“Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.”
When I set my foot on the marvel that is America in the Summer of 2001, who could have thought that barely two decades later, one would sit here and write how the behemoth that is the American empire, the architect of our modern world, is unraveling before our very eyes. Ronald Reagan’s shining city on the hill is no more. Today, traitors masquerading as politicians have sold to special interest, the soul of a great nation. The charlatans walk around with blood in their hands, defecating on the steps of the Capitol while conflating greed with national interest.
The period from 1870–1910 saw the United States make the leap from a largely agrarian society to become a leading industrial power. It was in the aftermath of the Second World War however, that America successfully became a globe-spanning empire. Following the war, the overarching goal was to build a military coalition with allies in impoverished Europe, capable of containing the old USSR and the Eastern Bloc as well as a push for solid economic and financial system to ensure sustained prosperity. Reveling in her new role as a superpower, America conquered science and unleashed disruptive technologies and innovation. She increased her population and gained new territories ceded by Mexico (New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas and Western Colorado) and Spain (Puerto Rico, Guam). She also bought Louisiana from France and annexed Hawaii, a group of volcanic islands in the central Pacific Ocean.
At the turn of the century, the likes of Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt helped formulate the concept of the American Dream. These were men that came from modest beginnings but went on to build business empires, created automobiles, the modern financial system and developed railroad models for the future. Of course, not to downplay the impact of trans-Atlantic slave trade in building the great American empire. The footprints could be seen everywhere, ranging from the stupendous fortunes accumulated by many prominent slave-owning families and in national historical landmarks. Former First Lady, Michelle Obama would often talk about “The house that slaves built” when referring to the White House.
Today, whether it’s the modern assembly line that delivers automobiles to individual homes, advances in air travel or the World Wide Web, there is hardly any serious technological invention in the last century without America’s imprimatur.
Even with all her prosperity, a huge part of America’s unique identity is to be found in how she eagerly embraced diversity and her ability to attract talents of all races and ethnicity and from all over the globe. If you are good, America cheerfully opened her wide arms. Modern democracy would also be one of her biggest export to the civilised world.
America’s model of democracy is a system where the majority rule but the minority’s right is to be fully protected under the law. It is a provision permanently etched in the mind of “We the People”. In fact, it could be said to be the common thread that binds this cultural mosaic together for more than three centuries. Over the years, successive generations of Americans have worked very hard to keep the faith and protect this hallowed legacy, almost with cultic devotion.
In trying to answer the question why Muslim immigrant are less prone to terrorism in America than in Europe, a 2007 Pew survey found that most in Europe were more likely to think of themselves as Muslims first compared to more than half who saw themselves as Americans first. Fact is, integration, a strong sense of justice and the pursuit of the American Dream are a huge part of what brings all closer as one large family.
America has always lived with the ignominious sin of slavery and burdened by the perennial struggle for social justice for her minority populations. It is worthy to note however, that with all her shortcoming, the United States has made quite some progress in many areas of social justice. We should not forget that when the founding fathers wrote the preamble to the constitution, African-Americans were not even included in “We the people”. It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed by President Lyndon Johnson that Blacks were finally guaranteed their voting rights. In less than half a century thereafter, America would witness the inauguration of her first black president. It was so surreal and many believed then that the country was at the highest point of racial integration.
Fast forward today and few years after that historic event. It is very sad to imagine where America is as a nation, in terms of race relations. This country of flag-waving patriots is today so deeply divided in a lot of ways; Democrats versus Republicans, the Police versus the Black community, Pro-gun control versus Gun right activists. The elected officials can’t seem to agree on the most basic and commonsense legislation to curb gun violence even as her citizens continue to pay the ultimate price. One group only listen to the other side, just enough to give a nice rebuttal, rather than making any genuine effort to understand each other. The division is so toxic that the system at this point is seriously crippled. How in the world did this happen?
When a system designed to protect every citizen within the State falls short, people lose faith. The unwritten social contract that reciprocates justice and fairness with allegiance to the flag gets broken. Even politics begins to emphasise that narrative of we versus them and could be seen chipping away on the nobler calling of love for country. The fall out is the awakening of sectional and ethno-cultural consciousness, a natural enemy of the State. Whether it be Black Panther or Black Lives Matters Movement, the prevailing social circumstances that birthed those philosophies are similar and the ripple effect is often devastating to the health of the republic.
Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling etc., countless viral videos of police officers killing unarmed black men and evading justice, sowed the seed of distrust for authority figures in the African-American communities. It also sparked a lot of racial tension between blacks and whites. American blacks feel unprotected by the law of their country, having constantly witnessed the unnecessary death of too many of their kind. It’s crippling when even success can’t insulate one from the cold fingers of bigotry. The frustration may sometimes find expression in a reluctant activist taking a knee while reciting The Star-Spangled Banner.
One may be tempted to over-simplify the problem and view the cause of the division only through the prism of racial injustice. The implication would be to ignore other monumental problems such as a broken political system. A system where elected officials only cater to the base who will decide on their re-election instead of what is good for the country is inimical to the inner workings of a representative democracy. That such system gives a free reign to a talk show host whose entire career is built on shamelessly peddling conspiracy theories, spewing alternative facts and trafficking in bigotry is a big shame. We would be ignoring the repercussions of gerrymandering, overt and covert disenfranchisement efforts and the dangerous effects of corporate money and lobbyists in the body politic. We may also run the risk of ignoring some very poor in the white communities who look at blacks and immigrants as foes.
“I had a GREAT call with my all-time favourite POTUS, President Trump!“ was how Marjorie Taylor Greene, the loony freshmen congresswoman from Georgia enthusiastically tweeted to the world, following her conversation with the former president. That this QAnon apologist who revels in the most sickening conspiracy theories, would tie her survival to flashing her credential as a bona fide Trumpist, tells you all you need to know about America’s ugly metamorphosis. Even the Republican House leadership who just within the past week or so chastised Trump for his ignominious role in the capitol insurrection, just made it back from an all-important pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago.
How in the world did a district in America, choose a 9/11 denier who had once suggested the execution of Speaker Pelosi for treason, as the best candidate to represent her interest in the United States Congress? Once upon a time, it used to be that Americans from both sides of the isle would not touch such toxic and immoral figures, even with a ten-foot pole. Not anymore. That same America is now starting to look like a nation of Indigenous tribesmen with irreconcilable sets of values.
“The greatness of America lies not in being the most enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”
Those were the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, a French diplomat and author of a popular work, Democracy in America. He made the observation following extensive travels in the US in the early 1800’s. If only those words were to ring true today!
Now is the time for every American to sit back, take a moment and ask some hard questions. It may start by standing up for justice whenever it’s observed in the breach, no matter who is involved. It may as well be that the people have to begin the discussion on term limits for political office holders and revisit campaign finance reforms. America has to invest more on education and literacy and promote diversity Programmes in her society. America’s demographics is fast changing and is constantly challenging the old order. While one can’t pretend to have all the answer, I do know for sure that this is not the America, Americans desire.
Before America, was the ancient Roman, Greek and British empires whose relics now lay in ruins. It is left for this generation of Americans to make a solemn pledge, put aside all differences and work together. Americans need to individually make a commitment to look at the bigger picture and carry this dream forward at least for the sake of the future generation. Without that, we may as well be in the last days of the great American empire. Sure enough, the world is standing ready to usher in the Chinese century and will not hesitate to once again sing Nunc Dimittis to the old republic.
“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we lose our freedoms it will be because we have destroyed ourselves from within.” -Abraham Lincoln
•Dr. Agbo, a public affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Centre for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project.