What happens in the world has as much impact on African Americans as everyone else, yet there has always been an African-American school of thought that says foreign affairs is white folks’ business and we put our agenda at risk when we engage on that issue. Nothing could be more wrong.
The Civil Rights Movement coincided with the height of the Cold War, when the United States was competing with the Soviet Union for influence with the emerging nations of color in Africa and Asia. The American South had the same apartheid system as South Africa, so the U.S. couldn’t successfully contend with the Soviet Union with its own officially sanctioned apartheid system (Jim Crow). The U.S. abandoned Southern segregationists to protect the influence of an emerging American Empire, not to defend or promote our constitutional rights. You can’t discount the Cold War as a major factor in the early success of the Civil Rights Movement.
Mark Twain said it’s not what you don’t know that hurts you, but what you know for sure that isn’t true. John F. Kennedy put it more eloquently in his 1962 Yale commencement speech: “For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.” It is the myth of America that we teach as historical truth that makes Americans (black and white) so ignorant the role of the U.S. in the world and how that role has changed what it means to be an American citizen.
Hegemony is the political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others. The dominant state is known as the hegemon. This is what the U.S. is, a hegemon. The world knows this; it is average Americans who don’t understand what America is in the world.
At least since the end of the Cold War (you could argue since the end of WWII) the U.S. has been an empire with economic tentacles spread around the world that are defended by the world’s largest military and governed by an elected executive who is more emperor than president.
That empire has a governing ideology of globalized neoliberalism, which means a commitment to wealth creation for ruling elites by means of unrestrained corporate capitalism operating on a planetary scale with the unrestricted movement of capital, goods, ideas and people. What this means is we’re really no longer citizens of a republic but subjects of an empire.
The political calculus of a democratic republic is totally different than that of an empire. In a republic, a president’s first duty is to the citizens, the national legislative body (the Congress) represents the collective interests and will of the citizens, and the administration is designed to serve the needs of the citizens. Other than national defense, there is no specific foreign agenda.
In an empire, the emperor’s duty on is to defend and promote the foreign economic and political interests of the empire. The national legislature of an empire’s only role is to support and approve the edicts and whims of the emperor. The role of the military is not national defense but protecting foreign economic interests and political control of foreign countries. The domestic agenda of an empire is maintaining order, not promoting the general welfare of citizens.
If any of this sounds familiar, it should because this is the behavior of Donald Trump and Republicans. Trump and Republicans may be racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and homophobic, but they clearly understand who they are and what they want. They want a global empire ruled by white Americans. Their behavior may be hateful and immoral, but it is rational.
It’s the Democrats whose political behavior is irrational. Believing the myth of the American Republic, Democratic political tactics and strategy always miss the mark because none of that works in the reality of the American Empire.
As anyone who has ever seen a Star Wars movie knows, there are only two possibilities when you live in an empire: you support the empire or you join the rebellion.