Has something very important been broken in the world? Is it my imagination, or have we reached a new low in human relations and in our society in general? I’m an historian, and I have spent a long time examining the past. The world today reminds me forcefully of other eras, times when great civilisations and empires came to an ignoble end. It never happened suddenly, in a day, or even a year. Gradually, decay crept in, the ideals which were the foundation of the society were compromised and undermined. It happened to Greece, Rome, Assyria, Egypt, Britain. It is happening to the United States now, and we’ve been witnesses to it for many decades.
We don’t like calling it the American Empire, instead, we refer to the U.S. as a Superpower, dominating the world, not just through military might, but through economic power. Certainly for the last century, the strength of the American economy has underpinned the global economy. But things are changing: the rise of China as an economic powerhouse, the resurgence of the Russian empire under Putin, and the coalition of nations which is the European Union, now rivals the American. That empire has not fallen yet, but it is very sick indeed.
It has been corrupted from the inside, as the people have become divided, politics have become toxic, and the entire edifice of American strength has been rotted away. The past six months of the Trump administration is only the most obvious symptom of this disease. The national traumas of the 1960’s have never been healed. The loss of two Kennedys, Martin Luther King, and the Vietnam War were followed closely by the Watergate saga and the loss of faith in many Americans in their government. Conspiracy theories, the rise of armed militias, appropriation by right-wing politics of evangelicals, Iran-Contra, and so many more scandals has torn the heart out of the American Dream.
Americans were left feeling very vulnerable and uncertain of the world around them, outside and inside their borders. 911 and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan made them even more afraid and suspicious. Far from the inspiring words on the Statue of Liberty: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door”, we now have travel bans, threats of walls between nations, a rejection of everything the country was founded upon. The lamp has almost gone out.
Trump is the symbol of all of this corruption. Ignorant, arrogant, petty and foolish, he is destroying decades of work, bringing into disrepute his country’s reputation and standing. But he didn’t start this: he is simply the inevitable result of the decline of American values and standards, a decline that was almost imperceptible to start with. Imagine if even Nixon had said some of the things Trump did during the campaign: his lewd comments about how he approached women, his claim that he could shoot someone in Times Square and get away with it, so many words that we could hardly believe were coming from a Presidential candidate. No-one would have imagined he could be elected. The lies, the bullying, extends now to his closest staff and family.
The most crude language used by his new Chief of Staff about a colleague would have led to his instant dismissal in previous years. Instead, the target of his attack is the one who lost his job. It gets worse every day.
Why is this important to us? Like it or not, the U.S. has a huge influence on all of us. What happens there today, affects what happens globally tomorrow. When people like Trump and his family and associates act and talk as they do, it can become the new normal. Hate crimes and open statements against religious and social groups have gone up since he ran for office. He has given freedom to racists, bigots and misogynists to speak out loud like they never did before. This is war of a different kind: a war against sanity, compassion, openness and toleration. It is an attack on civilisation itself, and everything countries like ours stand for. It is insidious and subtle in its effects, but it must be exposed and resisted.
We cannot deny that we can be susceptible as much as anywhere else, to this kind of attack. Whatever your political, religious, or social views may be, this is a threat to all of us, and we must stand openly and publicly against it, wherever it raises its ugly head. Or we will face another Dark Age.