Short American century ends abruptly

Congressional GOP toleration of and even support for disgraced President Donald Trump is not a puzzle. Grover Norquist explained it at CPAC five years ago:

“We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go … We just need a president to sign this stuff.”

“This stuff” being tax and regulatory cuts so that people can get ripped off, injured or killed, all in aid of accelerating the redistribution of wealth to the top from everybody else, without any pesky government interference.

Congressional Republicans (including career backbenchers from Nevada Dean Heller and Mark Amodei) know full well that Trump is a liar, a cad, and a flimflam man, an emotionally stunted, horrifyingly dangerous authoritarian whose primary strength — and it is considerable — is an innate talent for challenging “the existence of any authoritative reality.” Congressional Republicans know Trump is supremely “unfit to serve.”

But they’re down with that, because he’s going to “sign this stuff.”

Everybody gets that.

What is slightly more puzzling, though, is the GOP’s willingness to sit idly by as the U.S., probably irrevocably, abandons the world leadership role it has assumed since World War II. Rex Tillerson skipping a NATO meeting while scheduling a Russian one only punctuates a series of interactions — Mexico, Australia, Sweden, China, Germany, UK, etc. — in which Trump has alienated allies, part of a pattern that erodes U.S. influence and threatens to sow chaos. Trump is, at the very least and viewed most charitably, a “useful idiot” for the nation’s adversaries, presiding over the collapse of international structures and global faith in democracy, while aggressively relinquishing the ability of the Unites States do anything about it.

For years, Republicans have solemnly sworn their unfaltering belief in “American exceptionalism.” The U.S. is “the indispensable nation,” not only for its (still) unprecedented military might but also for its championship of ostensibly uncorrupted capitalism and democracy. U.S. values, principles and systems were a model for other nations to admire and emulate, as the world became both more prosperous and more peaceful. That was the idea.

Those same Republicans preferred not to mention lynching and Jim Crow, or the CIA overthrow of democratically elected governments abroad, or corporations (like Tillerson’s former employer) using bribes and other forms of heavy-handed influence to exploit people and resources in developing nations. The right’s version of exceptionalism was as star-spangled and sanitized as the rest of its dumbed-down historical narrative.

But while the U.S. has failed often, and sometimes deplorably, to live up to its constitutional admonition to form a more perfect union, it’s pretty easy to make a case that prosperity and freedom have advanced around the world more since World War II — since the U.S. assumed its role as the world’s dominant power — than during any period in human history. For all its considerable flaws and blindness and ignorance and arrogance, the U.S. has an impressive tale to tell.

And Republicans are freely pissing all that away with nary a peep. Because tax cuts.

Even if the United States had a president who was fit for the office, the world was too big and messy for U.S. hegemony to hold sway as it did for a brief period at the end of the Cold War. Since then, U.S. influence and standing has suffered self-inflicted wounds thanks to asinine military adventurism and knee-jerk market worship that have made most of the current century a shitshow. A few years ago, historian Andrew Bacevich et al. mused about the end of “The Short American Century” in a series of essays that were thoughtful, provocative — and debatable. More prominently, and far less thoughtfully, the American right, including Paul Ryan and Mike Pence, used to warn that Barack Obama was “managing America’s decline” (now they’re hell-bent on mismanaging it). There is nothing new about the idea that the U.S. role in the world would eventually recede. No empire lasts forever.

Still, it is astonishing to witness the end of the United States As We Know It coming about so abruptly, so certainly and with so little comment or concern from the party in power.