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William Astore, An Iron Curtain Has Descended on America

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Decline. It’s a word that hasn’t been much in the American vocabulary, though, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, historian, and TomDispatch regular William Astore suggests today, it certainly should have been. In fact, you could argue that we’re talking about 30-plus years of all-American decline, during much of which, after the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, American politicians continued to hail this country as the planet’s “last” or “sole superpower.” That it, like the Soviet Union, was headed for the imperial exit ramp, even if ever so slowly, seemed inconceivable.

That pace, of course, would only speed up with the launching of the war on terror and the disastrous conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. And yet, even then, triumphalism remained the note of the day in Washington, as this country poured ever more tax dollars into the Pentagon budget (a phenomenon that even the debt-ceiling dispute has hardly affected).

But don’t think that nobody noticed. To my mind, the most striking thing about Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign was the slogan that’s become such an acronym (MAGA) that no one even thinks about what it stands for anymore. Trump, I suspect, won that year in large part because of that slogan, Make America Great Again! (yes, with that very exclamation point attached!), which caught the mood of all too many Americans, even if no other politician would then admit that America was no longer “great.”

As I wrote in April 2016 in a piece I headlined “Has the American Age of Decline Begun?”:

“With that ‘again,’ Donald Trump crossed a line in American politics that… represented a kind of psychological taboo for politicians of any stripe, of either party, including presidents and potential candidates for that position. He is the first American leader or potential leader of recent times not to feel the need or obligation to insist that the United States, the ‘sole’ superpower of Planet Earth, is an ‘exceptional’ nation, an ‘indispensable’ country… Donald Trump, in other words, is the first person to run openly and without apology on a platform of American decline.”

Now, after his own decline, he’s once again running for president, this time under the unspoken slogan MTGA! (Make Trump Great Again!). With that in mind, let Astore bring us up to date on just where on the downhill slope this increasingly chaotic country now finds itself. Tom

Clinging Bitterly to Guns and Religion

The End Stage of American Empire

All around us things are falling apart. Collectively, Americans are experiencing national and imperial decline. Can America save itself? Is this country, as presently constituted, even worth saving?

For me, that last question is radical indeed. From my early years, I believed deeply in the idea of America. I knew this country wasn't perfect, of course, not even close. Long before the 1619 Project, I was aware of the “original sin” of slavery and how central it was to our history. I also knew about the genocide of Native Americans. (As a teenager, my favorite movie -- and so it remains -- was Little Big Man, which pulled no punches when it came to the white man and his insatiably murderous greed.)

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Jane Braxton Little, Climate Migrants in a Hell on Earth

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Uh-oh, my city’s sinking. I’m not kidding! According to a new study, New York City, my hometown, is all too literally going down, thanks to those vertiginous towers, including the Empire State Building, constructed on land some of which was sandy and is now giving way. All those Manhattan skyscrapers and the like weigh an estimated 1.68 trillion pounds, writes the Guardian‘s Oliver Milman, “roughly equivalent to the weight of 140 million elephants.” And mind you, this is happening at a moment when the seas and oceans globally are both overheating and rising in a disturbing fashion. Since 1950, the waters around my town have risen approximately nine inches (something that became all too apparent when Hurricane Sandy hit it in 2012).

Sooner or later, to put this in the context of Jane Braxton Little’s piece today, some New Yorkers will undoubtedly become climate migrants. And we’ll hardly be alone. This planet is on edge. At one point last year, one-third (yes, you read that right!) of Pakistan was underwater, thanks to floods the likes of which had never been seen before. (And Pakistan wasn’t alone. Just check out Nigeria or Australia if you don’t believe me.)

This year, Canada is experiencing wildfires of an historically unprecedented sort. And none of this, eerily enough, can be considered out of the ordinary anymore. In fact, a new study in Nature Sustainability suggests that, by late in this century, if we human beings don’t get a handle on climate change by truly bringing the fossil-fuelization of this planet under control, up to one-third of us could find ourselves living outside what its authors call the “human climate niche” — that is, in areas where human life could be unsustainable. Imagine that.

No wonder some experts are already suggesting that, in the decades to come, the climate emergency could turn more than a billion of us into migrants on a planet becoming too hot to bear. My old friend and TomDispatch regular Braxton Little has already experienced this reality in an up close and personal fashion. As she wrote in her first piece for this site, she found herself a climate refugee when most of her town in northern California burned to the ground in the devastating Dixie fire of 2021. With that in mind, let her introduce you to the world of climate migrants that could someday simply be the world for all too many of us. Tom

Looking for Home in an Overheating World

If Emissions Continue, Will We All Be Migrants Someday?

Greenville, CA -- Pines and firs parched by a three-year drought had been burning for days on a ridge 1,000 feet above my remote mountain town. On August 4, 2021, the flames suddenly flared into a heat so intense it formed a molten cloud the color of bruised flesh. As that sinister cumulus rose above an oval-shaped reservoir, it collapsed, sending red-hot embers down the steep slopes toward Greenville in a storm of torched trees and exploding shrubs. It took less than 30 minutes for the Dixie fire to transform my town’s tarnished Gold Rush charm into a heap of smoldering hand-hewn timbers and century-old brick walls.

Minutes earlier, the last of the nearly 1,000 residents had bolted, some in shirts singed by flames. We fled with what belongings we could take in the face of a fire few believed would ever destroy our town. I was among the evacuees, escaping with a hastily assembled truckload of journals and notebooks, shoes and shovels, laptops and passports. We scattered in the sort of desperate diaspora that has become ever more common in towns like ours across the West.

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Andrew Bacevich, Seduced by War — Yet Again

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Let me just express my concern about the war in Ukraine by wondering what “victory” might actually mean for the Ukrainians. Let’s assume for a moment that the coming, much-publicized Ukrainian counteroffensive will indeed punch serious holes in the lines of a battered and demoralized Russian military and that Ukrainian forces won’t just bloodily win back significant parts of their territory (even, say, endangering the Russian position in Crimea), but cause that country’s military to begin to collapse. Think of such developments as something like the ultimate victory scenario (or perhaps dream) of both Kyiv and Washington.

My own worry is that, should such a thing happen — and I’m not faintly predicting it — how might Russian President Vladimir Putin respond? We’re talking about the leader of one of the two most over-armed nuclear powers on the planet who has, in these months, implicitly threatened to use tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield, even if a Ukrainian nuclear plant doesn’t go up in smoke in the fighting to come.

It’s been more than three-quarters of a century since such weaponry was used twice to utterly devastating effect to end a war, a period in which the great powers have nuclearized on an almost unimaginable scale. Worse yet, in recent years, all the nuclear agreements between the U.S. and Russia, the two countries with 90% of the planet’s nuclear weapons, have essentially been canceled, even as both of those powers continue to “modernize” their arsenals to the tune of trillions of dollars. Now, we find ourselves at a moment when a future “victory” for Kyiv could, depending on how Putin responds, be a historic catastrophe for Ukrainians, Russians, and the rest of the world with the possible introduction of such weaponry on a European battlefield. It’s both hard to imagine and all too conceivable.

But as TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author most recently of On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century, points out today, Joe Biden’s Washington is all too ready to take a chance on just such a future, rather than focusing on how to bring peace to a Europe in ever greater chaos. Tom

The Compulsion to Intervene

Why Washington Underwrites Violence in Ukraine

Allow me to come clean: I worry every time Max Boot vents enthusiastically about a prospective military action. Whenever that Washington Post columnist professes optimism about some upcoming bloodletting, misfortune tends to follow. And as it happens, he's positively bullish about the prospect of Ukraine handing Russia a decisive defeat in its upcoming, widely anticipated, sure-to-happen-any-day-now spring counteroffensive.

In a recent column reported from the Ukrainian capital -- headline: “I was just in Kyiv under fire” -- Boot writes that actual signs of war there are few. Something akin to normalcy prevails and the mood is remarkably upbeat. With the front “only [his word!] about 360 miles away,” Kyiv is a “bustling, vibrant metropolis with traffic jams and crowded bars and restaurants.” Better yet, most of the residents who fled that city when the Russians invaded in February 2022 have since returned home.

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