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The Decline and Fall of the United States

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Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
--Robert Frost

After a speech I gave this past weekend, a young woman asked me whether a failure by the United States to properly surround and intimidate China might result in instability. I explained why I thought the opposite was true. Imagine if China had military bases along the Canadian and Mexican borders with the United States and ships in Bermuda and the Bahamas, Nova Scotia and Vancouver. Would you feel stabilized? Or might you feel something else?

The U.S. empire can continue to see itself as a force for good, doing things that would be unacceptable for anyone else but never to be questioned when performed by the global cop -- that is, it can go on not seeing itself at all, expanding, over-reaching, and collapsing from within. Or it can recognize what it's about, shift priorities, scale back militarism, reverse the concentration of wealth and power, invest in green energy and human needs, and undo the empire a bit sooner but far more beneficially. Collapse is not inevitable. Collapse or redirection is inevitable, and thus far the U.S. government is choosing the path toward the former.

Let's look at a few of the indicators.


The United States bombs nations in the name of democracy, yet has one of the least democratic and least functioning of the states calling themselves democracies. The U.S. has the lowest voter turnout among wealthy, and lower even than many poor, countries. An election is looming for next year with leading contenders from two aristocratic dynasties. The United States does not use national public initiatives or referenda in the way that some countries do, so its low voter turnout (with over 60% of eligible voters choosing not to vote in 2014) matters all the more. The U.S. democracy is also less democratic than other wealthy democracies in terms of its internal functioning, with a single individual able to launch wars.

Low public participation is not the result of satisfaction so much as recognition of corruption, combined with antidemocratic barriers to participating. For years now 75% to 85% of the U.S. public has been saying its government is broken. And clearly a big part of that understanding is related to the system of legalized bribery that funds elections. Approval of Congress has been under 20% and sometimes under 10% for years now. Confidence in Congress is at 7% and falling quickly.

(image by Gallup)
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Recently a man, expecting to lose his job at the very least, landed a little bicycle-helicopter at the U.S. Capitol to try to deliver requests to clean the money out of elections. He cited as his motivation the "collapse of this country." Another man showed up at the U.S. Capitol with a sign reading "Tax the 1%" and proceeded to shoot himself in the head. Polls suggest those are not the only two people who see the problem -- and, it should be noted, the solution.

Of course, the U.S. "democracy" operates in greater and greater secrecy with ever greater powers of surveillance. The World Justice Project ranks the United States below many other nations in these categories: Publicized laws and government data; Right to information; Civic participation; and Complaint mechanisms.

The U.S. government is currently working on ratifying, in secret, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which empowers corporations to overturn laws enacted by the U.S. government.


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A political system dominated by wealth could be democratic if wealth were evenly distributed. Sadly, the United States has a greater disparity of wealth than almost any other nation on earth. Four hundred U.S. billionaires have more money than half the people of the United States combined, and those 400 are celebrated for it rather than shamed. With the United States trailing most nations in income equality, this problem is only getting worse. The 10th wealthiest country on earth per capita doesn't look wealthy when you drive through it. And you do have to drive, with 0 miles of high-speed rail built. And you have to be careful when you drive. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives U.S. infrastructure a D+. Areas of cities like Detroit have become wasteland. Residential areas lack water or are poisoned by environmental pollution -- most often from military operations.

The core of the U.S. sales pitch to itself is that, for all its flaws it provides freedom and opportunity. In fact, it trails most European countries in economic mobility, self-assessment of wellbeing, and ranks 35th in freedom to choose what to do with your life, according to Gallup, 2014.


The United States contains 4.5 percent of the world's population and spends 42 percent of the world's health care expenses, and yet Americans are less healthy than the residents of nearly every other wealthy nation and a few poor ones as well. The U.S. ranks 36th in life expectancy and 47th in preventing infant mortality.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)

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