Pfft Pax Americana?

HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - January 18, 2021 - 12:00am

Sometime back, I posited that the three major faults of the United States are Racism, Wastefulness and Smugness. So much money, material and food are wasted. And many Americans think there is an American solution to all problems.

This week, racism in all its ugliness exploded in Washington, DC, and that symbol of American democracy, the Capitol, was briefly taken over by a mob of Trump supporters. A close profiling of the rioters showed that most of them were not black, Asians or Latin Americans. They were, to use the brand Americans themselves coined, “red necks,” and all of them had gathered in Washington as planned and on purpose, incited by no less than the President of the United States himself.

Had this happened in Asia or the Middle East, it wouldn’t have made such a tremendous global impact, but it happened in the world’s most powerful nation, “the beacon of democracy.” Is this an omen that the signal for American domination of the world and the collapse of America itself is at hand?

What brought this about? Who is Donald Trump, the leader almost singularly responsible for this debacle? Here is a populist leader who understood only too well the frustrations of his people, and he then with splendid demagoguery and blatant lies proceeded to exploit those frustrations for his own personal interest and to preserve his power and his wealth.

One might say this was not possible in a country as modern, civilized and well informed like the United States. But this is not so, the wonder of it all is although all these facts about Donald Trump are not secret in his lies, his business shenanigans – still he was able to win the presidency.

With modern media and his own brand of showmanship, he was able to convince millions to accept his government so that, in the end, what Trump demonstrated is not so much his skills as a politician, but the stupidity of the Americans who believed in him. Trump has damned the American press, but it is the press itself, especially the internet, that made him. He was after all, excellent copy.

American political violence in the past is expressed not so much in racism (lynching, etc.) but in the assassination of political leaders, i.e. Lincoln, McKinley, Kennedy. Why Trump has so far escaped this fate is one of those paradoxes of American politics. Towards the last days of his term, there were doubts about his mental condition – an unhinged leader who holds the button to the atomic bomb. This is the dilemma that hangs over Washington. Why members of his party, particularly in the Senate, have not disowned him is not because of loyalty, so Washington pundits say, but because they were afraid of him, his ruthless demolition of his critics. Trump has come to personify the Machiavellian leader – both loved and feared.

Free nations decay and die when their people lose their will to survive. This demise is often slow and painless. It starts when the leaders lie, and with their lies come corruption, then anarchy, the failure of free institutions, division, even civil war. There is a valiant search for a redeemer who often is the ultimate traitor who brings down the final curtain. Is America in this metastatic stage? I don’t think so.

History has shown that if faced by external threats and dangers or simply external competition, America had bounced back more formidable and triumphant.

To wit: the challenge of Adolf Hitler, of Japan after Pearl Harbor and the Cold War primarily with Russia. These did not diminish American power. On the other hand, these challenges strengthened America into building a powerful economy and the greatest military force in the world. Of course, Russia was defeated in the Cold War, and it was not through the superiority of America arms but because of the internal contradictions in the USSR. As the Russian leader, Boris Yeltsin, told the Americans on the collapse of the Soviet Union, “I pity you because now you have no enemy.”

The last great tragedy that befell the United States was the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001. That was brought about by an external enemy, and again, the United States recovered easily. Today, the major threat to the United States is not China, or the pandemic, but the Americans themselves, their ignorance, their stupidity, the followers of Trump who believe in racism, the corporate billionaires whom Trump favored, who did not pay their taxes and the common Americans who believed that they are victims of immigrants, of creeping socialism.  In other words, America must now face itself with honesty and determination to maintain its paramount position.

The incoming administration of Joe Biden is fortunate to have a Congress that is now dominated by his Party and will, therefore, be able to push forward an agenda that will heal the wounds of a divided nation. It is too soon to conclude that the end of Pax Americana has come. As I said before, America is too big to fail and more than that, because of the composition of its people, is capable of redemption and self-renewal.

What’s happening in the United States is instructive, particularly for us, a former American colony which inherited so many American political institutions and their vocabulary. The short road to dystopia is paved with dulcet populist and nationalist rhetoric; the traffic is free, enhanced by the new technologies particularly today – the internet. But mind you, the politicians will always be with us. If we are to build a just and free society, we must be sure that our leaders will always tell us the truth and we, ourselves, should know the truth as distinct from their lies.

The United States, like the Philippines, is historically a very young nation in the process of becoming. In “free” societies, the people deserve their leaders; sure, we had Rizal, Mabini, Magsaysay and the Americans had Lincoln, Truman; we often compare theirs with ours – today, now, Trump and Duterte. Both are narcissists and populists, but here the similarity stops. Duterte’s earthy verbiage aside, is better. In the end, both are just incidents in each nation’s history. They will end as footnotes – but what footnotes!

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