A little more than 30 years after the collapse of Sovietism, the USA, in its turn, is under threat of disintegration.
“Watch out, America has rabies!” said Jean-Paul Sartre in 1953. In the middle of the Cold War, this phrase condemning the USA, the garantors of democracies’ security, in support of Stalin’s USSR, was a tragic political error. But, in 2020, the statement rings true: a contagious disease is tearing the USA apart and is ending up by destroying their leadership.
A little more than 30 years after the collapse of Sovietism, the USA, in its turn, is under threat of disintegration, proving Tocqueville right when he said that it was not so much military defeats that caused the death of democracies but rather corruption of the institutions by demagogues, and the loss of people’s public-spiritedness because of individualism.
In fact, America is being plagued by four different crises. Firstly, the Covid-19 epidemic has become a Pearl Harbor for healthcare, with some 110,000 fatalities. It is causing a historic recession, marked by an upsurge in unemployment to 45 million in the space of three months, and a fall in GDP estimated at 6.5% for 2020. Secondly, the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis has sparked off race riots and looting in urban centers that recall the violence following on the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. Finally, Donald Trump’s populism is tipping the USA into chaos with his plan to resort to the Insurrection Act of 1807 so as to give the army the job of restoring order in the cities, in disregard of the rule of law and despite opposition from military leaders. More than ever, the president’s strategy consists in dividing America, plunging it into a climate of civil war, and fomenting violence in an attempt to be re-elected in spite of a disastrous track record.
The public health disaster sheds a merciless light on the structural evils that are eating away at the USA, and on Donald Trump’s irresponsibility. His economic policy has overheated the bubble economy and pushed it to its limits, masking the real economy and favoring only the financial markets. The most recent aberration has been the 40% rise on Wall Street since mid-March, whilst not since the 1930s has there been such a risk of a major depression, and the unemployment rate has risen from 3.3% to almost 20%.
The extreme polarization of the decisions made by Donald Trump and the stands he has taken is accelerating the decomposition of the American nation, which has split up into different communities whose only common ground remains the fear and hatred that divides them.
With the increase in violence, in deaths by shooting and in drug use, the endemic racism and latent segregation that African Americans have been subject to since the gaping wound left by slavery, was bound to flare up again. The facts cannot be denied. Blacks make up 13.4% of the population but account for 24% of the 1,098 people killed by police officers in 2019 and 33% of people in prison. Unemployment is twice as high among blacks as in the rest of the population, and their median income is 42% lower than that of white people, whose average total assets are 10 times greater ($171,000 as against $17,150).
Lastly, Donald Trump displays a disdain for the Constitution, the rule of law, education, science and human rights that is undermining the foundations of American democracy and is a rejection of the legacy of the Founding Fathers.
The mechanism of counter-balances is being wiped out by his circumventing Congress and putting pressure on the judicial system, the Fed and the military.
Although weakened by his erratic management of the sanitary and economic crisis, Donald Trump has not yet lost the 2020 presidential elections, notably because Joe Biden is a weak candidate. Whether beaten or re-elected, Trump’s mandate will leave America in ruins and never so divided since the Civil War. For the first time since 1945, America is absent from the international stage in the middle of a major crisis.
Donald Trump may have been right to denounce Beijing’s ambitions to achieve unreasonable power and its totalitarian capitalism, but he has engaged the USA in a suicidal strategy by launching into a new Cold War when the nation is being torn apart and is cut off from its European and Asian allies. This is exactly the opposite of the choices made by Harry Truman when faced by Stalin, and which led to the disintegration of Sovietism in 1989.
“A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan,” said Martin Luther King. By giving in to the poison of populism, the USA is rejecting its history and its values and is putting the survival of democracy in the 21st century at risk.
The first precondition of power is national unity. In 2020, far from “Make American Great Again,” the priority must be to “Make the States of America Unite Again.”
(Column published in Le Figaro, 8th June 2020)