There is no doubt. Trump's #InjectDisinfectant to cure coronanvirus is all about the end of an empire. The fact that he could suggest such thing on national TV can only be explained by the absence of a floor to American civilization. It no longer exists. There is no bottom. Presently, we are experiencing a fall that seems to increase in speed with each passing day of this pandemic.
But what exactly is (or was) the American Empire? And, therefore, what exactly has Trump successfully dismantled during his three-and-half-years in office? (What follows are ideas formulated by my incomplete 2019 series: "The American Empire Will Not Survive Trump.")
We know three things for sure. One, American Empire followed the British Empire. Two, it became a reality right after the Second World War. And three, it had two key capitalist allies: Germany and Japan. The former anchored empire in Europe, the latter in Asia. This empire was informal, as Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin wrote in The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire, but it was supported by a national and international institutional system that came together, part by part, during the first half of the 20th century.
In the second half of the 20th century, it was clear to the capitalists around the world that the US alone had, as Panitich and Gindin wrote, "the capacity to play the leading role in the expansion, protection, and reproduction of capitalism." This was the first part of the second half of the 20th century ("the Bretton Woods era"). In the second half (after the Nixon Shock), American capitalism was not only reinforced by Germany and Japan, but packaged, exported, and replicated by almost every state on Earth. And so, we live in a world that has the United States as its image. This is globalization, and also neoliberalism.
Trump has reversed all of this, and he is returning the US to an economic order it has not seen since the period of Alexander Hamilton. His program can only be described as a neo-mercantilism. The British Empire rejected mercantilism as an economic philosophy. In fact, it's two prominent and founding economic thinkers, Adam Smith and David Ricardo, made their names in the rejection of an economic logic that placed state and protected markets at the center of international policy. With mercantilism, the state was in a war of all other states against all other states. Robbery was authorized. Pirates were not stateless. Gold was loved. I win, you lose; I lose, you win. High tariffs were the order of the day. Something like the ghost of this is Trump's doctrine, the new mercantilism.
Mercantilism did not survive the three successive naval wars between the Dutch and Britain. As for the British Empire, it did not survive the two massive and successive world wars of the 20th century. World War I brought the British Empire down to its knees; WWII left the door wide open for the American one. It entered the new order by way of the very thing that the GOP now claims to hate, Big Government.
The US is the first empire in the world with huge state expenditures (35 percent of the GDP) devoted to the management of its population (French philosopher Michel Foucault called this "biopolitics"), and to have a huge part of this population not in poverty (the predominantly white middle class). If you go back to the British Empire, you find a state that spent very little on its subjects, and the absence of anything like a middle class in the American sense.
And now, for my point:
What we have seen over the past three-and-half years is the dismantling of the middle class, no matter its color; the dismantling of the capitalist system of allies (G7 and so on); the dismantling of key institutions of global governance (for example, the US Department of State); and the dismantling of the empire's Cold War-era respect of and reliance on science. No matter how you feel about the American Empire, these features composed its floor. This is what it stood on and ruled the world from. This is now what is gone. Don't drink bleach.