It’s been almost eight years since Chalmers Johnson died. He was the author of, among other works, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire and Dismantling the Empire. He was also a TomDispatch stalwart and a friend . As I watch the strange destructive dance of Donald Trump and his cohorts, I still regularly find myself wondering: What would Chal think? His acerbic wit and, as a former consultant to the CIA, his deep sense of how the national security state worked provided me with a late education. With no access to my Ouija board, however, the best I can do when it comes to answering such questions is repost his classic final piece for this site on the necessity of dismantling the American empire before it dismantles us. He wrote it in July 2009, convinced that we had long passed from a republic to an empire and were on the downward slide, helped along by what he called a “military Keynesianism” run amok. He saw the Pentagon and our empire of bases abroad as a kind of Ponzi scheme that would, someday, help bankrupt this country.
How fascinated he would have been by the first candidate to ride an escalator into a presidential contest on a singular message of American decline. (“Make American great again!”) And how much more so by the world that candidate is creating as president, intent as he seems to be, in his own bizarre fashion, on dismantling the system of global control the U.S. has built since 1945. At the same time, he seems prepared to finance the U.S. military at levels, which, even for Johnson, would have been eye-popping, while attempting to sell American arms around an embattled planet in a way that could prove unique. What a strange combination of urges Donald Trump represents, as he teeters constantly at the edge of war(“fire and fury like the world has never seen”), more war (“never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before”), and peace in our time. Amid all the strangeness, don’t forget the strangeness of a mainstream media that has gone bonkers covering this president as no one has ever been covered in the history of the universe (something that would undoubtedly have amazed Chal).
Think of what President Trump has launched as the potential imperial misadventure of a lifetime, while checking out Chal’s thoughts from so long ago on a subject that should still be on all our minds.