Above Photo: Michael Vadon
The Fall of the US Empire – And Then What?, published in 2009, has become the best-selling of the TRANSCEND University Press books. With the presidency of Donald Trump, there is renewed interest in the state of the US Empire.
“I hate the US Empire, but I love the US Republic.” For years I have been hearing this mantra from Johan Galtung my dear friend, mentor and colleague. As events unfold, it takes on new meaning.
Johan Galtung is a Norwegian-born citizen of the world, sociologist and mathematician recognized as the ‘founding father’ of peace studies and conflict transformation as a scientific discipline. He is a frequent Nobel Peace Prize nominee, winner of the 1987 Right Livelihood Award–the alternative Nobel–and of the 2017 People’s Nobel Prize. (Here his Acceptance Speech). He has negotiated with many heads of state, inspired the idea of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe – the OSCE, and has helped resolve many conflicts from families to nations to regions.
Johan has made many accurate predictions of world events, including the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Empire, the 1978 Iranian revolution, the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising in China, the economic crises of 1987, 2008 and 2011, and the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
In 2000, Galtung predicted the fall of the US Empire in twenty-five years. During George W. Bush’s presidency, he shortened it by five years, to 2020. Galtung saw Bush as an accelerator, having launched three wars — on terrorism, Afghanistan and Iraq. Following on the 1953 Korean War win and the Viet Nam War lost in 1975. After the Viet Nam War, we were aware that we had a psychological “Viet Nam syndrome.” Some believed we needed a victory to overcome this. The compounding of problematic wars has made us war weary after five major wars with disastrous outcomes, unintended consequences, and unnecessary trauma to many millions of people.
Galtung has made a comparative study of the rise and fall of empires, described in this book. He sees our recent history as consistent with patterns preceding the collapse of empires, noting that the rise and fall of empires has become more rapid in recent times.
The idea of Empire, Galtung points out, is that we get other people to do our killing for us. The fall of the Empire is signaled by the refusal of other parties to kill for us. In past wars, countries were eager to send soldiers to proudly fight with and for us. This willingness has been diminishing.
After Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, President G H W Bush’s foreign policy team easily assembled an unprecedented international coalition including NATO allies and the Middle Eastern countries and coordinated an air campaign in January 1991, which was followed by “Operation Desert Storm.”
By contrast, President George W. Bush, the son, planning to invade Iraq, had a hard time cobbling together a “Coalition of the Willing,” which some called the “Coalition of the Coerced” as countries had to be cajoled with rewards and threats of punishments to go along.
Millions marched in cities around the world on February 15, 2003 attempting to prevent the predictably cataclysmic war on Iraq. The emerging global citizenry came to be known as the “Other Superpower,” as described by my friend and colleague, the late Jonathan Schell in The Nation Magazine, March 27, 2003. Schell said, “What emerges is a portrait of a world in resistance.”
Galtung discerned a formula for predicting the decline and fall of empires, using the concept of contradictions which intensify, synergize and synchronize. He identifies 15 contradictions in the US, described in Chapter 4, accelerated by W. Bush. Likewise, Trump’s behavior in office is further intensifying our contradictions and their synergy.
The US walking out of the Paris Climate Agreement is magnifying several contradictions. It increases the contradiction between the US and the rest of the world, and the US and the UN. Trump’s withdrawal triggered off the “We’re still in movement” of US Mayors, governors, businesses, and citizens who are doubling down on their commitments to the Paris accord. Thus, Trump is also increasing the contradictions between his administration and local governments, businesses, citizenry, responsibility to future generations, nature, and more. By asserting his need for greatness, he is contradicting his legacy as well.
Trump said he is the president of Pittsburg, not Paris. This reveals a cognitive impairment–concrete thinking, poor reality testing, and identifying a name with the thing. The Paris agreement is not about Paris, where the agreement was made, but the entire planet. And Pittsburgh is taking a leading role in the Paris agreement and against Trump’s withdrawal. Trump pitted himself against Paris and Pittsburgh, representing the entire world, not cities–quite a contradiction!
In decertifying the Iran Nuclear Deal–a successful, historic achievement of the multilateral diplomacy–, Trump believes he is asserting US dominance. In addition he is threatening to destroy North Korea and disempowering the Secretary of State while decimating the entire State Department. His imperial actions are, in fact, causing our isolation, destroying our credibility and the possibility that any leaders will ever trust the US as a negotiating partner, while simultaneously provoking nuclear proliferation. Trump is providing a vivid demonstration of the “law of opposites.” He is intensifying the contradictions between and within congress as well.
Now that we are in the age of Trumpism, Galtung wisely states, “Donald Trump proclaims ‘America First;’ he is in fact producing ‘America Last.’ What we need is ‘America Normal.’”
The concept of “America Normal” is a radical idea. We resist the idea of being normal, as it contradicts our DNA and our “deep culture” that Johan writes about. We are preoccupied with an unhealthy, unquestioned need to be special, exceptional, and number one. USA! USA! USA!
The need to be exceptional is experienced by others as obnoxious, arrogant, and offensive. It is also immature, unmindful and disrespectful of other countries’ roles in the world. It provokes hostility against us and creates an unnecessary tension that fuels animosity and conflicts. Being exceptional is also a heavy burden.
As part of the deep culture, exceptionalism filters down to the individual psychology of many Americans. While the idea of being normal is fiercely resisted, it is much healthier and could be a relief. In fact, accepting oneself as a normal part of humanity is a goal in psychotherapy for many Americans raised to need to be special.
Finally, let us take heed of the subtitle, “US Fascism or US Blossoming?” Let us use this warning about the fall of our empire as an opportunity to consciously and intentionally nurture our blossoming and the rise of the US republic. Now, in Nov 2017, following the recent elections of many women, minorities, progressive men, and a transgender candidate, let’s hope this new crop of emerging leaders can be inclusive and reach deeply to address the concerns of those attracted to Trump and the idea of empire, domination, and being number one, which for some involves compensation for feelings of humiliation and manipulated fears. It involves forging our US identity around deeper and higher values. Let’s evolve so that we may enjoy our optimal place in the world as a normal country among nations with extremely important and essential contributions to make in culture, civility, and creating a sustainable society and a livable planet.