When American Fascism and American Hegemony Collide…

When American Fascism and American Hegemony Collide…
Wikimedia commons, a cartoon by Joseph Keppler. First published in Puck 1889.

Does anyone think it’s ok for a global superpower to also be fascist? Is that a world we should all be cool with living in?

Check out the news. American political life is descending into something particularly nasty, and it is at least fascistic, if not straight-up 1930s brownshirts. As historian Kathleen Belew summarized after the deranged attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband:

I’m agnostic whether to identify this larger trend as fascism; it might just be violent, racist, far right, authoritarian populism shot through with conspiracy theories. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll just refer to it here as fascism.

The slide toward fascism in the United States is obviously not sudden—it’s a slide. It’s a pretty steady move and it has momentum. That’s upsetting enough for those of us who grew up on apple pie and American-greatness myths.

But America’s political upheaval is so gradual—and draws so heavily on currents in American history that until recently we refused to acknowledge—that on any given day you can basically ignore it. And as the good folks at the Lawyers, Guns & Money blog remind us, everyday life under authoritarianism feels kind of normal as long as you’re not being personally targeted by the state.

The thing that’s jarring right now though is the juxtaposition of America’s fascistic slide with a foreign policy situation that not only acts like we’re all ops normal on the home front, but also that the world we inhabit is still the US-dominated, 1990s version.

I’m triggered here by news that Canada is seeking to join the “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework” (IPEF)—an initiative that the White House generated in response to calls from people like me criticizing the Biden administration for having no economic statecraft. It was also meant as a symbolic counter to the “China-led” regional trade deal known as RCEP. For those unaware, the two defining trade architectures in Asia—the CPTPP and RCEP—both exclude the United States. One of many indicators that the US is no longer Asia’s hegemon.

IPEF remains a slogan in search of a policy. It’s non-binding, it doesn’t provide market access to the United States, it does nothing to reform labor rights in Asia or the United States, has nothing to do with debt sustainability, and basically ignores the region’s growing economic precarity.

To be clear, I have no problem with Canada joining IPEF. Because it’s costless, there’s really no downside. Also, why would anyone except trade groups in Canada possibly give a shit?

My concern is that it’s the latest in a series of moves by world leaders—prodded by US leaders—to run foreign policies that respond to Cold War and civilizational narratives. That’s problem enough because of all the geopolitical risks and democracy-robbing policies entailed in battling demons abroad. But the greater problem is that Cold War-ish policies double down on a world that depends on the United States to be a hegemon.

If our world was one in which the United States retained an unquestionable primacy and was politically stable at home, the merits of betting on a US-led hegemonic order would be debatable. I’d be opposed to that too, but at least there would be a debate. But in a world where the United States has lost economic centrality in Asia to its nearest competitor and the United States is drifting toward fascism?

States that are performing a foreign policy befitting the unipolar moment while the United States is already a functional oligarchy and far right extremists roam and economic precarity is getting worse and the national security state is growing and the country’s other major party has basically given up on democracy? We’re setting the world up for failure. Something as innocuous as Canada spending its time trying to join IPEF is a reminder of how out of touch foriegn policies are across the Global North.