As Donald Trump takes full control of the American government, there is a feeling that the country has moved both backward in time and forward toward a troubling reckoning. All empires fall, it’s part of the history of civilization. Whether it’s from outside pressures or radical change from within, there is an expiration date on far-flung enterprises that seek to dominate world affairs.
America’s dominant position is changing as both a world power and as a Western propaganda model for constructing a liberal democratic society. The question to ponder is, are we at the precipice of a fundamental shift away from an American-led world order and, if so, what will be the cause behind it? Will it be because the U.S. concedes its international dominance or because the U.S. implodes from internal conflicts that remove it from its hegemonic position?
Over the past 20 years, there have been clear signs that a realignment of the U.S. post-World War II order is at hand: The targeted and successful terrorist attacks in September 2001, followed by two unresolved wars that were not clear U.S. victories; the emergence of China as the soon to be largest economy in the world; the 2008 financial meltdown that was the greatest economic upheaval since the Great Depression; the decades-long steady accumulation of resources to a small uncaring corporate elite; incredible demographic shifts in the United States that have left whites feeling a loss of complete control that crystallized itself in the election of Barack Obama winning the Presidency, twice.
These dizzying events have brought us to a point where tectonic plates are shifting and history is being reshaped. A history that is leading to a less-powerful, inward-looking America that in the next 20 years may cause a civil-war-type rupture that could literally divide the country.
Many think the unilateral position of the U.S. will be most affected by its pulling back from international trade, economic and political ties, thereby reshaping the international order and undoing the U.S. “leadership” position. As the Trump administration seeks to implement its “America First” rhetoric, it is doing so with some caution that is meant more for a U.S. audience than a larger shift in policy. Using less “soft” power diplomacy through a reduced State Department coupled with less international aid (the relatively meager amount it gives), less support for international organizations like the U.N., the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank is not a full withdrawal from international leadership.
America influence will still be extensive with the threat of sanctions and its return toward limited but “hard” power. The U.S. military will be given more leeway to act in American interest, as its ramped up involvement in Yemen and Syria indicate. A bolstered military budget and increase in bombastic “get tough” language on so-called “rogue nations” will take the place of real diplomacy. Western nations will be inclined to support such risky actions because keeping a Western-supported world order is still in their interest.
Even the eventual disengagement (whether formal or not) from the Paris Accords will be met with more rhetoric of displeasure than policy shift away from America. Over the next four years, most of western Europe and allied Asian countries will look to ride out the Trump presidency, hoping for a more stable leader in the next election for president.
The real unraveling of America as we know it will be based on domestic strife. At the core will be the irreversible shift in demographics that is driving a resurgence of open white nationalism as part of mainstream body politic. The idea of white racial control has never gone dormant, as some would like to believe. Instead, it has been kept in check by liberal control of U.S. social, civil and media institutions that have the capacity to modify behavior. Whatever the shortcoming of liberal ideological thinking, the idea that open racial hostility would have a cost on one’s liberty, career or reputation helped mollify the public behavior of political and economic elites as well as the white working class. Media, business, unions, schools, et al., were careful to preach a racial-tolerance rhetoric that made the harshest forms of racial bigotry a thing to be hidden or to be ashamed of.
Right-leaning politicians would work around this politically correct mandate with “dog whistle” politics to the “silent majority.” The chastising of “welfare queens” and promotion of Black faces to represent criminality and drug taking was enough to get the message across without actual name-calling. More liberal politicians would look to prove to potential white voters that they would stand strong against the always suspected “bad behavior” of the “indolent” Black populace. Making sure each election run for national office would include at least one speech directing Black people to “stop complaining,” “get jobs,” “pull up their pants.” All in a cynical attempt to show how to be tough on Blacks as to offer comfort to whites.
After 40 years, these devices have run their course and the liberal order has come apart. Conservative think tanks and media have reawakened a noncompliant racial temperament among a critical mass, if not outright majority, of whites to shake off accusations of racism and to stop hiding behind euphemisms. It is back in vogue for whites to describe their dislike of Black people and anything that is non-Christian and non-European in origin, while openly expressing their own so-called grievances.
For the majority of the white electorate, it’s clear that the idea of “losing America” is the driving force for this new grievance. Unlike Black people who have been limited in responses to racial oppression by the lack of sheer numbers and resources, white people have not had those constraints. The sense of a collective cultural ownership whites have developed through a partially false but uplifting historical narrative of controlling one’s individual fate makes being “led” or outnumbered by others an inconceivable outcome for the majority of white Americans.
Their solution? Let’s take the county back a few decades. The 1950s is not far enough. Instead, we seem to be entering a period reminiscent of the 1920s, a time when the Klan marched openly in D.C with over 40,000 participants, according to the New York Times, their biggest demonstration ever, with over 200,000 onlookers. The reason for the march was to show support for a proposed law to restrict immigration based on origin and race.
At the time, the Klan was three million strong and buoyed by the recent “The Birth of a Nation” film that portrayed them as the saviors of the American project, one that keeps whites on top and everyone else in their place.
Although mainstream pundits like to suggest that Trump voters are not driven by race, it seems preposterous to suggest otherwise. At the center of American history has always been a promise that whites will keep the best for themselves and control “their” destiny. The two most important establishing events of the nation are wars fought to achieve it (the Revolutionary War) and to keep it that way (the Civil War).
Whites will eventually lose their clear majority in the next 25 years or so, from 63 percent of the total population to under 50 percent, although they will still make up the largest minority in the country. This will continue to lead to a consolidation of white voting trends over time, from the 58 percent that voted for Trump to growing percentages for those politicians who promise to keep whites on top. When these promises can’t be met at the ballet box because the population trends won’t allow it, the white working class and its elite conservative backers will look for other means to keep power. There is no civilian population in the world better armed than white Americans. History in the United States has shown us that retaining power does not just stop at voting, there is a willingness to use other means. From laws and codes restricting the votes of others to riots upon other communities to festive lynchings to war.
The idea that America will reach another moment of racial reckoning seems unlikely to some, particularly liberal elites who have the most to preserve. They’re probably the same people who could not see Donald Trump wining the White House. Once the unthinkable happened, those same pundits boiled it all down to economic anxiety, an anxiety that still has unemployment for the white working class at a historically low point and that still has white wealth far above other racial groups. The white body politic is destined to move away from liberal ideas of equality. Even if those ideas were always more for public consumption than actual implementation, the real drive will be for the retention of power and the keeping of country and resources. Those not prepared to contemplate the dramatic changes this era of American history can bring are shielding their eyes away from the origins of the American project and the desire to return to them.