Over the past couple of weeks, we saw the United States Congress in lockstep agreement over the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act renewal. The bill includes the following:

  • 93 new F-35 fighter jets to be manufactured by Lockheed Martin (even though the Pentagon only requested 79).
  • $23.4 billion to build 9 new battleships, nearly $20 billion more than the Navy asked for.
  • A second attack submarine, which the Navy also says is unnecessary.
  • $2.2 billion for increasing U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • $69 billion for a “separate Pentagon war account.”

The NDAA passed in the House with 335 votes, and later cakewalked through the Senate by a score of 84-13; sufficient margins to override President Trump’s veto.

While the nearly three-quarters-of-a-trillion dollar Pentagon spending bill enjoys veto-proof bipartisan support, the same Congress was deadlocked in a seemingly unending stalemate over whether to provide direct cash payments to ordinary Americans as part of a coronavirus relief package, and if so, for how much.

Ultimately, Congress passed a paltry $900 billion deal which included a measly $600 to most Americans, which Trump eventually signed. But now, at the president’s request, the House has voted to increase those payments to $2,000, which Mitch McConnell blocked in the Senate. McConnell since has introduced a bill that would boost direct payments to $2,000 but also repeal section 230 which shields various internet platforms from certain legal liabilities, and also create a commission to study “election integrity” issues - two extraneous Trump demands.

In other words, as Congress is united in its commitment to fund the military industrial complex, it’s hopelessly divided over how to provide minimal assistance its suffering population, and what strings ought or ought not be attached to such assistance. We’ve got bipartisan consensus around military spending, unbridgeable divides over how many crumbs to toss the peasants during a once-in-a-century crisis.

And perhaps most disturbingly, as this is going on, the American people do nothing. We simply wait to see how raw a deal we’ll eventually get out of all of this, even as the war machine gets billions of dollars more than it requested.

All of this speaks to both the political and cultural decline of America in 2020, and how the two are linked. We’ve become so accustomed to the political establishment’s disregard for the wellbeing of its people, that we don’t even bother rebelling against it anymore. Contrast this with a country like France, which, in 2018, erupted in protest over President Macron’s measures to increase fuel taxes while slashing the country’s wealth tax.

So why is America this beaten down? How did we arrive at such a position of existential malaise and weakness? Why are we so conditioned to despair in these moments, instead of rallying to each other’s aid? What explains this decline, and is it reversible?

Writer and novelist Anis Shivani suggests that all of this political and cultural decline signifies the imminent collapse of the American empire, and points to various indicators to support his argument.

One of these is the gentrification of major cities, which he likens to fortresses for the the wealthy. Elites insulating themselves from the rest of society, he cites, is a symptom of imperial collapse. Another is the stifling of unpopular speech and the co-opting of art and culture by elite institutions. This “woke culture,” Anis argues, is another ploy by the societal elites to hegemonize their imperial ideology under the guise of superficial social justice posturing.

Anis Shivani joins our special year-end podcast to explore all of these questions through both a political and cultural lens. Listen to our full conversation by clicking the player below:

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