Author:Alexander, Ryan M.

The last few editorial messages have meditated on the apparent disintegration of the United States in the twenty-first century. The list of problems is long and quite frankly depressing. In economic terms, we bear witness to staggering levels of domestic inequality with its twin faces of abject poverty and obscene wealth concentration. We must also determine how to reconstruct an economy built on the weak foundation of unregulated markets, dubious financial instruments, and, above all, extreme debt secured by nonexistent assets. To describe this shaky economic structure, we might borrow from Karl Marx the term fictitious capital. At the global level, the US governments abandonment of longstanding trade agreements and the precarious place of its currency--long recognized as the preferred medium of global exchange but backed since 1971 only by a gradually dwindling supply of confidence--have introduced a level of uncertainty unfamiliar to almost all Americans alive today.

In political terms, the near-total abdication of the United States in matters of global leadership, symbolized by its withdrawal from numerous multilateral accords related to climate change, human rights, and nuclear disarmament, portends disaster. These external changes are coupled with disturbing cultural shifts within the nation's increasingly fortified borders, particularly the growing toleration and even outright embrace of hostility toward populations in the minority of racial or ethnic identities, faith traditions, sexual orientations, and national origins. This disheartening state of affairs did not originate in the last couple of years. Rather, it has set in over decades, as insidiously as cancer, in processes too complex to discuss here. More often than not, both the citizenry at large and the political class that purports to represent it have opted to nurture the disease along rather than attempt to cure it. Now, under the regime of an individual who has upended long-cherished political norms in a remarkably short time, it has reached a level of malignancy that will be difficult to reverse.

There is a growing sense among those who have been critical of US domestic politics and foreign affairs that all of these problems have been a long time coming, that they represent a comeuppance of sorts for an accumulation of injustices committed in the name of American values. Some might even be tempted to root for the failure of the world's lone remaining superpower. There...

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