Fourth World: From the End of History to American Carnage

tags: Cold War, Donald Trump, End of History, post communist

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs TomDispatch and is a fellow of the Type Media Center. His sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War.

The year was 1991 and the United States was suddenly the globe’s lone superpower, its ultimate hyperpower, the last and greatest of its kind, the soon-to-be-indispensable nation. The only one left -- alone, utterly alone and triumphant atop the world.

Who could have asked for more? Or better? It had been a Cold War fantasy of the first order -- until that other superpower, the Soviet Union, imploded. In fact, even that doesn’t catch the true shock of the moment, since Washington's leaders simply hadn’t imagined a world in which the Cold War could ever truly end.

Now, go ahead, blame me. In this pandemic moment that should perhaps be considered a sign of a burning, sickening future to come, I’m stoking your nostalgia for better times. Admittedly, even that past was, in truth, a fantasy of the first (or perhaps last) order. After all, in retrospect, that mighty, resplendent, lone superpower, victorious beyond the wildest dreams of its political elite, was already about to embark on its own path of decline. Enwreathed in triumph, it, too, would be heading for the exits, even if so much more slowly than the Soviet Union.

It’s clear enough now that, in 1991, with Ronald Reagan’s former vice president George H.W. Bush in the White House and his son, George W., waiting in the wings of history (while Iraqi autocrat and former U.S. ally Saddam Hussein was still perched in his palace in Baghdad, Iraq), the United States was already launching itself on the path to Donald Trump’s America. No, he didn’t know it. How could he? Who could have possibly imagined him as the president of the United States? He was still a tabloid phenomenon then (masquerading that year as his own publicist “John Miller” in phone interviews with reporters to laud the attractions and sexual conquests of one “Donald Trump”). He was also on the road to bankruptcy court since his five Atlantic City casinos would soon go down in flames. Him as a future candidate to head an America where life for so many would be in decline and its very greatness in need of being “made” great again... well, who coulda dreamt it? Not me, that’s for sure.


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