Discussing the American decline is quite an interest since it will help to understand the hidden meaning of the supposed American decline and also to determine whether America is indeed in decline. American decline is a term utilized by analysts in describing the United States’ diminishing power in geopolitics, health, environment, military, financially and economically (Mathews & Margonelli, 2018). However, the topic about American decline has remained controversial for a very long time between declinists who claim that America is in decline and exceptionalists who believe America is unique. Some argue that Trump has increased the American decline. Therefore, this paper will focus on the supposed American decline determine whether America is actually in decline and how this specter of decline helps in understanding Trump.
Is America in decline?
The big topic of debate has been on whether the United States is in decline. However, this debate lacks content and context. The American decline debate is based on international relations comparison. According to this point of view, the United States has inevitably been declining since the 1960s. Though the United States economic power has significantly grown, its competitors such as Europe, China, East Asia, and Latin America have also grown considerably (Kagan, 2012). In this world, power is limited even suppose power is increasing, therefore the bigger the power of others, the more the America’s power declines. This is actually the nature of the American decline. The United States was known to be a superpower country, but as time goes by, other countries have grown to be so powerful, thus decreasing the power of America. Between 1940 and 2018, with regards to gross national product, the United States growth was twelve and a half times bigger. Other parts of the world have grown twenty-six times in gross product, which is double than the United States’ growth.
Much of this gap in gross product growth has been witnessed in recent decades. Way back in 1987 at the time when Paul Kennedy published his popular book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers which initiated the American decline debate, at that time the gap that existed between the United States and the global development was hardly noticeable (Kagan, 2012). The United States GDP had already grown six times in size as from 1940, whereas the GDP of the other parts of the world had grown by 7.5 times. Despite this being a slight difference, Kennedy could still determine that America was in decline.
In the past centuries of history, some general conclusions have been drawn regarding the American decline. First, it has been identified that there is a strong relationship that exists between the decline in economic power and the international political system shift. The American decline van is viewed vividly in the historical context. Initially, the United States made much strategic commitment at a time when its economic, military, and political capacity and its potential to influence world affairs, was more guaranteed than it turned out later (Heilbrunn, 2018). Therefore, the United States at that time an imperial overstretch with responsibilities and interests, increasing adding up to its potential. That is a trait of relative decline.
Recently, in 2008, the United States Intelligence Council echoed the American decline in the international trends report. The report stated that due to the relative decline in the American economy as well as the military power, the United States would, therefore, lack the flexibility to choose many policy options (Heilbrunn, 2018). The American decline is relevant to Robert Gilpin’s concept that with time, distinct increase in power in a system ultimately stir a necessary power distribution in the system itself. Richard Haass, the State Department official also utilized this concept in arguing that America is required to be forefront in the game such that any upcoming balance of power worldwide may be balanced based on the American point of view.
Although in the American history, it is possible to respond to the decline that is currently exemplified by Donald Trump. This is through isolationism. Isolationism is quite different from retrenchment because retrenchment differentiates between core and peripheral commitment (Heilbrunn, 2018). Therefore, retrenchment is not about abandoning commitments, but making choices even if painful, based on a proper political strategy. In essence, the American decline is real due to the global power growth, and the United States is struggling to fix it.
Understanding Donald Trump
This specter of the American decline helps a lot in understanding Donald Trump. We know that the American decline started along time before Trump got into office. But despite other presidents putting much effort to try to solve this decline, Trump is accused of increasing the decline. In reality, we get to understand that Trump has tried to stop the decline in the United States using methods such as ensuring nuclear disarmament in countries that have shown to have a powerful military-like North Korea (Rachman, 2012). Trump has done this to protect and maintain the reputation of the United States as a superpower. Due to the economic development of China and the fear of China taking over the United States as a world power, Trump has made to sanction on China by importing a trade barrier. Trump has upheld the idealism of isolationism in America which is driven by the fear of the decline to worsen. Many perceive that the U.S. is being attacked by external force and betrayal arising internally. The isolationism predates Trump (Heilbrunn, 2018). Therefore, Trump is simply trying to sustain American superiority through the hard way of using sanctions to suppress countries that are a threat to its power in world geopolitics. Therefore, Trump is not betraying the United States but instead protecting it from external forces that contribute to its decline. The reality is that world competition for power is high seems to overwhelm Trump and the United States in general.
To sum it all, it is true that there is a decline in the United States. World competition for power has significantly increased, making it difficult for the United States to sustain its world power. Therefore, the United States is currently focused on revising its position to maintain its status as a world power country.