U.S. decline: Three strikes and you’re out?


PHOTO/Daniel Lobo – CC BY 2.0

Although the United States major league baseball season is suspended, the basics of three strikes and you’re out can still be used to describe politics. Three events in the last twenty years raise serious questions about American domination in the post 1945 world. The current pandemic and the insufficient bumbling, if not criminal, response of the Trump administration can be seen as the final strike in U.S. decline.

At the end of Paul Kennedy’s sweeping historical analysis, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, he includes a short chapter on the United States. After describing the downfall of the empires of Spain, France, the Netherlands and Germany, Kennedy includes the U.S. as potentially succumbing to imperial overreach. The book was published in 1987. Two years later the Soviet Union collapsed; the United States became the dominant unipolar, global hegemon.

Kennedy’s pessimistic prediction soon faded off the radar screen. Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man (1992) became the rage. Fukuyama went beyond Henry Luce’s 1941 pronouncement that the 20th century would be the American Century. According to Fukuyama, democracy and capitalism were more than just triumphant in the Cold War; they were the inevitable way all societies would be organized in the future. They were timeless.

It is true that for over fifty years after World War II the U.S. played a singular role militarily, economically politically and culturally. It was the leader of a powerful Western coalition with global outreach. The Soviet Union was a military adversary during the Cold War, but its implosion in 1989 showed Soviet/Communism’s internal deficiencies.

Is it time to revisit Kennedy in 2020? Two decades into the 21st century, is it time to look at what happened after Luce’s American century? (Fukuyama has sufficiently amended his 1992 predictions so that they don’t warrant further comment.)

Three events can be used to show how the fall of the United States is taking place: The attacks of September 11, 2001; the financial crisis of 2008 and the coronavirus pandemic. Each reveal how the American post World War II domination has faded.

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