When did America jump the shark?
I submit that it's happening now and the symbol of accelerating decline is the rise of Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Polling numbers consistently show that these two anti-politicians garner roughly 50 per cent of the Republican vote between them. What that means is that half of those voters have given up on the American dream. The current political and economic system has failed them; they no longer view themselves as thriving members of the middle class with an endless horizon of hope.
But how can that be, you ask? After all, we're talking about the self-described greatest nation on Earth. Yet it's often the case that you don't recognize you're living in a period of dramatic decline. More often than not, you can't trace its historical development until well after the actual demise.
The reigning empire is usually the last to know that its reign is over. Doubtless the British had little sense at the end of the First World War that their empire was crumbling yet they were already being surpassed by the U. S.
Donald Trump's ascension signals the death of the American dream and the beginning of the end of the American Empire. When half of the electorate has given up on the traditional leadership, the ties that used to bind all classes of American society are coming unravelled. Since those in power can or will no longer guarantee everyone a share of the pie, the economic and political compact that held the country together is starting to collapse.
Although less dramatic, this political shift is also evident in the Democratic primary race. Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist, is riding a wave of anti-incumbent, anti-corporate sentiment which also seems based on a rejection of the American covenant.
Is it surprising then that such a toxic social, economic and political environment would produce a demagogue like Donald Trump?
The historical sense that "we're all in this together" is rapidly fading. Instead, we are left with warring factions: the haves vs. the have-nots, the rich vs. the poor and old Americans vs. the new. No sense of common purpose remains and the new dominant ethos is "everyone for himself."
Is it surprising then that such a toxic social, economic and political environment would produce a demagogue like Donald Trump? In a nation filled with fear, it is reassuring for many to hear Mr. Trump's brash promises of a better tomorrow even if he provides no underlying basis.
Demagogues thrive in times of crisis and decline. Think of Hitler and Mussolini. Or for a homegrown example, consider Huey Long, the dictatorial governor and Louisiana senator in the 1930s who achieved adoring support among the impoverished citizens of that state.
If Donald Trump should somehow win the presidency or even if he simply captures the Republican nomination, take that as a sign that the American compact has failed. The rich have no longer agreed to support the middle class and the lower class have rejected the possibility of becoming a self-made man. In short, the longstanding, unstated, inter-class agreement of mutual support has dissolved.
If the glue that holds America together has melted away, then the end of the American Empire is not far off. It happens eventually to all empires although some seem to bring it upon themselves sooner than others. And even the vaunted American hubris will not save it in the face of the new pretenders to the throne like China and India.
The dramatic rise of the outliers signals a widespread disaffection not only with establishment candidates but with the entire establishment itself.
With Trump and Carson on the right and Sanders on the left, the U. S. has never seen such an explosion of populist, non-traditional, anti-political candidates in one election season. Yes, there have been some third party contenders in the past but, for the most part, voters chose from a relatively narrow selection of traditional political candidates. The dramatic rise of the outliers signals a widespread disaffection not only with establishment candidates but with the entire establishment itself.
Unless the powers that be decide to reverse recent trends and revitalize the middle class, I fear that America's fate is to become a nation divided by wealth and opportunity. It may well become a modern feudal state populated by gated communities with those on the outside looking in. In short, it will be the end of the American dream and then the American Empire.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: