Foreign Policy Rebecca Gordon

Everywhere You Look, American Empire Is Crumbling

If you need proof that the last superpower, our very own empire, is indeed crumbling, consider the year we’ve just lived through, not to mention the first few weeks of 2021.
[Beverly & Pack / CC BY 2.0]

By Rebecca Gordon / TomDispatch

How can you tell when your empire is crumbling? Some signs are actually visible from my own front window here in San Francisco.

Directly across the street, I can see a collection of tarps and poles (along with one of my own garbage cans) that were used to construct a makeshift home on the sidewalk. Beside that edifice stands a wooden cross decorated with a string of white Christmas lights and a red ribbon — a memorial to the woman who built that structure and died inside it earlier this week. We don’t know — and probably never will — what killed her: the pandemic raging across California? A heart attack? An overdose of heroin or fentanyl?

Behind her home and similar ones is a chain-link fence surrounding the empty playground of the Horace Mann/Buena Vista elementary and middle school. Like that home, the school, too, is now empty, closed because of the pandemic. I don’t know where the families of the 20 children who attended that school and lived in one of its gyms as an alternative to the streets have gone. They used to eat breakfast and dinner there every day, served on the same sidewalk by a pair of older Latina women who apparently had a contract from the school district to cook for the families using that school-cum-shelter. I don’t know, either, what any of them are now doing for money or food.

Just down the block, I can see the line of people that has formed every weekday since early December. Masked and socially distanced, they wait patiently to cross the street, one at a time, for a Covid test at a center run by the San Francisco Department of Health. My little street seems an odd choice for such a service, since — especially now that the school has closed — it gets little foot traffic. Indeed, a representative of the Latino Task Force, an organization created to inform the city’s Latinx population about Covid resources told our neighborhood paper Mission Local that

“Small public health clinics such as this one ‘will say they want to do more outreach, but I actually think they don’t want to.’ He believes they chose a low-trafficked street like Bartlett to stay under the radar. ‘They don’t want to blow the spot up, because it does not have a large capacity.’”

What do any of these very local sights have to do with a crumbling empire? They’re signs that some of the same factors that fractured the Roman empire back in 476 CE (and others since) are distinctly present in this country today — even in California, one of its richest states. I’m talking about phenomena like gross economic inequality; over-spending on military expansion; political corruption; deep cultural and political fissures; and, oh yes, the barbarians at the gates. I’ll turn to those factors in a moment, but first let me offer a brief defense of the very suggestion that U.S. imperialism and an American empire actually exist.

Imperialism? What’s That Supposed to Mean?

What better source for a definition of imperialism than the Encyclopedia Britannica, that compendium of knowledge first printed in 1768 in the country that became the great empire of the nineteenth and first part of the twentieth centuries? According to the Encyclopedia, “imperialism” denotes “state policy, practice, or advocacy of extending power and dominion, especially by direct territorial acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of other areas.” Furthermore, imperialism “always involves the use of power, whether military or economic or some subtler form.” In other words, the word indicates a country’s attempts to control and reap economic benefit from lands outside its borders.

In that context, “imperialism” is an accurate description of the trajectory of U.S. history, starting with the country’s expansion across North America, stealing territory and resources from Indian nations and decimating their populations. The newly independent United States would quickly expand, beginning with the 1803 Louisiana Purchase from France. That deal, which effectively doubled its territory, included most of what would become the state of Louisiana, together with some or all of the present-day states of New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, and even small parts of what are today the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Of course, France didn’t actually control most of that land, apart from the port city of New Orleans and its immediate environs. What Washington bought was the “right” to take the rest of that vast area from the native peoples who lived there, whether by treaty, population transfers, or wars of conquest and extermination. The first objective of that deal was to settle land on which to expand the already hugely lucrative cotton business, that economic engine of early American history fueled, of course, by slave labor. It then supplied raw materials to the rapidly industrializing textile industry of England, which drove that country’s own imperial expansion.

U.S. territorial expansion continued as, in 1819, Florida was acquired from Spain and, in 1845, Texas was forcibly annexed from Mexico (as well as various parts of California a year later). All of those acquisitions accorded with what newspaper editor John O’Sullivan would soon call the country’s manifest — that is, clear and obvious — destiny to control the entire continent.

Eventually, such expansionism escaped even those continental borders, as the country went on to gobble up the Philippines, Hawaii, the Panama Canal Zone, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the Mariana Islands, the last five of which remain U.S. territories to this day. (Inhabitants of the nation’s capital, where I grew up, were only partly right when we used to refer to Washington, D.C., as “the last colony.”)

American Doctrines from Monroe to Truman to (G.W.) Bush

U.S. economic, military, and political influence has long extended far beyond those internationally recognized possessions and various presidents have enunciated a series of “doctrines” to legitimate such an imperial reach.

Monroe: The first of these was the Monroe Doctrine, introduced in 1823 in President James Monroe’s penultimate State of the Union address. He warned the nations of Europe that, while the United States recognized existing colonial possessions in the Americas, it would not permit the establishment of any new ones.

President Teddy Roosevelt would later add a corollary to Monroe’s doctrine by establishing Washington’s right to intercede in any country in the Americas that, in the view of its leaders, was not being properly run. “Chronic wrongdoing,” he said in a 1904 message to Congress, “may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation.” The United States, he suggested, might find itself forced, “however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.” In the first quarter of the twentieth century, that Roosevelt Corollary would be used to justify U.S. occupations of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua.

Truman: Teddy’s cousin, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, publicly renounced the Monroe Doctrine and promised a hands-off attitude towards Latin America, which came to be known as the Good Neighbor Policy. It didn’t last long, however. In a 1947 address to Congress, the next president, Harry S. Truman, laid out what came to be known as the Truman Doctrine, which would underlie the country’s foreign policy at least until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It held that U.S. national security interests required the “containment” of existing Communist states and the prevention of the further spread of Communism anywhere on Earth.

It almost immediately led to interventions in the internal struggles of Greece and Turkey and would eventually underpin Washington’s support for dictators and repressive regimes from El Salvador to Indonesia. It would justify U.S.-backed coups in places like Iran, Guatemala, and Chile. It would lead this country into a futile war in Korea and a disastrous defeat in Vietnam.

That post-World War II turn to anticommunism would be accompanied by a new kind of colonialism. Rather than directly annexing territories to extract cheap labor and cheaper natural resources, under this new “neocolonial” model, the United States — and soon the great multilateral institutions of the post-war era, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund — would gain control over the economies of poor nations. In return for aid — or loans often pocketed by local elites and repaid by the poor — those nations would accede to demands for the “structural adjustment” of their economic systems: the privatization of public services like water and utilities and the defunding of human services like health and education, usually by American or multinational corporations. Such “adjustments,” in turn, allowed the recipients to service the loans, extracting scarce hard currency from already deeply impoverished nations.

Bush: You might have thought that the fall of the Soviet empire and the end of the Cold War would have provided Washington with an opportunity to step away from resource extraction and the seemingly endless military and CIA interventions that accompanied it.  You might have imagined that the country then being referred to as the “last superpower” would finally consider establishing new and different relationships with the other countries on this little planet of ours. However, just in time to prevent even the faint possibility of any such conversion came the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which gave President George W. Bush the chance to promote his very own doctrine.

In a break from postwar multilateralism, the Bush Doctrine outlined the neoconservative belief that, as the only superpower in a now supposedly “unipolar” world, the United States had the right to take unilateral military action any time it believed it faced external threat of any imaginable sort. The result: almost 20 years of disastrous “forever wars” and a military-industrial complex deeply embedded in our national economy.  Although Donald Trump’s foreign policy occasionally feinted in the direction of isolationism in its rejection of international treaties, protocols, and organizational responsibilities, it still proved itself a direct descendant of the Bush Doctrine. After all, it was Bush who first took the United States out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and rejected the Kyoto Protocol to fight climate change.

His doctrine instantly set the stage for the disastrous invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, the even more disastrous Iraq War, and the present-day over-expansion of the U.S. military presence, overt and covert, in practically every corner of the world. And now, to fulfill Donald Trump’s Star Trek fantasies, even in outer space.

An Empire in Decay

If you need proof that the last superpower, our very own empire, is indeed crumbling, consider the year we’ve just lived through, not to mention the first few weeks of 2021. I mentioned above some of the factors that contributed to the collapse of the famed Roman empire in the fifth century. It’s fair to say that some of those same things are now evident in twenty-first-century America. Here are four obvious candidates:

Grotesque Economic Inequality: Ever since President Ronald Reagan began the Republican Party’s long war on unions and working people, economic inequality has steadily increased in this country, punctuated by terrible shocks like the Great Recession of 2007-2008 and, of course, by the Covid-19 disaster. We’ve seen 40 years of tax reductions for the wealthy, stagnant wages for the rest of us (including a federal minimum wage that hasn’t changed since 2009), and attacks on programs like TANF (welfare) and SNAP (food stamps) that literally keep poor people alive.

The Romans relied on slave labor for basics like food and clothing. This country relies on super-exploited farm and food-factory workers, many of whom are unlikely to demand more or better because they came here without authorization. Our (extraordinarily cheap) clothes are mostly produced by exploited people in other countries.

The pandemic has only exposed what so many people already knew: that the lives of the millions of working poor in this country are growing ever more precarious and desperate. The gulf between rich and poor widens by the day to unprecedented levels. Indeed, as millions have descended into poverty since the pandemic began, the Guardian reports that this country’s 651 billionaires have increased their collective wealth by $1.1 trillion. That’s more than the $900 billion Congress appropriated for pandemic aid in the omnibus spending bill it passed at the end of December 2020.

An economy like ours, which depends so heavily on consumer spending, cannot survive the deep impoverishment of so many people. Those 651 billionaires are not going to buy enough toys to dig us out of this hole.

Wild Overspending on the Military: At the end of 2020, Congress overrode Trump’s veto of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which provided a stunning $741 billion to the military this fiscal year. (That veto, by the way, wasn’t in response to the vast sums being appropriated in the midst of a devastating pandemic, but to the bill’s provisions for renaming military bases currently honoring Confederate generals, among other extraneous things.) A week later, Congress passed that omnibus pandemic spending bill and it contained an additional $696 billion for the Defense Department.

All that money for “security” might be justified, if it actually made our lives more secure. In fact, our federal priorities virtually take food out of the mouths of children to feed the maw of the military-industrial complex and the never-ending wars that go with it. Even before the pandemic, more than 10% of U.S. families regularly experienced food insecurity. Now, it’s a quarter of the population.

Corruption So Deep It Undermines the Political System: Suffice it to say that the man who came to Washington promising to “drain the swamp” has presided over one of the most corrupt administrations in U.S. history. Whether it’s been blatant self-dealing (like funneling government money to his own businesses); employing government resources to forward his reelection (including using the White House as a staging ground for parts of the Republican National Convention and his acceptance speech); tolerating corrupt subordinates like Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross; or contemplating a self-pardon, the Trump administration has set the bar high indeed for any future aspirants to the title of “most corrupt president.”

One problem with such corruption is that it undermines the legitimacy of government in the minds of the governed. It makes citizens less willing to obey laws, pay taxes, or act for the common good by, for example, wearing masks and socially distancing during a pandemic. It rips apart social cohesion from top to bottom.

Of course, Trump’s most dangerous corrupt behavior — one in which he’s been joined by the most prominent elected and appointed members of his government and much of his party — has been his campaign to reject the results of the 2020 general election. The concerted and cynical promotion of the big lie that the Democrats stole that election has so corrupted faith in the legitimacy of government that up to 68% of Republicans now believe the vote was rigged to elect Joe Biden. At “best,” Trump has set the stage for increased Republican suppression of the vote in communities of color. At worst, he has so poisoned the electoral process that a substantial minority of Americans will never again accept as free and fair an election in which their candidate loses.

A Country in Ever-Deepening Conflict: White supremacy has infected the entire history of this country, beginning with the near-extermination of its native peoples. The Constitution, while guaranteeing many rights to white men, proceeded to codify the enslavement of Africans and their descendants. In order to maintain that enslavement, the southern states seceded and fought a civil war. After a short-lived period of Reconstruction in which Black men were briefly enfranchised, white supremacy regained direct legal control in the South, and flourished in a de facto fashion in the rest of the country.

In 1858, two years before that civil war began, Abraham Lincoln addressed the Illinois Republican State Convention, reminding those present that

“‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”

More than 160 years later, the United States clearly not only remains but has become ever more divided. If you doubt that the Civil War is still being fought today, look no farther than the Confederate battle flags proudly displayed by members of the insurrectionary mob that overran the Capitol on January 6th.

Oh, and the barbarians? They are not just at the gate; they have literally breached it, as we saw in Washington when they burst through the doors and windows of the center of government.

Building a Country From the Rubble of Empire

Human beings have long built new habitations quite literally from the rubble — the fallen stones and timbers — of earlier ones. Perhaps it’s time to think about what kind of a country this place — so rich in natural resources and human resourcefulness — might become if we were to take the stones and timbers of empire and construct a nation dedicated to the genuine security of all its people. Suppose we really chose, in the words of the preamble to the Constitution, “to promote the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

Suppose we found a way to convert the desperate hunger for ever more, which is both the fuel of empires and the engine of their eventual destruction, into a new contentment with “enough”? What would a United States whose people have enough look like? It would not be one in which tiny numbers of the staggeringly wealthy made hundreds of billions more dollars and the country’s military-industrial complex thrived in a pandemic, while so many others went down in disaster. 

This empire will fall sooner or later. They all do. So, this crisis, just at the start of the Biden and Harris years, is a fine time to begin thinking about what might be built in its place. What would any of us like to see from our front windows next year?

Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes and is now at work on a new book on the history of torture in the United States.

26 comments

  1. I think the term ‘colonialism’ is more appropriate for areas you take control of and then occupy permanently with settlers. Imperialism on the other hand is an area you control without physically occupying it with civilians – though a military base might not be far off. This is why imperialism is harder to see.

  2. Again, Rebecca Gordon is just simply wonderful; on point and in depth with her subject material. To Rebecca: With all my heart, thank you for the fine work you do!

  3. Dear Professor Gordon: Thank you so much for this incisive, succinct yet comprehensive essay, one I will keep and hopefully show others in my remaining years. It illustrates the vast gulf between reality–seldom if ever addressed in school history or civics classes–and the incredibly widespread amalgam of sheer fantasies that has pulled in so many.
    In younger years, I used to believe that progress was indeed an ascent and achievable. Now I’m much more prone to the cyclical, or even pendular, view of human existence that, while too pessimistic for some, nonetheless should be adopted as a major tool in planning for the future to the extent we can. What a tall order! I look forward to your continuing scholarship and authorship.

  4. Thank you for this analysis. The public education system failed to teach me history, so your essay fills a void and helps me understand where we are and how we got here. I look forward to the end of colonialism in and by America .

  5. I believe that we have reached a critical mass, wherein no actions we attempt will stop the destruction of our species and the biosphere as we know it. Therefore this might be a time for a little reflection, a bit of exercise of that old grey matter, a bit of deep thinking.

    What we see transpiring is not solely a failure of the u.s. empire, but a failure of a particular philosophy so to speak. That philosophy could be loosely described as civilization, of which there is little that could be d scribed as civil.

    Every human being is “indigenous”, and unconciously longing for home, a return to a natural state of being.

    The root cause of our failed state and others is not merely political or racial, or classist. Those are the symptoms, or the only logical conclusion of “civilization”. The root csuse is our insane belief, that we are not part of the “natural world,” but somehow we are it’s master, which does not seem to be working to well.

    While particular actions did indeed bring us to this moment, if the actions we take in the future are not based on a sane realization that everything is connected then there not be anything resembling real change.

    There is alot of finger pointing and blaming regarding the birth of the american empire, but I see little if any discussion of it’s deeper root causes. Why did “colonizers”, first come to the Americas, besides the obvious greed on the part of some. Lost is any discussion of the poor white indentured servants, many low level “criminals”, sentenced to the colonies. Life was so miserable for them that some ran away and sought refuge with native american tribes, which should tell you something about “civilization”. We talk about racism and the evils of chattel slavery, but never it,s cause, hence no meaningful solutions. Chattel slavery was the logical “market solution”, hence the real culprit is not slavery, but the market solution which saw enslavement of first poor whites and then black “savages”, as the logical to wayy to grow the market.

    As I languish in my prison of poverty, I reflect on what I like to call the “insanity of the insane”, and the lack of morality among our “moral” leadership. Those self described leaders include not only republicans and blue dog dems, but the fraud squad, and some of the authors on scheer post. Time to start connecting the dots.

    1. Your post gets right to the heart of the problem and says everything perfectly. This is the bigger picture that most people don’t see. Exploitation of nature, animals, and man has gone on for centuries. “The Lorax ” story is real and just about to end.

  6. I gotta say, I largely enjoyed your essay. But the last bit came off as if you were trying to protect your Twitter feed, possibly even your blue check.

    For example, you assert that Trump’s self-dealing and corruption (no argument) have been such as to impair citizens’ respect in the legitimacy of government (???), and “he has so poisoned the electoral process that a substantial minority of Americans will never again accept as free and fair an election in which their candidate loses.”

    Respect in the legitimacy of government??? You just wrote a semi-long essay discussing the genocidal tendencies of empire! What legitimacy, what respect, are you referring to?

    I’ve got news for you: The last time I believed an American election was fair and free was pre-Bush-Gore, and then only because I was deluded and conditioned prior to that. Obama cleared that particular block for me forever. Trump was a coat of paint slapped over a crumbling stucco facade, and yes, I agree, our empire is done.

  7. An incisive view of America by Gordon. It is difficult to be optimistic about this country when one considers the historical context.

    Even with all the recent agitation on the left, it is hard to shake the feeling that we are stuck waiting for the imperialist fever to break. What will remain in the aftermath is hard to know.

  8. Well written and comprehensive. When I grew up in Houston in the 1980s, there were shanty towns under bridges and on unused land. That was until the city council passed ordinances banning outdoor camping. The homeless were forced to move elsewhere or live rough on the sidewalks or in parks, without shelter from the rain, oppressive heat, and swarming mosquitoes. I remember one such shantytown, which the local TV news media dubbed, “Tent City.” It formed during the 1981/82 recession and oil bust and lasted until a resident died in a tent fire. The city just pushed the poor and homeless elsewhere. Houston is one of the world’s richest cities, yet it shows the characteristic, uncaring attitude toward the poor, exhibited well by Texas’s well-known GOP and blue-dog Democrat anti-poor and anti-worker policies. The US is full of rednecks, whether TX Republicans in Austin or well-dressed DNC operatives on the Hill, and they hate workers, the poor, and non-whites.

  9. I appreciate this article and agree that the US empire’s cracks are becoming more and more visible. However, to limit the discussion of corruption to the Trump administration is only adding to the divisiveness. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. My second concern has to do with the real divide in the US–class. And how the elites, since 1619, have used skin color to divide the population and prevent the class solidarity that might have, could have, maybe would have, and maybe will finally take this empire down.

  10. As we do this much needed thinking about what a do-over of the American experiment might look like I think we should keep in mind this article’s implied indictment of humanity for our so longstanding refusal to learn the hard lessons we’ve been so good at serving up to ourselves only to go on to serve the same old hard lessons up again and again because we refuse to learn anything from them.

    How can we not by now have gotten it through our heads that we’ve got no chance of leading the truly meaningful lives we keep claiming our civilization is holding out the promise of if we don’t extinguish or at least dramatically dampen this imperial spirit in each of us that collectively manifests at large scales as the Romes and the Mongolias and the Americas of the world and at smaller scales as the imperious nitwits who make life in all our spheres of coexistence so much more miserable than they’d be if we’d just learn the lesson that it’s humility the doctor’s long been ordering as the antidote to the more and more meaningless lives we lead when we individually and collectively never lift a finger to keep our insidious imperial spirit from pushing us into all this mad grasping at everything but what Rebecca memorably calls a “new contentment with ‘enough’”.

    1. To Larry: Good points all. But your lack of use of punctuation makes it very difficult to read and understand. I had to read your post several times and mentally put in periods and semi colons in to comprehend your run-on sentences. I read it so many times because I thought what you were saying was worth reading. Please try, good sir, to be kinder to your readers.

      1. Hi Alysia. Thank you for the compliments and the constructive criticism. I’m sorry about the labor-intensiveness of the way I share my ideas. It’s mostly born of my sense that our discourse norms have been doing very little in the way of moving dials in the right direction.

        In my writing outside the Scheerpost comment board I try to employ unexpected metaphors and rhetorical choices and tones and standpoints and tropes and trains of thought and prose styles that might engage brains in fresh enough ways that they help change some of these dead-end mindsets that are going to be the death of us.

        Maybe (probably) I’m failing at this, but more straightforward approaches don’t seem to be doing any better.

    2. That was one long sentence but well put. Yet, how much suffering is required before the humility sets in? Could be a while yet. As one bumper sticker put it, “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”

  11. I think that the U.S. has much in common with the Roman Empire. There is a collection of old writings known as the Oxyrynchus Payri that tells quite a similar story. In those days in the Egyptian portion of the empire if a person missed a payment on a loan he/she would have to give a child into slavery. If he/she defaulted on a loan that person would give up all property to the loan institution and would be disowned totally. The term used for those people was “wanderer”. Something like our homeless today. The people got so tired of oppression by the large Roman “houses” (corporations of the time) and the Roman government that they welcomed the Muslim invaders in to destroy their persecutors.

    Unless the middle/lower classes in the U.S. figure out how to counter corporate power times will just get worse. Big hierarchical empires never seem to know that they are crumbling until it is too late.

  12. The beat down of unions was not just a Reagan thing. I was a D campaign mgr. (and blue collar union activist) in the late ’70s when it became obvious the centrists were usurping the party. These neolibs abandoned the New Deal and labor, becoming collaborators with Wall St. We should never forget these “Dems” did for the Rust Belt exactly what they did to the vile Wall St. schemers who caused the ’08 crash–NOTHING! It’s no coincidence that the Rust Belt became opioid abuse central and now leads in what are called deaths of despair.

    If that weren’t bad enough, the centrists’ sense of superiority made them certain that their policies could never fail. All those impressive Ivy League pedigrees could never be wrong. As if Halberstam’s “The Best and the Brightest” didn’t apply to them. A smug certainty that persistance in centrism and consensus (with whom?) is enough. As noted by Thomas Frank, jumping up and down on the fulcrum does nothing to balance a badly tilted scale. By pushing the D party rightward, they enabled the Rs to go full fascist.

    I live in SF; a low income seniors’ apt. bldg. And I’m from Seattle (I hope to return asap) so I’m quite familiar with the reality of neolib urban policies. Those that favor their own 20% upper middle class–as the educated and admin elite, they don’t worry about the econopathic race to the bottom. Since the common majority no longer has incomes which would support through taxes decent schools, infrastructure, and social services, there is only one way to go. Quietly push out middle and working class families and build, build, build apts to the skies to house the young techies. They’re underpaid, too, but can be stuffed into bldgs so that they make up in mass quantity what used to be a tax base founded on good wages. No, nothing to see here if you don’t want to look. But we malcontents are agitating…

  13. The best sources documenting imperialism as a phenomenon of the modern capitalist epoch do a far superior job than the Encyclopaedia Britannica. These include of course VI Lenin’s Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism: A Popular Outline (1917) and JA Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study (1902), from which Lenin drew heavily.

    The roots of capitalist imperialism lie in: the dominance of monopoly and finance capital; the merging of industrial with finance capital into horizontally and vertically integrated cartels and trusts; capital being continually forced to find new avenues for investment outside the ‘home country’ due to incapacity to productively absorb surplus capital in the home country. The home/domestic market often is also saturated, as demand fails to keep pace with improvements in productivity.

    As an economic stage of capitalist development, imperialism dictates the subjugation of non-imperialist countries to the interests of the major corporations with investments in those countries, be they for cheap labour or resources and raw materials or both. The imperialist state itself merely serves the corporate interests, and its masters have no interest in wasting resources subjugating the countries directly (ie, ‘neo-colonialism’ rather than colonialism). The military and financial/economic power of of the ‘home country’ is used primarily to back up and enforce such corporate interests. Imperialism thus is not merely “state policy, practice, or advocacy of extending power and dominion, especially by direct territorial acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of other areas”. Imperialism goes much deeper and can’t simply be turned on and off. Capitalism is at its core and is its driving force. Consequently, imperialism can’t be regarded simply as ‘policy’ or ‘advocacy’.

    Two more misconceptions are commonplace. The first is that ‘multi-‘ or ‘trans-national’ corporations have no ‘loyalty’ to any nation state, and rule the world ‘independently’ of the nation state. This ignores the fact that the boards and shareholders and investors of the largest ‘transnational’ corporations comprise overwhelmingly other corporations, financiers and well-heeled individual investors of the home country itself. And it will be citizens of the home country, in uniform and in charge of weapons, who ultimately will enforce the interests of these corporations abroad if all other measures have failed. If, for example, the comprador rulers of the subjugated country fail in their assigned role and their own repressive apparatus also fails, then it’s time to ‘send in the marines’ (in the name of ‘democracy’ of course).

    One should never confuse foreign branch offices and manufacturing plants of the ‘multi-national’ corporation with some ‘transcendence’ of the nation state, when its capital originates in, is set forth from, and is repatriated back to the major stockholders of the home country, in a repeating cycle of ever-expanding reproduction and accumulation. Apple is American as Apple® pie, even though virtually no physical Apple products are manufactured in the US.

    The capitalists are loyal only to profits and will show ‘loyalty’ to their home country only insofar as the latter uses its state to support them in their quest for ever more profits, at home or abroad. If by an outside chance it doesn’t, then they make sure the government is changed to better serve the purpose.

    The second misconception is that because the US ‘national security state’ by all appearances isn’t subject to ‘the will of the people’ (as evidenced by US foreign policy hardly changing regardless of which of the two capitalist parties is in power), then it must be ‘out of control’. This fails to recognise that the economic interests of the imperialist corporations don’t change according to which servants are chosen to warm the seats of governmental power. The manner, or ‘style’ in which those interests are served may change somewhat, and maybe some more favourable alliances struck when a major new resource is also ‘struck’, but that’s all. Otherwise, all the major corporations use their underlying financial and political power in the home country to ensure their government ‘properly’ maintains, or installs, pliable regimes in the subjugated countries to ensure that corporate profits aren’t threatened by obstreperous ‘native’ populations. Anticommunism, financial arm twisting, economic warfare and sanctions, military threats and regime change remain the pillars of US imperialist rule.

    The economic roots of the US’s imperial decay of course are traceable to its deindustrialisation that began in the mid-1970s and accelerated thereafter. The US capitalist class basically went on a capital strike and refused to refurbish its inefficient industry in the face of superior competition from Japan (ie, quantity/price and quality) and Europe (quality). The offshoring of production of more lucrative consumer goods was more than offset domestically by investment in non-productive assets like real estate, financial ‘products’ and privatisation of anything that moves. The plunder of subjugated countries by US corporations continues to feed its outsourced production needs (eg, Apple), its armaments corporations (the only industry with substantial exports from a domestic production base), and an insoluble domestic consumer credit bubble, as a substitute for no wage growth, that will go pop. And like the Roman empire, the military overreach doesn’t match the US’s relatively diminished industrial base and can’t be maintained. Like the Roman empire also, the rulers of the US push all manner of irrational ‘beliefs’ and anti-science rubbish to befuddle the population. They haven’t reached Caligula territory quite yet, but the US kakistocracy continues to worsen.

    US foreign policy, the whole imperium in its decay, remains dominated by the material imperatives of its major corporations, and nothing short of their expropriation, and of the whole capitalist class, will change that. While it’s most certainly “a fine time to begin thinking about what might be built in its place”, it’s much more a fine time to seriously think about exactly how this murderous system the world is forced to endure is to be replaced.

  14. Less than a week since US democracy was saved:

    1. You can ignore Twitter
    2. The White House briefing room is not an Orwellian nightmare of lies
    3. We are now confronting white domestic terrorism
    4. We are not paying for golf trips
    5. There are no presidential relatives in government
    6. The tenor of hearings is sober and serious
    7. Qualified and knowledgeable nominees have been selected for senior spots
    8. We have a first lady who engages with the public
    9. We have not heard a word from presidential children
    10. We are now tough on Russian human rights abuses
    11. We get normal readouts of sane conversations between the president and foreign leaders
    12. The White House philosophy is to underpromise and overdeliver, not the other way around
    13. Manners are in, bullying is out
    14. You feel calmer after hearing the president
    15. Fact-checkers are not overworked
    16. Quality entertainers want to perform for the White House
    17. We have seen the president’s tax records
    18. The president is able to articulate policy details, coherently even
    19. The worst the press can come up with is the president’s watch
    20. We have a White House staff that looks like America
    21. We have a national covid-19 plan
    22. Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony S. Fauci is liberated, sounds happy and even looks younger
    23. Fauci, not the president, briefs on the science of covid-19 and efficacy of vaccines
    24. Masks and social distancing in the White House
    25. The White House has policy initiatives and proposals, not merely leaving it all to Congress
    26. The administration is committed to releasing information, not covering it up, on the slaughter of journalist Jamal Khashoggi
    27. The Muslim ban is gone
    28. It is the Republicans not the Democrats who are in disarray
    29. The national security adviser has not been fired for lying to the FBI
    30. No Soviet-style fawning over the president by his subordinates
    31. The president takes daily, in-person intelligence briefings
    32. The president does not care about Air Force One colors
    33. We have a president familiar with the Constitution
    34. Real cable news outlets get high ratings, others not so much
    35. President Andrew Jackson is out of the Oval Office, Benjamin Franklin is in
    36. Voice of America is back in the hands of actual journalists
    37. We get memes about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), not crowd size
    38. We are back in the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization
    39. Instead of running it like a business, the new administration will try running government competently
    40. We have a president who doesn’t think military service is for “suckers” and who doesn’t send his “love” to people assaulting law enforcement
    41. The secretary of treasury nominee has her own Hamilton lyrics
    42. Amanda Gorman is a household name
    43. More than two-thirds of Americans approve of the White House covid-19 approach.
    44. No more work-free “executive time” in the presidential living quarters
    45. We have a churchgoing president “who has spent a lifetime steeped in Christian rituals and practices.”
    46. We have first dogs
    47. The vice president’s spouse does not teach at a school that bars LGBTQ students
    48. The White House takes the Hatch Act seriously
    49. The administration wants as many people as possible to vote
    50. The president will talk more to our allies than to Russian President Vladimir Putin

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/01/25/fifty-things-that-are-better-already/

    1. Not So Fast

      1. Biden’s nominees have ties with big business and therefore conflicts of interest which exacerbates corruption. Nothing has fundamentally changed.
      2. Cable news is still corporate propaganda.
      3. Julian Assange is still being persecuted and we still have a media blackout about it.
      4. Biden has no intention of banning fracking.
      5. Biden will not pass Medicare For All, even during a pandemic, and is still in the pockets of the healthcare and insurance industries.
      6. Social media is now engaging in censorship.
      7. Biden will not defund the police. He will expand the militarization of the police.
      8. Biden is not acting aggressively enough on climate change to take the necessary drastic measures to stop carbon emissions immediately which is what this existential threat requires.
      9. He is interfering in Venezuela.
      10. He is not getting us out of the Middle East.
      11. His “lifetime of Christian practices” includes being a party to illegal and endless wars that have killed thousands of innocent civilians.

      Take off the rose colored glasses.

      1. Please, the Washington Post? Maybe that is why the 50 you mention lack any original thinking. And the last dig about talking to the rest of the world more than Russia and Putin. Can I use the word “pathetic” and still get posted, because that is what quoting with pride Bezo’s play-toy, propaganda rag amounts to. The Dems have been complicit in all this empire supremacist brutality and fawning over small accomplishments lets them get away with murder.

    2. No surprise that the Post took to writing this garbage list. ‘Back to normal’ for them means going back to the con job that they and their ilk have been pulling on us for 40+ years (in this latest iteration.) But feelings are not facts, and there’s enough propaganda laced into this list to make a thinking person sick. Shame on the Post for this garbage.

      1. Great response,may I humbly add the Jeff Bezos owned WAPO, filled with fawning courtiers posing as “objective ” reporters vying to see who can kiss the most corporate arse!

    1. See, if I don’t approve this snotty, pointless comment people will say I am censoring Steve Knapp. Yet, what does this add to the conversation? How does it enrich the experience of other visitors to this site?

      She used it 3x, for the record.

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