presidency is a dead end. 

     Any progress this country made during the Obama years is quickly being rolled back and reversed in the first months of the Trump presidency.  The most pressing and damaging problems I discussed—debt, inequality, and climate change—are all likely to worsen under a Trump administration. 

     We can not go back to the American Century (which really lasted only about half a century anyway), nor should we.  That era was bred of specific historical, economic and international circumstances.  We are in a different era now, both domestically and internationally.  The U.S. can not and should not dominate the world as we once did.  To think and act otherwise is to court disaster in a globalized and interdependent world.  We should bid adieu to the American Century, and move forward. 

Stumble Upon Toolbar