Why Trump Now? It’s the Empire, Stupid

Source: The Nation

Amid the wreckage of the Iraq War and the Great Recession, he speaks to a constituency that sees the frontier and outward expansion as peril rather than possibility.

Is Donald Trump a fascist? It’s an interesting question that has generated insightful commentary over the past few months, with the best answers situating Trumpian illiberalism within America’s long history of racial oppression, slavery, Jim Crow apartheid, and the ongoing backlash to the loss of white privilege. But a key concept is missing from this discussion: empire. In particular, the way in which the end of the American empire—especially the exhaustion of its two most recent expressions, neoliberal economics and neoconservative militarism—has profoundly transformed its domestic politics.

One of the things that has made America exceptional—compared to other crisis-prone and class-conflicted countries—is that it has long enjoyed a benefit no other modern nation in the world could claim: the ability to engage in ceaseless, endless movement outward.

There have been many other empires, formal and informal. And many countries have something approximating a frontier. But in no other nation has the idea and experience of expansion been so integral to its nationalism: America, even before it its constitution as an independent republic, was conceived in expansion, its settlers exhibiting what Thomas Hobbes called an “insatiable appetite, or Bulimia, of enlarging Dominion.” From frontier settlement to post–Cold War neoliberalism and the drive into the Persian Gulf, there have been many different phases of this expansion. But through it all, the idea of America was predicated on a rejection of limits, on perpetual motion outward, on the seizing of territory, the opening of markets, and the grudging necessity of war to remove obstacles to the opening of markets. According to some tallies, since 1776, the United States has been at war 93 percent of its existence, passing through a mere 21 years of peace.

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