This commentary originally appeared in The New York Times on November 9, 2016.
Worst-case scenario in the next four years: fascism, a wall, mass deportations, the end of Obamacare, a Trump brand on the White House and either a trade war or an actual war with China (since war is the easiest diversion from domestic unhappiness).
Best-case scenario: Ruth Bader Ginsburg refuses to retire or die, the Democratic Party finds a backbone, turns away from its fixation on the center and heeds the call for an economic revolt against the 1 percent, joined by Black Lives Matter, the Occupy movement, and resurgent feminism.
Both scenarios could happen at the same time.
The second scenario requires Democrats to put their status quo political model to rest. They already had a significant portion of the nonwhite minority vote locked up, but have lost too many working-class white people. Bernie Sanders might not have won over the wealthier whites who were voting with Trump against the seemingly rising tide of minorities, but he might have snared the white working class and some of the white middle class.
Here’s the bright side, for those, like me, who are on the liberal-to-left spectrum. If Hillary Clinton had won, she would have run again in 2020, which could have meant four more years of Wall Street liberalism and fire-and-forget perpetual warfare, conducted by drones and Special Operations over the horizon. Now perhaps Elizabeth Warren will be the 2020 Democratic candidate — a white woman, a feminist, and someone more progressive than Clinton.
But all this speaks largely about domestic electoral politics. The sickness of the American body politic remains untreated, and will remain untreated, or exacerbated, in a country run by clowns, conspirators, and collaborators.
That sickness is imperialism. America is an imperial country, and its decay might now be showing. The power that has brought so much benefit to the country — for white people — is now faltering in its ability to provide those benefits to all white people. The empire’s best hope is to be more inclusive, demographically and economically, but that runs counter to the imperial impulse to hoard power and profit.
Warren or someone like her might be better at extracting more social and economic justice for all Americans. But unless such a person finds a way to ease control from the financial-industrial complex, the prospects of halting our decline are weak.
Empires rot from the inside even as emperors blame the barbarians.