Nearing the end? Sean Munger thinks so. I know we can’t go on like this. This is not the country I’ve always known. We’ve set up a Supreme Court that will answer to no one and is busily destroying our lives. It can’t continue like this. WE can’t continue like this. Something has to break.
I hope out of this fiasco something good will emerge. As things currently stand, I don’t see how we can continue. I can’t even pretend “everything is going to be okay.” It’s not okay. Not even close.
What do you think?
If this past disastrous week has demonstrated one thing, it’s this: we can’t live like this for very much longer.
God knows I did not want to write this article because by its very nature it sounds “shrill” and “alarmist.” But screw that. What seemed unthinkable only a few short years ago now seems not only inevitable, but imminent: the end of the United States of America as we’ve known it for the past 250 years. Once you strip away the blinders of American exceptionalism, it all becomes so clear: we’re in the late stages of collapse as a society and a political entity, and soon the end will be upon us. It has to do with our toxic politics, and the built-in life span of empires, and the great forces of history that I probably talk too much about, but what makes me so sure of it is a much more intangible and fundamental feeling: that we just can’t live like this for much longer.
This past week has been rough. The Supreme Court, now an insular junta of far-right wing ideologues, has proclaimed not merely the end of personal liberty, privacy and choice in America (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization), but has also prohibited the U.S. government from doing anything substantive to control global warming (West Virginia v. EPA) and the most tragic scourge of our deeply sick society, routine gun massacres of children (NY State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen). Then there was also the bombshell testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson at the January 6 hearings, clearly demonstrating that defeated former President Donald Trump sought to foment an extralegal coup to abrogate the 2020 election and remain in power by violence. Any one of these developments would be a significant milestone on the road to revolution and/or civil war in the United States. All three coming at once gives the unavoidable impression that our collapse is accelerating rapidly.
I’ve been reading a lot lately about the final sectional crisis over slavery that brought on the Civil War, the highly fraught period from about mid-1859 to the spring of 1861 when the war finally came. There was then a sense among Americans that everything was headed for a crisis, that some sort of rupture or split over slavery was inevitable, and that the nation’s political and social construction was spinning out of control. You can see this sentiment in the writings of New York diarist George Templeton Strong or other first-person accounts. There was a feeling of gloom and impending disaster everywhere, even as people ostensibly went about their businesses: Wall Street was still open for trading, fancy balls were still filling the drawing rooms of secessionist Charleston, and parents were buying presents for their children during the Christmas season of 1860, as Southern states started seceding in the wake of Lincoln’s election victory. It was a mean, scary and fraught time.
Nowhere in fiction have I seen the collective mood of this time portrayed better, in an emotional sense, than in John Jakes’s sprawling 1982 novel North & South, which was most famous for being the source material of a classic TV miniseries. The novel chronicles the contacts between two families, one from Pennsylvania, one from South Carolina, who become intertwined with one another through friendships, romances and business deals in the 20 years leading up to the Civil War. In the final portion of the book, which takes place on the eve of the war, all of these relationships are severely strained and some broken. The sense of the nation splitting apart, on an emotional and personal level, is the key value of this book, which is otherwise a fairly unremarkable “airport fiction” soap opera. And it is exactly the way I’m feeling now.
When Trump was running for President in 2016, some of the more “alarmist” voices, not all of them on the left, warned strongly that his attaining power might well destroy the constitutional republic. We watched that prophecy come true on the afternoon of January 6, and now that we know even more about it thanks to the hearings and Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony, how close to the brink we came on that day is even more clear. But the thing is, January 6 wasn’t a one-off occurrence. Something like that is going to happen again. We all know it. In state legislatures and Republican Party strategy conference rooms all over the country, authoritarians are planning and erecting the framework to bastardize, spoil and obviate the 2024 Presidential election, and, to the extent they can get the framework in place in the next four months, the 2022 Congressional and gubernatorial elections. Whether their attempt to take over the U.S. government succeeds—personally, I think it will—is immaterial. If they succeed, the left will rise in revolt. If they fail, the right will rise in revolt. Either course leads to significant revolutionary upheaval and probably civil war. Whatever the outcome, I don’t see how the United States, as a polity and a society, survives intact.
Then there’s abortion. It’s not the whole issue, but it’s one of the tips of one of the many wedges that has almost completed the work of splitting the U.S. apart. The right-wing junta on the Supreme Court seems to think that Americans will or should just “learn to live with it” as their constitutional rights are stripped away; at least sexual harasser Clarence Thomas, the Court’s stupidest member, thinks so. The fury that accompanied the leaking of the Dobbs decision in May and the release of the actual decision last week demonstrates that this is absolutely not going to happen. If the Court or the right-wing government that comes to power in 2024 is stupid and foolish enough to try to roll back the legal and social gains that LGBTQ people have made over the past 30 years, such as by overruling the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, revolution will be the virtually instant result—imagine the Stonewall riots on a nationwide scale.
And the gun massacres. With each one of these horrific disasters, caused entirely by right-wing politicians and the gun manufacturer lobbies they serve, you can feel the psychological fabric of our nation tearing even further. They will keep happening because the politicians, the gun manufacturers and the gun fetishists, virtually all of them right-wing Trump acolytes, want them to keep happening. They literally want children to die in large numbers. A society that doesn’t care about its children is, by definition, a society that cannot survive and apparently doesn’t want to. I know of another imperial society that didn’t value the lives of its children: ancient Rome, where deliberate infanticide was one of the major causes of death among children.
When death becomes cheap and casual and killing becomes an everyday occurrence, a society is deep in its final necrotic stage. That’s where we are in the United States in 2022.
And finally, most importantly, there’s global warming. This one is simply not avoidable or negotiable. A government that deliberately prevents its people from addressing the number one existential problem facing them and effectively sentences them to death by climate change, as the United States federal government has done, will be overthrown as a matter of simple survival. I’ve already written about that inevitable revolution; all that remains to be seen is whether it will be preceded by, or perhaps triggered by, a political revolution against right-wing authoritarian rule. If you think women and LGBTQ people will “learn to live with” a regime that actively oppresses them, what contortion of reality do you have to subscribe to in order to believe that people will “learn to live with” the deliberate suicide of their civilization?
John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.” The American government, and particularly the Republican Party, has spent the last few years deliberately making peaceful revolution impossible. They have elected the alternative. The consequences of that choice are on them.
I don’t know what will emerge from the ashes of the American experiment. Possibly there will be two or several nations, probably separated by political orientation; there will be constant warfare between and probably within these nations for as long as they exist, and the process of getting there might resemble the grisly partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 which killed millions of people. I hope that’s not what it looks like, but looking back through history I don’t see a lot of examples of imperial collapse that most Americans in 2022 would choose to have as their future. Most Americans don’t think about this kind of thing at all and have blissfully spent their lives assuming that it’s impossible, because we are, you know, Americans.
Well, history is going to catch up with us in a hurry. We are not immune from its laws. In fact, the gloomy fate of the United States is probably, in the future, going to go down as Exhibit A in the historical list of how empires fall and societies implode.
It’s ugly, but there we are. I have to tell you I take no pleasure in this. I hated writing this article. I hate that I felt I had to write this article. To balance the despair I can only say this: whatever happens to our poor beleaguered country, something good will come out of its passing. Maybe a lot less good than bad, but there will be something, somewhere, that will get better.