The American empire is crashing. What will it be like. Let us look at recent precedents.
1 Aug 2020 – The last empire to crash was the Soviet empire 30 years ago. At the time it was led by Mikhail Gorbachev, a man of peace and harmony, its population was not seriously divided or heavily armed, and the army stayed in their barracks. As a result, there was very little physical violence when the empire collapsed, although in the ensuing years there was great economic suffering because of the devaluation of the ruble (by a factor of almost 10,000) and in subsequent years, there were armed conflicts with the Ukraine and Georgia. In the end, the oligarchs (Russian mafia, etc.) and the secret police (Putin had been head of the KGB) consolidated their power.
The American empire is dying in the hands of Donald Trump, and the situation is completely different.
In recent months, we have said that to survive the United States needs the resignation of Trump and a non-violent revolution, but that does not seem to be coming soon. Many city administrations are progressive and progressive Congressional candidates are being nominated, and some elected. However, that, by itself, will not change a system where the electoral process is mostly in the hands of big money. Progressive mayors and Congressional candidates would have to be supported by mass movements in city halls, town meetings and on the streets if the military priorities of American society can be transformed into a new national unity that puts the priorities on racial and economic equality and full employment.
Trump’s campaign was formally endorsed recently (July 16) by the National Rifle Association, which claims over 5 million members, and they are armed, not just with hunting rifles, but often with military-grade weapons designed to kill efficiently large numbers of people. They are mostly white males without higher education, a group that supports Trump according to the polls. I suppose it is safe to assume that they live more in rural areas than in the big cities. With increasing unemployment and impoverishment they are angy against the bankers of New York and the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley who are gaining enormous wealth during this crisis, but they take out their anger on women, Blacks and Hispanics who are more accessible.
The American military, on the other hand, has not agreed with Trump’s attempts to engage it in his support. It is perhaps relevant that the proportion of active military personnel that is Black and Hispanic has been growing, and as of 2017 it was already 43%, not to mention a growing proportion of women. Their families are more urban than rural.
The Trump presidency has made racism a major tactic in its campaign strategy for re-election. And while Trump is trailing in the polls, there are serious suggestions circulating that he and his supporters may refuse to accept an election result that is not in his favor.
Meanwhile, the rate of unemployment and families being thrown into poverty has reached proportions in the United States not seen since the 1930’s, and it seems likely to grow further, given the continued need for shutdowns to counter the coronavirus epidemic.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, it reverted to its constituent republics where there were relatively unified cultures, nurtured over the decades by Soviet support for cultural development. There is no such history of culturally uniform states and regions in the United States. One suggestion, that of Johan Galtung, is that there will be an East-West divide with the West Coast linking to Asia and the East Coast linking to Europe. But Galtung does not consider what will happen with the rest of the country, the South and the Middle West. It is there that we may expect the greatest risk of violence, rural versus urban.
A civil war would be bloody, but hopefully not to the extent of the first American Civil War in the 1860’s when tens of thousands were slaughtered in terrible battles between two distinct armies.
Perhaps more relevant that the crash of the Soviet Empire was the crash of Syria. When a revolt broke out against the government, the Syrian military split with some supporting the government and some going to the opposition. The civil war was especially bloody because of external interventions. The opposition received major support, though covert, from the United States and several Arab States, while the government received support from the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran and Russia.
Unlike Syria, it seems less likely that an American civil war at this moment will receive much external intervention, and it is more likely that it will be decided by the balance of forces in the US. The need for a nonviolent revolution would then become more evident than ever.
What would be the effects in the rest of the world in the face of an American civil war? Would it reinforce the idea and make possible the reformation of the United Nations into a force for the culture of peace? Or would it look more like the 1930’s with the rise of fascist governments and the threat of another World War? We are at a turning point in human history!
Dr. David Adams is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment and coordinator of the Culture of Peace News Network. He retired in 2001 from UNESCO where he was the Director of the Unit for the UN International Year for the Culture of Peace. Previously, at Yale and Wesleyan Universities, he was a specialist on the brain mechanisms of aggressive behavior, the history of the culture of war, and the psychology of peace activists, and he helped to develop and publicize the Seville Statement on Violence. Send him an email.