To answer this question, it is first necessary to agree on what defines the entity known as “the American Republic” and then determine if 2020, with its COVID pandemic and its unprecedented presidential election, rises to the bar of becoming, symbolically, the year in which the decades-long American decline can finally be deemed sufficient to have culminated in its collapse.
What are the main attributes of the polity known as America? A good place to start is the obvious one: America is a union of independent states, each free, within the broad limits of federalism, to chart its individual course. America is also a community of individuals who value liberty above all else, or as brilliantly summarized by Abraham Lincoln, individuals who consent to be governed by a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
But this, the most fundamental and the oldest definition, is not the only one. Historically, America came to be defined by its high degree of morality and religiosity, maintaining strong church attendances and spiritual revivals well into the 20th century when European churches were already emptying out. Perhaps misguided, but well-intentioned nonetheless, were the American attempts at regulating immoral behavior, from the prohibition on alcohol of the 1920s to the war on drugs in the 1980s. In conjunction with this, we must mention America’s uncompromising commitment to upholding its legal code and its subsequent intolerance to illegal and criminal activities.
Next, we must put on the list of American defining attributes its highly decentralized and diversified economy, one in which the government sector, in stark contrast to its competitors around the world, had always been small and relatively underfunded, leaving the best talent to seek its fortunes in private business. This led to America’s unprecedented entrepreneurship and innovation, creating the greatest manufacturing and agricultural economy the world has ever seen.
Another, perhaps startling to today’s sensibilities, America’s attribute has always been its unabashed patriotism. The American flag was glorified not only in the National Anthem but also proudly flew over every car dealership and in every classroom. Military colors were proudly displayed before every major sports event. Every Sunday afternoon, millions of Americans stood, ball cap in hand, in Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, literally hearing the rockets bursting in air over Fort McHenry.
Finally, America has always been an imperial power, though it rarely wished to describe itself as such. Born out of British imperialism, the Thirteen Colonies, upon gaining their independence, wasted no time to complete the conquest of as much of the North American continent as their progressive might allowed, leaving to their British and Mexican rivals only a few scraps in its least desirable regions. This conquest proceeded, unabated and with all due haste, by all means, fair and foul from naked aggression and genocide towards America’s native inhabitants, to the gradual settlement of Texas followed by the settlers’ revolt against Mexico and annexation to the United States. Whenever possible, as was the case with Louisiana and Alaska, America took advantage of its riches and the plight of empires in decline, be they France or Russia, to simply buy lands for a fraction of a cent on the dollar.
But America’s imperial endeavors have not ceased with the acquisition of everything valuable in the North American continent. They continued with the Spanish War and every other war America has fought ever since, though arguably, in the 20th century, America’s international endeavors could be seen as “doing well by doing good” rather than the naked imperialistic wars of the two preceding centuries. In both 20th century’s world wars (European theatre), America joined the fray late in the game, minimizing its own casualties and expenditures yet assuring its place firmly at the head of the post-war negotiating table and thus securing for itself, in 1945, the role of a true world superpower.
As an important postscript, we are tempted to add to the list of America’s defining attributes its utter dominance of the global popular culture, especially in the mid to late 20th century. From chewing gum to burgers, shakes, rock’n’roll, and blue jeans, America had everything that every young person from Mumbai to Moscow had ever wanted, and it used this fact, with extreme efficiency, to promote its geopolitical objectives. The Soviet Union, in particular, succumbed more to jazz than to Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, more to chewing gum than to NORAD.
What yet remains of the six defining attributes, be they a just system of governance, good morals, diversified economy, unselfconscious patriotism, imperial drive, or pop culture dominance? The answer is simple: nothing. Not a thing remains today of what has come to define America as the greatest country that has ever existed until now.
As we can all witness in real-time, America’s system of governance has shifted from federal to central and from one that is representative of the will of the people at large to one that is representative of the will of the urbanized elites exclusively. The Supreme Court, starting as early as during the First World War and the Great Depression has allowed exponentially growing erosion of both state and individual rights in favor of an overbearing federal government, one that is imperial in nature and derives its power, following the Chinese model, from a nepotism-infused meritocratic oligarchy. No longer a union of free individuals and free states, America today consists of a collection of various aggrieved classes governed by a deep state behemoth dispensing Roman-style bread and circuses to uninformed and deluded masses.
Parallel with that development and acting as a catalyst to it is the unprecedented collapse of morals in America. From a country in which right and wrong were clearly delineated, America has become a free for all of the drug abuse and sexual deviancy. From gay marriage to LGBT, to transgenderism, to abortion, America is now the least God-fearing and most immoral polity in the world, bar none. How the mighty has fallen, from first to last in less than a century. The American commitment to law and order, a byproduct of its superior morality, has suffered a no less precipitous collapse, resulting in the decriminalization of immoral activities such as drug abuse and crimes against property and the unequal dispensation of justice based on grievance intersectionality.
The American economy, always powered by the healthy drive to succeed that was the attribute of most Americans, has fallen prey to its own motivating force: greed. Whereas once upon a time greed had been balanced by fierce patriotism and commitment to a high moral standard, the collapse of both resulted in American entrepreneurs selling their intellectual properties down the river, first to Europe and later to the Far East, thus diluting America’s manufacturing and technological prowess to the point of no return. The American share of the total manufactured goods produced globally plummeted from around 30% in the early 1980s to under 20% today. In its 1950s heyday, America was responsible for more than half of everything produced on Planet Earth. Coinciding with this collapse and driving it were drastic decreases in manufacturing as a share of the American GDP and the explosive rise in the size of American government and service sectors. Simply put, whereas, for the last three-quarters of a century, the world could not live without America, today, America cannot survive without the world.
Patriotism? Alas, far from being honored as a founding member of the American republic, it has now been all but outlawed. Every symbol of American patriotism and American history, from Robert E. Lee to Abraham Lincoln and even George Washington himself, is now being actively reviled and, to use a horrific word that will survive as the definition of what has happened to America itself, “canceled.”
American flags are being disrespected as a matter of routine and, in many places, are viewed as the offensive symbols of white supremacy.
The American National Anthem is being abused by people like Colin Kaepernick for personal enrichment. But far more important than all of this, the American urban elites, the American intelligentsia, and the American bureaucracy, the trifecta that has defined every polity since the rise of civilization, have now become rabidly anti-American. These people are not “nuanced,” and they are not “cosmopolitan.” Neither are they shy in publicly exhibiting their patriotic feelings. Far from it, they simply hate the very country that has elevated them to their positions of power and wealth.
As to American imperialism and its erstwhile unabashed drive to rule the world to its advantage (though benignly), this has also fallen by the wayside, but the blame for this must be laid squarely at the feet of the bottom half of Americans, paradoxically the more patriotic half. While the anti-American elites are savvy enough to know that America’s wealth is entirely dependent upon its ability to project its military and economic power abroad and defend the status of the dollar as the world reserve currency, most regular Americans have come to believe that the government can simply make endless amounts of money, deus ex machina without consequence, and use this money to prop up the stock market bubble and dole out various government “benefits.” These, to put it bluntly, ignorant Americans believe that America can stop cold turkey, spending vast sums of money in foreign countries, and decide one clear day to withdraw its military from around the world without paying the price of the utter collapse of its currency and its economy. A laughable notion indeed. Booming American economy and boundless American expansionism, first across the continent and then across the globe, are Siamese twins joined at the hip. Kill one, and you kill the other. That is the simple truth.
As has been known to everyone who cared to give it some thought throughout the six thousand years of civilization, great cultural assets, whether “popular” or “classical,” come from a shared sense of morality, or, to put it simply, from common knowledge of right and wrong. This truth is universal from the Bible to Homer and from Hollywood (until recently) to Bollywood. Great culture comes from patriotism, from courage, from selflessness. Today, America’s culture is self-hating, depraved, and prone to promoting the basest and most immoral aspects of human behavior. Correspondingly, American culture is in worldwide retreat, ceding ground to cultural products from India, Korea, Japan, and China. As a result, it is simply no longer “hip” to be American. In the 1940s and 1950s, Americans traveling abroad were demigods; they were rich, well-mannered, cultured, benevolent, and generous. Today, they are seen as ignorant, poor, and uncouth. Culture matters, perhaps more than aircraft carriers.
Seven decades separate us from the 1950s when America reached the absolute zenith of its political, economic, military, and cultural dominance to the rather remarkable year that has just ended. In these seven decades, America managed to lose not only its prowess but its very soul.