There are countries accustomed to detest America, others admire it, still others fear it. Sometimes at the same time. But feeling sorry for America is a relatively rare feeling.
It is a reflection that can arise from observing the scenes of protest and violence in the US, Europe and elsewhere, following the barbaric killing of George Floyd. At first it all seemed terrifying. The traits that a 40-year-old like me has learned from childhood, the optimism, the charm and the American informality vanished into the thin air of the guerrilla. The decline of the US seems a more than plausible prospect.
Echoes returned from time to time, first in my history books, then on my TV, now on a monitor screen. Korea, Vietnam. On 11 September, the G8 in Genoa. Richard Nixon, Donald Trump. Periodic images that fight with the myths of the American dream, of the land of the free and of opportunities.
A detachment that only apparently arises from moral or political considerations. The real spark which the rest follows, however, is instinct, aesthetics. Politics is just the shell that packs the US decline.
The reasons for anti-Americanism
A feeling that comes from what is seen, sometimes really clearly, under the exterior patina of this country. A lethal mixture of injustice, hypocrisy, racism and ugliness. In this case even more evident, because it is represented in the "home" scenario.
It is not a question of contesting the abuses or abuses of some militia in distant countries or of different cultures. It's about seeing clearly everything you really don't like. The abuses of a police state. The reckless unconscious indifference of the common citizen. The creeping racism that penetrates all the ganglia of society. The obsessive hypocrisy of the politically correct that breaks down the form and leaves the substance standing.
It then becomes easy to blame the USA, to give voice to the prejudices that this country has never tried too hard to prevent, prejudices about its miseries that serve to cover ours too, those of the "Western world".
If it's aesthetics that matters, the United States today simply doesn't even remotely resemble the country that the rest of us should aspire to, envy, or replicate.
Dawn of the Dragon
“My” American myth was born from the consideration that whatever moral or strategic challenge the US faced, there was a feeling that its political vivacity matched its economic and military power. That the US democratic system and culture were so deeply rooted that it could always regenerate.
Now something seems to change. America looks bogged down. A new power has emerged on the world stage to challenge American supremacy, China, with a weapon that the Soviet Union has never possessed: economic power.
China, unlike the USSR, offers an image of growing wealth, vitality and technological progress (although not yet at the level of the USA), however, protecting itself with linguistic and cultural distances from the West. America is instead a sort of "Modern Family", like that of the homonymous series. A little family full of defects, ideas and contradictions, which shows everyone its strengths and weaknesses. Today, from the outside, it looks like this strange, dysfunctional but very successful family is collapsing. Its merits are no longer enough to prevent its defects from causing its decline, with associated risks even civil war.
The USA as a collective drama
America, unique among nations, lives the agony of this existential struggle in the company of all of us. American drama quickly becomes our drama. In the weeks following the Minneapolis incidents, protesters protested in support of Black Lives Matter in London, Berlin, Paris, Rome and elsewhere. Countries where the police are much less militarized and the weapons have one very low diffusion compared to the USA. The USA continues to have an extraordinary cultural hold on the rest of the western world.
The racial issue has mixed with other national grievances creating a confused picture. Protests in Bristol brought down the statue of an old slave trader. London targeted Winston Churchill, in Milan they smeared the statue of Indro Montanelli.
For the US, this cultural domination is a double-edged sword. It fascinates talents from all over the world, welcomes them to study and build careers, rejuvenates itself thanks to the "brains" of other countries. But this domination comes at a cost: it amplifies everything, good and bad. Today, the ugliness that is on display is amplified and multiplied, even by the leadership.
Is it Trump's fault?
Street protests, the explosion of civil and class conflicts, institutional failures in the management of a pandemic, and above all the extreme polarization of irreconcilable partisans. It all happens in the last year of the first term of the most chaotic, hated and disrespectful president in modern American history.
Of course, not everything can be attributed to Trump. The tycoon is in part heir to trends born earlier, at least since 11 September: “the Donald” however seems to have accelerated them all, and simultaneously.
Ethics or aesthetics?
In summary, then: is the dismay at what comes from the US aesthetic, as I said, or political? Is the US decline aesthetic or political? If it were a question of injustice, it would have to be understood why there were no marches in Europe for the mass incarceration of Uyghur Muslims in China. There is also nothing to support protests in Hong Kong, or against human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, or in Iran. Quite simply, due to the scale of US cultural hegemony, George Floyd's murder and authority response have become metaphors for all that is wrong and unfair in the world. American cultural power has become a boomerang.
Protests are an act of defiance with which the Western world (starting with American citizens themselves) challenges the corrupt values that the whole West has absorbed, and of which the US is simply considered the paradigm.
The King is naked
Were the "American dream" and other clichés suddenly, and perhaps irretrievably, exposed by Trumpian cynicism? The cynical counter-reading actually began with Obama, a cynic himself, Nobel Prize for a nonexistent peace, and culminated in Trump, whose abandonment of the American idea marks a break in world history. But if America no longer believes (and it shows) in its moral superiority, what remains?
There was an abyss with famine, horror and deportations to the Soviet Union. Today there don't seem to be huge differences with Putin's Russia. And with Beijing overseeing the mass surveillance of its citizens and jailing an almost en masse group of ethnic minorities, almost the same can be said of China. The USA like the others. Equal. It was suspected, for many it was obvious, now it is for everyone. And through the mouth of the President himself, who in 2017 replied on TV to a statement like “Putin is a murderer”: “there are many murderers. We have a lot of killers. Do you think our country is so innocent? "
Before, the cynical idea that all societies were corrupt and self-centered had been rejected outright by the US. Today, international relations do not rely on values, but on currency. Stop. End of power, ideals and history.
Trump's presidency is a watershed, however you see it. Not just for the United States. but for the world itself: it is something that cannot be canceled. Once spoken, words cannot be changed; the images that are displayed cannot be invisible.
Trump himself is an expression of American decline
During him, after him, the flood. Still represented by him, if he wins again in the next Presidential elections, or by Biden, a septuagenarian supported by transversal powers no less hypocritical, who must be protected from the crowd because he is among the most vulnerable categories to the virus. The future projection of the USA is not encouraging.
And the idea that these demonstrations are the premise, if not the reflection, of a US decline, a blank slate, strengthens given the period. Covid has reinforced this exact concept in many: nothing will be the same as before.
In the XNUMXth century, the Netherlands was the dominant global power. Today they are a successful country, but they have simply lost their power. The collapse of the American Empire is obvious, it is in the figures of history. It has happened for all empires. You just have to try to understand what will replace it, when it will replace it and after what jolt.
And here times may not be so quick. If the US withdraws from its role as the world's only superpower, there is no realistic alternative to its leadership for most of the countries in its orbit.
What comes next
When Trump tore the US out of the Iranian nuclear deal, three major European nations (UK, France and Germany) attempted to keep him alive on their own, with little success. Their combined power relative to the US was irrelevant. In Libya, under OBAMA (not Trump: Obama), UK and France could only intervene in support. Like unreliable teenagers.
The truth is that we live in an American world and will continue to do so, even if the US decline is real, even if American power slowly fades. The Europe that has seen tens of thousands of people listening to Obama speak at the Brandenburg Gate when he was not yet president is the same one that sees tens of thousands of people in the streets despite a global pandemic demanding justice for George Floyd. An international community obsessed with and dominated by America.
If this is a humiliating moment for the US, it is also for Europe. Countries that could break away from American power by evoking the political will to do so prefer to oppose symbolic opposition hoping for a change of leadership.
US decline: all is not lost?
The collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the two blocs were the beginning of the serious problems. And America's most serious problem is that the rest of the world today can see how far the country has fallen short of its scores. It is difficult to contest some of the criticisms leveled at the US: irredeemably racist, excessively ambivalent with poverty and violence, a place of weapons everywhere and brutal police.
Yet this is also a nation that is not Russia or China, as far as Trump can or wants us to believe. In Moscow and Beijing, to begin with, it would not be possible to protest with these numbers and with such vehemence, even if the objectives of the protests are confused. A rapper during a press conference or a protest leader speaking to a crowd of protesters in Minneapolis seem more skilled, powerful and eloquent speakers than almost all European politicians I can think of.
The same cannot be said of the US president or the democratic candidate who wants to replace him.
Who is without sin
It must be said that although there is evident racism in America, in Europe there are still subtle, deep and pervasive prejudices. European failures may be less obvious but no less prevalent.
Are the opportunities for the success and advancement of ethnic and black minorities in Europe perhaps greater?
Just look at the composition of the European Parliament (or any point of sale, law firm or board of directors) to understand.
In the United States, let's face it, the world sees itself, but in an extreme form: more violent and free, rich and repressed, beautiful and ugly. The truth is, we don't like what we see when we look in the US because we see ourselves.