by James Killough
Properly speaking, American Empire is a furniture style, nothing more. There’s always a lot of fretting when we get involved in world policing actions. We are becoming an empire. Or we are already an empire but it is waning. Bret Easton Ellis’s article Notes on Charlie Sheen and The End of Empire is a fun piece of writing and an eccentric take on Sheen, but it’s merely a flight of fancy by a fiction writer. The American Empire is really just a sofa in the Red Room of the White House.
What set me off on this crusade is an article today in The Daily Beast by Peter Beinart, America Doesn’t Matter Any More. This is a rather sensational title for an article that doesn’t really delve into America’s relevance much, other than to muse on our current military strategy in Libya and how Obama is taking a Jeffersonian approach overall to the actions there and in Afghanistan. But the sentiment is implicit in the title. It bemoans our loss of supremacy, and preys on our insecurity that somehow we will lose our position as head of the class with the highest GPA, the perennial valedictorian. Hogwash.
Just the fact that that the world is following our way, however slowly, however painfully, with some measure of consensus, debate, and unity, means that we are succeeding. End of an empire? I would say hooray to that. Nobody wants to be the basically decent boss who makes unpopular, but often necessary and sometimes wrong, decisions, whom everyone professes to despise mainly because he just so happens to be the boss.
In true American fashion, we morph and adapt to a new world order as it emerges, and we are ahead of that emergence because we create it. Our crusty, perfectly coifed senators are nothing more than provincial satraps in the greater scheme of the global stage. Our real power is cultural and economic hegemony, and the instruments of our administration are ever-changing forums like Facebook, or the internet itself.
The 19th century observer Alexis de Toqueville stated that the US was “proceeding along a path to which no limit can be perceived.” I believe this is truer today than ever. If our priority were an empire in the traditional sense, meaning the annexation of other countries, along with taxation and administration, it would have happened by now. Yes, the American eagle is a symbol adopted from the Romans that makes a statement of a certain imperial intent, but intent is different from execution and implementation. True, we’ve made a few rather half-hearted attempts at territorial acquisition with a handful of islands nations: The Philippines were abandoned; Hawaii became a state, brah; Puerto Rico is just sort of sitting there in a pleasant salsa party-party-party limbo that doesn’t cost us much as long as Castro is alive, and with which the Puerto Ricans, with the exception of a very few chronically angry left-ish intellectuals, are perfectly happy.
In the modern era, Empire is a state of mind, at best an etheric thing. As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri write in their book Empire, it is a “new order that envelopes the entire space of civilization.” America is an expanding, amorphous organism that embraces the whole of humanity, as defined by our own innate humanitarianism, not Gaddafi’s, not Saddam Hussein’s, certainly not China’s. It can be seen that some of our recent policing actions are the actions of an old-style imperial state, but in the scheme of things they are likewise just as easily seen as nothing more than crackdowns in a handful of belligerent ghettos.
In Asia, they rather hubristically declare themselves the new superpowers-in-waiting. When I lived in India, it might have been the world’s largest democracy on paper, but it was beyond dysfunctional; rather, as they themselves have learned, it was a nation oppressing itself with a corrupt, nonsensical bureaucracy. Not too long ago, an Indian couldn’t travel abroad with more than $500 in foreign exchange, and the limitations of a foreigner doing business there were onerous. China’s restrictions were worse. As the old socialist ways in those countries crumble with every global enterprise that opens there, another territory is annexed to the new Empire, which is beyond US, beyond a single nation, but which is still led by America and the path we have blazed, the path “to which no limit can be perceived.” Everyone will be, in one way or other, US.
There are those nail-biters who think we might one day become a true empire, with a Caesar like Mama Gaddafi, spawning Augustinian heirs like Baby Saif Gaddafi. Not likely. When I was a Screaming Teen with a rampant messianic complex, I did some semi-serious research as to how one would become absolute ruler of a true American Empire, sofas included. It is virtually impossible. It would involve a massive coup d’etat by the military, which would then need to agree to install me as emperor. Regardless of Julius Caesar’s sexuality, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell fucked that proposal up for me long ago.
And this leads to better news from around the empire: it seems a bi-national gay couple has made some headway against the immigration problems inherent with DOMA, which affects a few thousand Gheys around the nation. A gay Venezuelan/American couple may have won a reprieve against deportation. I cannot imagine how tense it is for a couple when one of them might get deported. The other would have no choice but to follow. If he can’t leave his job or doesn’t see a future for himself in Caracas under loony Hugo Chavez, the relationship is effectively over. The deportee becomes a circumstantial exile. Hopefully, this is that moment in the film when justice finally removes her blindfold and sees the light.
It appears I’m not the only one who wants to see a bullet between Mama Gaddafi’s eyes. Former US ambassador John Bolton is stirring things up in a Palin-ish way by saying Mama should be assassinated. Let me make it clear: regardless of what Mama has done, I don’t advocate assassination. I am a staunch advocate of the repeal of capital punishment. Ambassador Bolton has been accused of being undiplomatic. The way I see it, diplomacy is something conducted between rational parties, even if some of those parties are might be a little fuzzy (cough … Israel …cough!). But you don’t mediate with a rabid bitch. Mama’s sick and frothing at the mouth, period. Thankfully, it seems we are on our way to putting her down. Anyone who misses her can visit a replica at Madame Tussaud’s, in the Scary Room next to Hitler and company.