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In April 2016, with Donald Trump showing remarkable staying power in the presidential campaign, I started thinking about the slogan adorning his product line, the one that he had tried to trademark as early as November 2012 (only days after Mitt Romney lost the presidency), the one that became a crucial punch line at his rallies (along with, of course, the Wall and who would pay for it), and that now is at the heart of his presidency: “Make America Great Again.” I wrote then: “With that ‘again,’ Donald Trump crossed a line in American politics that… represented a kind of psychological taboo for politicians of any stripe, of either party, including presidents and potential candidates for that position.” Until Trump, in this tarnished, already aging “new” century of ours, politicians all had to swear fealty to this country as the greatest, most exceptional, most indispensable nation ever and to its fighting forces as the “finest” in history. If there were mantras for the post-9/11 years, those were them, until Donald Trump chucked them all out the nearest window, making himself (though few noted it) the first declinist candidate in — why not stick with hyperbole since it’s The Donald! — our history.
Now, let me quote myself one more time. In October 2016, as the election campaign ground toward its end, I wrote that “a significant part of the white working class,” feeling backed against some wall, seemed ready to send a “literal loose cannon” into the White House. I suspected that they were willing “to take a chance on the roof collapsing, even if it collapses on them.” And I concluded: “The Donald represents, as a friend of mine likes to say, the suicide bomber in us all. And voting for him, among other things, will be an act of nihilism, a mood that fits well with imperial decline.”
Of course, the candidate who pounded the declinist key all those months has occupied the Oval Office and, three and a half weeks in, it’s already clear enough that the situation has “this can’t end well” written all over it. Of course, as with all great imperial powers, this, too, must end. In a sense, you could even say that the U.S. has been on the decline since it emerged from World War II wealthy beyond compare and untouched in a world largely in rubble. Or you could say that, of the two great superpowers of the Cold War, the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 in what seemed like seconds, while the United States, so much wealthier and more powerful, began edging toward the exit ramp wreathed in a sense of triumphalism and proudly proclaiming itself the “sole superpower” of planet Earth.
Now, it looks like a man has been elevated to the White House who truly is a suicide bomber. The question isn’t whether he’ll explode; it’s just who, what, or how much he’ll take down with him in the process. So call this officially the American age of decline and check out TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, who has been watching the initial moments of the Trump era closely, and offers his own unique perspective on what an “America First” president actually has to offer, geopolitically speaking.