As we look back on the last 20 years, it is increasingly likely that future generations will come to accept a bleak truth: that peak United States of America was probably in the 1990s, and we have been on a downward spiral as a country ever since, our republic’s back broken perhaps permanently. Whether that spiral ends up being a terminal one isn’t necessarily inevitable, but the time that we Americans have to right this Titanic is not unlimited. I say this as the truest type of patriot there is: an American by choice, unlike most, who had no country of citizenship until age 10, when I proudly took the oath of allegiance to the United States of America. I write pieces like this to try to shake people awake, so we can all try and correct this steadily rotting country together. The odds we can save this thing? I’m putting them at under 50/50 now. For better or worse, it’s not foreign enemies that will cause our downfall, it is the enemy within. It is us. We are far more of a threat to our own survival than anyone else could ever be.
Just take the high-level roadmap of all that has happened since 2001. It’s been a string of internal and external debacles for Uncle Sam in the rearview mirror, and the outline of how the Great American Experiment might end is coming clear into view. You could argue that Uncle Sam’s luck has just been running real low for a while, but I don’t buy that one damn bit anymore. That’s because all of this failure piling up is almost entirely self-inflicted. Both sides of the political aisle are squarely to blame, as neither party has figured out how to get us out of this hole with a plan, or even a plan to make a plan. So whoever you are: if you care about America at all, check your biases at the door, and stop trying to form a left or right wing narrative about America’s decline. You’ll be wasting your time trying to twist yourself into being right. We will sink or swim as one. Let’s focus on facts as much as possible.
9/11/01 happened, a pretty f**ked-up bookend to the new millennium full of hope for the future, that still gives me nightmares, and one could argue we should blame a group of towel-heads in shit-stained Middle Eastern caves for this debacle instead of ourselves. However, I squarely blame the US government, to whom the taxpayers were providing trillions of dollars in our hard-earned money for national defense, federal law enforcement, and foreign intelligence, only to see the entire embarrassingly overpriced and incompetent apparatus of Keystone Cops fail to detect and thwart the terrorist attack by a ragtag group of religious zealots who formed a brain-dead suicide pact.
I lived in New York City on 9/11, fresh out of college, Class of 2001 with a foreign affairs degree from the best foreign affairs university in the world and my first job in local NYC government. I also grew up for a time in Saudi Arabia, where the massive US troop presence clearly upset enough local Saudis to create a successful groundswell of recruitment for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and various other groups of bad hombres through the 1990s. 9/11 is uniquely personal to me for these reasons.
While playing basketball outdoors in Saudi Arabia during recess inside the US Air Force base where my American school was in 6th grade, amidst Desert Storm, my American classmates and I were at times interrupted by Saudi boys about our age on the other side of the compound fence mocking us and throwing rocks at us, forcing teachers to make us stop playing and go inside. I will never forget that burning feeling of anger and injustice I felt as a 12-year old at the time; why could those local kids interrupt our recreation time with impunity, unlike if I had thrown a rock at my schoolmate? Why couldn’t we act tough and retaliate by throwing rocks right back at them? Of course, I wasn’t thinking about being an unwelcome presence in someone else’s country. The efficient American killing machine in the country at that exact time had surged to 500,000 troops during Desert Storm, to defend the Saudi royals who chose us instead of Osama Bin Laden’s Arab Afghans for the job. We students got to meet many of those American soldiers and pilots, and tour the fighter jets, which was the coolest thing in the world for 12 year old males like me. Today, large contingents of American soldiers and materiel are still in in place to protect our oil interests and the dictator nations who keep the fossil fuel contracts with us in place. I have nothing against the US military, and have coordinated with the defense establishment in different ways during my local government career. However, US leadership should never send troops into harm’s way unless it is absolutely essential to protect US soil. We seem destined to repeat Vietnam, and Afghanistan, and Iraq; whatever comes next led by the endless cycle of fools that make up the US foreign policy establishment and are unable to predict the consequences of any of our obviously morally wrong and ineffective actions.
So naturally, the military/industrial complex screwed up the aftermath of 9/11 something lovely- in fact it is impressive how we did everything so dead wrong from start to finish, despite good intentions by leadership and courageous heart and creativity showed by our warriors. What followed 9/11 was even worse than what happened that morning, a horror movie that would never end. America’s longest war, a so-called War on Terror was launched in Afghanistan in October 2001 by Bush, Cheney, and their chicken-hawk goons who liked to play toy soldiers with other people’s sons and daughters. Inexplicably, we invaded Iraq in March 2003, also supposedly to avenge the events of 9/11 organized by a group of Saudi terrorists and their Saudi financiers. We spent 20 years fighting the wrong people, dying and killing in the wrong countries for the wrong rationale, and pissing away blood and treasure clumsily all over the place, only to seed new terrorists sprouting up all over the Muslim world where they never existed before. Many of us predicted all this in 2003, and we take no pleasure in being right. 20 years and $5 TRILLION [[WITH A T]] later, we accomplished little and whatever we did manage to accomplish, such as taking down Saddam Hussein, has clearly not made us safer than before. The Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, Iranian proxies, and various other terrorist groups seem to be pretty strong and comfy these days, despite the last 20 years of American shelling. They can simply hide and bide their time. Our presence abroad ironically makes terrorism a renewable resource. Meanwhile, the veterans going on tour after tour brutally suffer great losses of life, limb, mental health, broken marriages and families, lost friends, homelessness, and the list goes on. All for what, exactly?
Perhaps pissing away blood and treasure for 20 years wouldn’t be so bad, if our economy was at least booming for the last two decades. It’s been quite the opposite. The burgeoning wealth gap in America between the very few rich and the rest of us has steadily grown, as the middle class has been eroding day by day thanks to most levels of US government being held hostage to religious, firearm, and other business interests out in the open with slave auctions reminiscent of the 1800s. The last few decades witnessed a giant sucking sound as factory and office doors closed to a steady drumbeat of intelligent automation and outsourcing to third world countries. Many American families and businesses were wiped out by the 2008 financial crisis. Health and higher education, the two most important pillars of a thriving society that government should be providing for free, are instead subject to runaway inflation that puts their services more and more out of reach- and crushes the chances for entrepreneurial activity and other forms of career risk-taking our economy needs. All these dark forces will only accelerate from here, which is the ultimate folly of those hoping for a a messiah from either the left (Obama) or the right (Orange Traitor) to fix the economy for us with some sort of magic wand. Meanwhile, China has seen an amazing and steady economic boom during the same period. Whether you agree with their methods or not, the average person is doing better by leaps and bounds in China than at any time in their history, while the Chinese military will soon be able to take ours on and win based on current trajectories.
Speaking of left and right, there has been a complete breakdown in any sense of collective American identity, or common purpose, fueled on by a dying mainstream media looking for a quick buck with 24/7 gladiator mentality entertainment, the Balkanized social media landscape, and a bunch of charlatans who choose to run shows, podcasts, or megachurches full of fake news and dangerous outright lies just for a buck. There is no longer any objective truth in America anymore, no common set of FACTS that a majority of us can agree on without inserting our own feelings and opinions onto it. We hate each other, and each other are the enemy. I too am guilty of this. I hate those powerful right-wingers like Lauren Boebert, Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson, or Kevin McCarthy, and all those who vote for GOP terrorists and traitors like them. I don’t wish these so-called Americans well. But I’m aware that many on the other side hate me just as much for my skin color or opinions, and would prefer that I left this country or died myself. When COVID deniers, Ivermectin pushers, unmasked Trump rally-goers, and anti-vaxxers get sick and die, I feel zero sympathy for them and am just fine with them being buried six feet under, after a healthy dose of pain and suffering. However, if Americans don’t quit looking upon each other as vermin like that, there is no America in the future. If we are more interested in canceling each other rather than having a healthy debate, we will turn into an autocracy. We are definitely headed that way.
Another thing that makes the United States an idea worth fighting for, is democracy. But one could argue that America is not a democracy at all. It may already be a corrupt kleptocracy and we just like to pretend we are a democracy. Gerrymandering, the electoral college, voter suppression, foreign collusion, and dark money mean that the votes of many don’t count at all if they are even allowed to vote. Abusing the concepts of executive privilege and national security are used to cloak unethical and illegal policy deliberations by those in power, in secrecy. Voters’ minds are poisoned with intentional misinformation for profit daily. Spreading out the primary season over many months not only destroys America’s collective mental health for too long, it also gives bizarrely outsized power to mostly snow-white voters in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire to determine presidential nominees for no good reason, except to maintain a corrupt and undemocratic brain-dead system. And now, most of the right wing voters in this country have been convinced by the Orange Traitor that it’s all rigged anyway. Which of course, was not going to end well… nothing is more sacred to democracy than voting, and if half the country continues to distrust the results because they belong to a zombie cult that means more to them than America does, democracy cannot survive. We’ve already gotten a taste.
January 6th, 2021 was even worse than 9/11. In this case, it wasn’t government incompetence preventing a foreign guerrilla attack on the US homeland. No, this was an actual violent domestic terrorist attack organized with intent by the white male supremacist White House itself, against the original temple of democracy itself, the United States Congress. All based on The Big Lie that a free and fair election was rigged, despite the judicial branch weighing in and doing its job to settle the dispute based on the evidence, as they were supposed to. In 2020 and 2021, American democracy barely hung on by a thread. We were a few corrupt judges or election officials away from that thread breaking. This is going to go only one of two ways: either the rebellion started on 1/6 is permanently and effectively squashed very soon by the institutions put in place by the founders of the United States to protect the US Constitution, or it is just the first salvo in a much longer confederacy than we decent American patriots were hoping for. Who knows who will win if that happens. The problem with this potential new civil war is that regardless of how it ends up, many are going to get hurt. The only possible solution in order to save America now, would be for the justice system to follow due process and jail all of the domestic terrorists, all the way up to the terror leaders the Trump family, for the plethora of laws they broke. Nobody should be above the law if America is to survive. At least then we can try to heal like we began to do in 1865.
Speaking of healing, no event leads me to believe that America is likely doomed more than how we handled the COVID-19 pandemic. Amazing progress in creating the vaccines was ruined by too many Americans refusing to take it due to fake news, refusing to mask up, or popping dangerous drugs all in order to make some sort of zombie political statement all the way to their death-bed. They were egged on by a pretend president, too lazy or bored to work on defeating the pandemic, who instead spent his energy on downplaying the disease for re-election purposes. The fact that the most protected human being on the planet got the disease himself, along with thousands of others in his orbit, is all you need to know about how this guy sets an example. So much blood is on his hands. With the abundance of scientific education and information available to us all, with all the top hospitals and clinics and drug companies and university labs and US government health agencies, it was shocking to see America brought to its knees over an entirely containable if not preventable outbreak. This not only caused problems for individual dangerous morons, it weaponized the virus to spread like wildfire, mutate, and ravage a once-mighty global superpower as the economy tanked, the military machine ground to a halt, and hospital ICUs were over-run just like in so many third-world countries- which is what America is becoming. When in June and July 2021 it just about appeared we had the disease licked, it came back with a vengeance as Americans proved how nobody could tread on them or force them to wear a mask or take a shot to protect not only themselves, but their fellow human. Of course, we would need to feel empathy for fellow humans to do that instead of spread conspiracy theories about how it started. Speaking of how it started- how could our multi-trillion dollar US government security apparatus, including biohazard, military, digital and human intelligence all over China and even in Wuhan itself not be able to determine how something that killed 1 million Americans came to be? We trashed an entire region in response to the 3,000 deaths on 9/11. Clearly COVID-19 must join the ranks of 1/6/21 as far worse events for America than 9/11 was and our bumbling federal government took 90 days to write a report that we can’t conclude where the damn virus came from, including the critical mystery of whether this was man-made or not.
However, none of the above will even matter if we don’t solve humanity’s most daunting (and self-inflicted) problem of all: Climate Change. This is a war, and we are clearly losing. America has shamefully renounced the mantle of global leadership on the issue. If that weren’t pathetic enough, we are not only a laggard when it comes to attacking climate change, we are the main cause. Our environmental destruction at mass scale is approaching two centuries, as rapid industrialization in the 1800s started the trend of air and water pollution that will soon wipe us out as a species if we do not correct course. One entire political party in America has decided that this will be the hill they want to die on; that they will ignore the copious amounts of science and data on this matter, the most facts we’ve had in human history and perhaps worse, force us to lose the economic benefits that would follow being the world leader in green technology because they for some reason argue the short-term economic costs of fighting climate change are too high in the off chance it isn’t real, so we should just bury our heads and hope for the best. There is gobs of money to be made in this field. Just ask Elon Musk and Tesla if they are sacrificing profit in order to be the world’s leading green tech company founded right here in America. Meanwhile, using China’s and India’s prolific polluting practices as an excuse not to take on climate change is both hypocritical and illogical. Since when do Americans believe in following the lead of China and India before acting? How is it fair to expect China and India, who didn’t even have much electricity or running water in the 1800s, and whose wealth was being stolen by the British to the tune of trillions of dollars over decades and centuries at the time, be expected to pay the same price when they really began contributing to the greenhouse gas effect in the last 50 years or so? It simply isn’t right to be a whiny little bitch and hide behind China’s kimono on this one, but that’s today’s GOP for you: party above country. The Democrats, on the other hand, may have the right intentions on climate change but completely lack the political muscle and management capacity to do anything about it. With the government effectively out of the picture, apparently American private sector innovation is our only hope. For if we Americans don’t take on the role of Generals in this war against climate change, not only will there be no America, there will be no countries at all as we know the concept.
There is much reason to despair. I often think that there might have been a guy like me during the collapse of Rome, who wrote about how to prevent it from happening in one last exercise in futility. We all know how that one ended. We shall soon find out which way the American experiment wants to go.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor