Is the American empire sunsetting?

Last week, President Biden gave what most commentators said was a “historic speech”, on the anniversary of the January 6th attack on the US Capital. It was a powerful address aimed at reinforcing their increasingly endangered democracy; a democracy that continues to take daily body blows from an aggressive right-wing mob. It may have been his finest moment in the Presidency thus far.

But the malaise started long before last January. We all live in imperfect glass homes, but it has become painfully obvious that US politics and democracy are seriously broken. Indeed, the American family portrait is increasingly angry and mutinous.

When fighting the odds over its storied history, America has always been able to impressively renew itself and overcome its obstacles, and thus sustain its global leadership. During those troubling times, US presidents would regularly caution political leaders to not “bet against America”. And for so long, very few did.

But today’s predicament seems different. The demons run deep, and the US is struggling to navigate this precarious stretch in its national journey.

Too exaggerated, you say? Let’s consider some of the alarm bells that are ringing across the US :

  • An increasingly bitter, divided, and polarized country
  • A political culture that is becoming more extreme, nasty, and gridlocked
  • Institutions constantly under attack
  • The corrosiveness of unlimited big money interests.
  • Contested election results, and voter suppression
  • An inability to put difficult policy issues (ie. abortion, guns, capital punishment, etc.) behind them
  • A country still badly torn by race.
  • A nation turning away more and more immigrants and refugees, contradicting one of the very cornerstones of the “American Dream”
  • People being constantly gunned down in their communities by the easy access to the hundreds of millions of guns — and worse, after every shooting, nothing changes
  • A deadly disconnection between the police and African Americans
  • An economic gap between the ultra-rich and everyone else which is staggering and frightening.
  • And a country, where a healthy slice of the electorate, is prepared to yet again support the second coming of Trump

Frankly, US democracy faces a steep climb.

Moreover, it is hemorrhaging respect around the world. People and nations are no longer assuming on the help, goodwill, and strength of America. Many are reassessing their policies and strategies. American leadership and exceptionalism are on the line.

And that is frightening, because if America is unable to be the world’s locomotive, the so-called leader of the free world, then who?

In his speech, Biden declared that “we’re in a battle for the soul of America”. He’s right, and it’s a battle that can still be won, but only if the forces of democracy mobilize and concretely push back. Nice words alone won’t cut it.

However, this battle is not only about America. The fallout will also severely impact the world, and none more so than Canada. Make no mistake — if the US was to falter, the Canadian “soul” would be threatened. After all, we are the closest to them — physically, socially, culturally, and commercially. As close friends and allies, continued tremors across US society could shake our foundations, if we are unable to adapt.

This great superpower has served as our protector when the world got nasty. For generations, it has been an ingenious society, teeming with industrial, technological, medical, scientific, and cultural breakthroughs, from which we have benefited immensely. A country, that despite its moments of foreign policy hypocrisy, could be counted on defending the causes of liberty and justice around the world. Not perfect, by any means. But indispensable, as they would readily tell us.

That is why it is incumbent on our national government and parliament, to systemically contemplate the far-reaching consequences on Canada, of an American Empire whose sunset may soon be at hand. There has been a recent flurry of thoughtful opinion pieces which have argued for the same. They all have been troubled by what they see and feel. I modestly add my name to that growing list.

In short, our national government must find an appropriate governance vehicle that will not be cumbersome or partisan, that will be inclusive of all federal political parties, that will engage all provinces, and that will include leading experts, not just government officials, from a relevant number of disciplines.

The work of this group must be ongoing and long-term and transcend national election results. And its findings should inform future government actions and policies, so that we are well prepared to defend and promote our national prosperity, regardless of what transpires with our friends to the south.

Again, the US is still capable of winning its battle. But, at the same time, history has taught us that all empires have an expiry date.

Yes, it will be extremely delicate to have the discourse that I and others are proposing, when our US friends will be watching and listening. I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for that.

But I also know we run a far greater risk if we remain indifferent to the seismic forces and changes blowing across America.

Photo: iStock