The era of the power and the glory of the United States was the post-World War II era, from 1945 to 1963. It enjoyed unrivaled economic, financial, military, and ideological primacy in the world. Its ascent to this position of hegemony in the neocolonial world-system was established on a foundation of: a lucrative trading relation with the slaveholding Caribbean during the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries; the territorial expansion of the United States through the conquest of indigenous nations and Mexico; the investment of capital, attained through the Caribbean trade, in industry in the North; the lucrative trade relation between the industrial North and slave South during the nineteenth century; the concentration of industry during the second half of the nineteenth century; the development of imperialist policies with respect to Latin America during the twentieth century; investment in the highly profitable auto and steel industries during the twentieth century; the conversion of industry to war industries during World War II; and the move toward a permanent war economy, justified by the Cold War.
Since the 1960s, the United States has experienced an economic decline, such that it no longer has unrivaled dominance. This decline was the result of: excessive military expenditures and consumer spending, beyond the productive capacity of the nation, resulting in trade and state deficits and debts; fiscal irresponsibility in the highest levels of government; and insufficient investment in new forms of production and new products.
The decline of a hegemonic core nation is a normal phenomenon in the history of the modern world-system. The United States in the third nation, following Holland and the United Kingdom, to go through the “cycle of hegemony,” as it has been named by US sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein.
As is evident, the United States cannot return to its former greatness. The conditions that drove its ascent are no longer present, and its current state of relative decline presents major obstacles to a renewal, especially without a structural adjustment based on critical analysis of its decline.
Moreover, the unrealistic call for a return to former greatness occurs at a time in which the world-system is experiencing a profound structural crisis, of which the symptoms are economic stagnation, spiraling financial speculation, wasteful spending on arms and conflicts, political instability, and ecological overstretch. In such a global context, US leaders should not be invoking the impossible task of restoring former greatness; they should be calling for popular support for the new challenge of working with other nations in the development of a world-system that is more politically stable and economically and ecologically sustainable.
The era of US power and glory was also an era in which white men ruled. Whites were a higher percentage of the population in that era; and blacks, Latinos and indigenous nations were confined to their ghettos, barrios, and reservations, without the minimum of political and civil rights. Meanwhile, women were expected to stay in the home, and few women were able to enter many professions. And hardly anyone thought about the needs of nature, or the rights of the formerly colonized nations to sovereignty. Does the slogan seek to tap into emotions that year for a return to such ways of thinking and living?
In a previous post, I expressed my concern for Trump’s tendency to scapegoat immigrants and Muslims, indicating that seeking votes in this way is a sign of an inclination toward fascism in some form. I continue to have this concern, and I see that neo-fascist and ultranationalist groups in the United States and Europe have supported his candidacy and are celebrating his electoral victory. It seems to me that the form of fascism to which Trump is inclined is an ultra-nationalism that includes blacks, Latinos and women, to the extent that they support the program; but excludes illegal immigrants and dismisses the needs of other nations and peoples. Although it may be impractical to construct a wall between the United States and Mexico, I would not be surprised to see the future Trump administration take decisive steps to curb immigration to the United States and to expel illegal immigrants.
The candidate Trump sometimes suggested that the United States should choose its foreign military engagements more intelligently, and that it should expect other nations to assume more responsibility in the defense of the world-system. He perhaps is inclined to seek a degree of disengagement from US military involvement abroad.
The candidate Trump did not seem to have the support of sectors of the corporate elite that normally support the Republican presidential nominee. It may be that Trump is oriented to promotion of the interests of sectors like real estate and retail trade, as against corporations that are integral to the military-industrial complex.
Trump as president cannot govern alone. He would have to arrive to an accommodation with important sectors of the Republican Party, with which he was in conflict during the campaign. It is most likely that the Trump administration will form alliances with sectors of the Right. If such alliances were to stand in tension with the interests of the military-industrial complex, there may emerge a political realignment, in which the Republican Party would become a small town and rural populist party of the Right, allied to corporations in non-military sectors such as construction, real estate, transportation and retail trade; with the Democratic Party standing more clearly in support of urban popular sectors and the largest corporations tied to the military-industrial complex. This at least would have the virtue of clarifying the ideological tendencies of the US public discourse.
As I have said in previous posts, the Left in the United States needs to formulate a clear, historically and globally informed, and politically intelligent alternative, which thus far it has failed to do.
Key words: Trump, presidential elections, campaign slogans, fascism