Ryan Harvey

ARTIST | WRITER | ACTIVIST

Trump, Clinton and the Illusion of Everlasting US Hegemony

There was plenty to read between the lines in Monday's presidential debate, from how the unsmiling, ultra-masculine persona of Donald Trump reflected his angry, anxious base, to a lack of critique from both sides about the basis for and follow-up to NATO's intervention in Libya.

But looming over the entire conversation -- and indeed, the entire Western world's current political crisis -- is the white noise of fading hegemony. The US is losing its place in the global order, and Europe is coming with it.

This shift is impacting the rise of far-right, fascistic movements both here and across the EU. It is also one of the reasons that the West won't do anything about Syria besides offering limited funding and symbolic support to multiple factions of the opposition. Far from a long-planned conspiracy, it's more of a "throw shit at the wall in the hopes that something sticks" strategy.

Why? Isn't this the "New American Century"?

Rising powers, both at the regional and international level, are filling voids left by the US in its decline. Nowhere is this more acutely felt than in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen; Israel continues incursions into Gaza; Russia plays a central role in the defense of the Syrian regime. Multiple US allies fund various (and often opposing) sides of the Syrian war. All of these moves have been against the wishes of the US, which did not want to see a further escalation in a region where its power had been weakened so much by its defeat in Iraq.

Domestically, populations that have been poised to benefit from long-term US power -- white America, for instance -- are feeling the possibility that they may have to live different lifestyles in the future. Their fear of even slight downward mobility, mixed with their privilege-enhanced expectations, is pushing the agendas of the far right, which has successfully eclipsed traditional conservative ideas with a neofascist agenda that places the US, Austria and the UK first.

Trump admits this relative decline, more or less, when he paints a picture of a US where "everything is bad" and we are "losers." Even the freshly renovated, waterfall and sculpture-filled airports of the US are apparently in "third world" condition to him. Though such a description is a blatant mythology (the US has fairly state-of-the-art airport facilities and a very safe travel record), it may sound like it could be true, to those who think the country is falling apart.

The idea that the country is literally deteriorating backs up Trump's image of an America on the brink of extinction, and justifies the state-of-siege mentality his campaign relies on for its momentum. While its decline as a hegemony is a reality, the inevitable, near-term, catastrophic end of the US itself is a fiction invented by the same folks who deny the existence of climate change and swear that Obama is secretly a Muslim.

However, there are multiple generations now that were raised to believe they would be better off than their parents, and their dreams are being shattered. That belief, reliant on a US that would rule the world for a long time to come, is not standing up to reality. Though generations of administrations have distributed soldiers across the world, built large military bases, and designed trade pacts to solidify economic arrangements that favor US corporations, they no longer see a future in their favor.

Why? Isn't this the "New American Century"?

Rising powers, both at the regional and international level, are filling voids left by the US in its decline. Nowhere is this more acutely felt than in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen; Israel continues incursions into Gaza; Russia plays a central role in the defense of the Syrian regime. Multiple US allies fund various (and often opposing) sides of the Syrian war. All of these moves have been against the wishes of the US, which did not want to see a further escalation in a region where its power had been weakened so much by its defeat in Iraq.

Domestically, populations that have been poised to benefit from long-term US power -- white America, for instance -- are feeling the possibility that they may have to live different lifestyles in the future. Their fear of even slight downward mobility, mixed with their privilege-enhanced expectations, is pushing the agendas of the far right, which has successfully eclipsed traditional conservative ideas with a neofascist agenda that places the US, Austria and the UK first.

Trump admits this relative decline, more or less, when he paints a picture of a US where "everything is bad" and we are "losers." Even the freshly renovated, waterfall and sculpture-filled airports of the US are apparently in "third world" condition to him. Though such a description is a blatant mythology (the US has fairly state-of-the-art airport facilities and a very safe travel record), it may sound like it could be true, to those who think the country is falling apart.

The idea that the country is literally deteriorating backs up Trump's image of an America on the brink of extinction, and justifies the state-of-siege mentality his campaign relies on for its momentum. While its decline as a hegemony is a reality, the inevitable, near-term, catastrophic end of the US itself is a fiction invented by the same folks who deny the existence of climate change and swear that Obama is secretly a Muslim.

However, there are multiple generations now that were raised to believe they would be better off than their parents, and their dreams are being shattered. That belief, reliant on a US that would rule the world for a long time to come, is not standing up to reality. Though generations of administrations have distributed soldiers across the world, built large military bases, and designed trade pacts to solidify economic arrangements that favor US corporations, they no longer see a future in their favor.