Thursday, August 13, 2020

The end of empire

This Rolling Stone article by Wade Davis has been widely shared and lauded on social media - and understandably so.

Admittedly, his blithe dismissal of pandemic-induced global economic apocalypse as mere "financial uncertainty" is hard to stomach, and he also rather unnecessarily plays down other seismic shifts already underway in terms of work and culture in order to make his central claim: that what genuinely marks out the current moment as "a turning point in history" is "the absolutely devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the reputation and international standing of the United States of America".

A contentious claim, perhaps, and one that inadvertently and ironically overstates how important the decline of the US might be to the rest of the world. Yet few could consider the evidence that Davis presents and doubt that what was formerly the most powerful nation on earth has been brought to its knees by coronavirus. The myth of exceptionalism has been destroyed, and all that remains is a failed state, a pitiable victim in need of international aid.

According to Davis, the seeds of the US' downfall have been sown for some time. He deftly links militarism, inequality, social breakdown, the ideology of selfish individualism and more in a cogent explanation of how the country reached this point.

Naturally, Donald Trump is excoriated as "a national disgrace, a demagogue as morally and ethically compromised as a person can be" and later as "a bone spur warrior, a liar and a fraud, a grotesque caricature of a strong man, with the backbone of a bully" (though oddly is contrasted with "the actual tin pot dictators of the world") - but Davis takes pains to point out that the president "is less the cause of America's decline than a product of its descent".

Crucially, "COVID-19 didn't lay America low; it simply revealed what had long been forsaken". And, he suggests, banged a final nail into the coffin.

No comments: