[Note for TomDispatch Readers:Reaction to the newly redesigned TomDispatch website (now readable on any of your most modern gadgets) has been super, and I just wanted to offer my deepest appreciation to all those of you I couldn’t thank personally for the incredible end-of-the-year-beginning-of-the-new-year donations you’ve sent in. It’s you who truly keep this site alive and kicking (as long as I’m alive and kicking) in this ever-stranger world of ours. One small glitch to show up at the new site is fixed: you can now print up TDpieces without having the URLs for the links appear in them. Yay! Again, many, many thanks to all of you for your support. It almost literally means the world to me. Tom]
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In 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright first referred to the U.S. as “the indispensable nation.” That, of course, was seven years after the Soviet Union had collapsed and the Cold War had entered the history books. As it happened, it was but one of many self-congratulatory things that American presidents, politicians, and officials would in those years say about this country and its global clout.
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Still, when you think about this planet’s powers, historically speaking, it’s often true that the breaking point for empire tends to catch us off guard. No one in Washington in 1991, for instance, expected the Soviet Union, that other eternal “superpower” on Planet Earth, to suddenly implode, even if today we forget the shock of it all.
In the same way, it might prove all too easy to miss the moment when this indispensable nation of ours becomes an all-too-dispensable one. In fact, if on January 6, 2020, someone had whispered in your ear an accurate description of how this country, still then considered the wealthiest, most powerful, one-of-a-kind superpower ever, would mishandle the arrival of the coronavirus (and become a pandemic empire, catching the worst case of Covid-19 on the planet), you wouldn’t have believed it, would you? And a year and almost 400,000 dead Americans later, you might still not have believed that Tony Gonzales, a Texas Republican congressman and former military man, would be trying to barricade the doors to the chamber of the House of Representatives as Trumpian rioters, some armed, some sporting Confederate flags, grew ever closer, while thinking: “Wow, wouldn’t this be something. I fight in Iraq and Afghanistan just to be killed in the House of Representatives.”
At this point, there’s no way of knowing for sure if we Americans are now experiencing firsthand our increasing dispensability, but take a breath and let TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon whisper some thoughts on where the former “lone superpower” of this planet might be heading in 2021. Tom
The Rubble of Empire
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How can you tell when your empire is crumbling? Some signs are actually visible from my own front window here in San Francisco.
Directly across the street, I can see a collection of tarps and poles (along with one of my own garbage cans) that were used to construct a makeshift home on the sidewalk. Beside that edifice stands a wooden cross decorated with a string of white Christmas lights and a red ribbon -- a memorial to the woman who built that structure and died inside it earlier this week. We don’t know -- and probably never will -- what killed her: the pandemic raging across California? A heart attack? An overdose of heroin or fentanyl?