It is a truism to say that the US empire is in decline, but it is in fact in a state of terminal and long-term decline.
What we mean by "US empire" is not exactly like, say, the British Empire of 1895 or the Roman Empire of 200 C.E., rather it is an imperial form suited for the structure of post-World War II global capitalism. This order is predicated upon a system of local, sovereign states which form a hierarchy within the world market which are administered politically, economically, and militarily by the United States and its junior partners (primarily the coterie of G7 governments).
We can track this decline with several snapshots in world history that take us to the present moment.
In the early 1990s, the US was triumphant over its erstwhile foe in Moscow and promised that the Millennium of Free Trade, democracy, liberalism, and humanitarian warfare had arrived. It demonstrated this with the savage destruction of Iraq, numerous free trade agreements, and even more numerous cocktail parties.
The early 2000s seemed to represent something of a high point, albeit for a brief, fleeting moment. The stunning atrocity of the 9/11 attacks shook the population out of its discontent with a stolen Presidential election and provided a criminal regime (now lauded in the press for its liberal bona fides) with a blank check to destroy Afghanistan and then Iraq again for some reason. But this ended in ugliness and the slow unwinding of the liberal Millennium in the face of the Guantanamo gulag, the sadistic shocking awefulness of Abu Ghraib, and finally the destruction of the city of New Orleans by a not-so-natural disaster.
Then came the real turning point: the Great Financial Crisis. Overnight the business press claimed its fidelity to "socialism," albeit a perverse iteration of the term representing a pale shadow of the form from which it had emanated. This hypostasis of the concept of socialism involved hundreds of billions of dollars being pumped into the coffers of gargantuan financial institutions likened to vampiric squid (in their own press, nonetheless!) while tens of millions were thrown out of work.
But then, riding in on a white horse, liberalism returned and the promise of the Millennium seemed around the corner again. Barrack Obama promised racial and economic justice with vague populist gestures. Though his actual administration quickly moved to continue the policies of the hated Bush regime with a little window dressing and fewer "boots on the ground" (at least the visible kind, as it unleashed packs of ravenous special forces across the African continent to prosecute dirty wars in the name of the first black President), the stabilization of the financial order convinced many that order was restored.
But it was not.
Right wing movements emerged across the European and North American continents. Fascists began to organize openly. And then came the massive 2011 revolts rocking Africa and the Middle East with huge reverberations globally. Racist discourses about the Middle East being a quagmire of perpetual warfare now could point to Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Syria, and Yemen to back up their propaganda (with no sense of irony at the role of imperialism or the right wing interests of the regimes responsible).
And then came 2016-2017, when things got really weird...
Let's take a break from these snapshots and look at today. The United States had barely recovered from its shock at the sight of massive global warming-induced storms devastating Texas before another followed in Florida, and now another with even more catastrophic results essentially destroyed the US colony of Puerto Rico. Though the US military has no problem getting to the island to drop bombs to test them before dropping them on the Middle East, it simply cannot be bothered to fly in generators, potable water, fuel, food, and medical relief en masse. People are languishing in murderous heat with no power and many with no shelter. This imperial holding is not very far from the shore of the mainland...and yet, the empire cannot seem to act.
The empire's titular head is clearly a buffoon with a tenuous grip on reality. The operations of the state continue, but it is clear that the disruptive jester in the Oval Office is doing real damage. One party controls Congress and the Presidency, and yet cannot even pass legislation that is purports to find uncontroversial. Nothing of substance whatsoever has been passed.
Let's not even discuss the mutating economic and financial crises rolling across the world market...the impasse of politics before the face of multiple intersecting global catastrophes is clear for all to see. Disgusting as it was, the Congress of 2002 was able to at least get its shit together long enough to destroy Iraq, and again in 2008 long enough to save its financial overlords. It is unclear if it is actually capable of anything comparable today.
The blood is in the water, and regional powers in Moscow and Tehran can smell it, not to mention "allies" who increasingly go their own way from Ankara to Riyadh. For all of our tweeter-in-chief's bluster against China, Beijing is terrified of this emerging anarchic system and desperately longs for the return of US hegemony.
Things are spinning out of control. The floodwaters are rising. And while the press looks to Washington, the drama is unfolding outside it. I sincerely doubt much will change there even when the whole thing comes tumbling down, whether in a climate-induced depression, a spectacular nuclear showdown, or more hopefully in a series of revolutions that aim to put humanity in charge of its own destiny.
The empire's millennium has given way to its end times, but remember: an empire is decline is not harmless...in fact, this is its most dangerous hour. I fear for the people of Korea, but more than anything I hurt for the people of Puerto Rico. Let's remember that human beings made all of this happen, and human beings have the power to do something about it.