The concentration of power held by a hegemony — a single state or entity with overwhelming control of the global political economy — lends itself to violent, authoritarian measures of control. The United States has been no exception since Great Britain handed over the reins following World War II.
But, in a time where the right wing is successfully arguing that the U.S. must challenge the rise of other world powers, it is not enough to simply denounce the empire.
Instead, we must confront the negative aspects of our world control, and in doing so, cultivate a constructive internationalism throughout the second world. Only then will we be able to promote greater political and economic autonomy.
The U.S. empire has not been a common topic of discussion throughout the last few decades. But with the economic rise of China, the U.S. has had to assess its status as a hegemonic empire, and how it will defend such a status, if it can at all.
We created an entire electoral region, The Rust Belt — which notably has extreme regional political interests — that has particularly strong grievances regarding industry outsourcing. In his 2019 State of the Union address, President Donald Trump successfully tapped into these material grievances by pledging to end China’s “theft of American jobs.”
This message resonated with voters because it is not totally unfounded. As a result of a growing trade gap with China between exports and imports, we have witnessed the relocation of millions of American jobs in the past two decades. In the first two years of Trump’s presidency, the number of reallocated jobs grew by over 700,000, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Trump’s perspective isn’t unique. In fact, it’s the growing sentiment on the economic right. For figures such as former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and economist Thomas Friedman, China’s economic rise presents an impending threat to the hegemony of the U.S. empire.
An op-ed by Bannon for The Washington Post outlines a variety of “understandings” to justify a more aggressive policy to curtail the rise of China. He cites China’s litany of human rights abuses, which he wrote escalates totalitarian tendencies.
Bannon’s conclusion is laid bare: China’s interests are at odds with those of the U.S., and we must economically retaliate in response.
I agree that protectionist trade policy should be pursued with China to protect American jobs. But not because China is “stealing” them, as Trump argued to Rust Belt states.
Rather, the movement of jobs is facilitated by the natural tendency of capital to maximize profit. Companies will naturally move jobs to where labor is cheaper.
The political power of business corporations through trade deals is what allows such movement of labor to China. Furthermore, where Bannon sees the need for protection from the Chinese, I see the same need to protect Americans from an international capital class that seeks to reduce wages globally.
The shortcomings that hold the U.S. back on the international stage are not only blindspots in the nationalist ideology, but massive hypocrisies. There are numerous instances of human rights abuses, political repression and escalation of authoritarian tendencies in the U.S.
Surely, they would disqualify us from hegemony if we used Bannon’s same standards.
Hypocrisy also lies in our common insistence that humanity would be irrevocably worse under a Chinese hegemony.
This is not to say China should go unchallenged. Its government certainly deserves international scrutiny for its human rights violations and general disregard for harmful environmental impacts.
However, the road toward building a positive internationalism will not be smooth without addressing these hypocrisies in both countries — otherwise, our global position is compromised.
To fully address these hypocrisies, we must not only understand our own shortcomings, but must also recognize and learn from the positive ways in which China is constructively building global relationships.
The coming decades of a Chinese and U.S. power struggle will not, as Bannon would suggest, be fought only between the two countries. Instead, the fate of a world hegemony lies in the hands of the rising second world.
The legacy of U.S. foreign policy is unjust and exploitative. If we wish to be anything other than a decaying empire, floundering to keep a grasp on world control, we must abandon that which makes us act for corporations rather than the country or humanity’s good.
This means challenging the very way the U.S. makes decisions, and specifically the massive role of corporations and wealthy individuals in the affairs of the country.
We must not base decisions on the financial interests of corporations as a way to maintain access to resources and cheap labor. Rights for the global community and U.S. citizens should be prioritized.
In a rising world order in which China is expanding control through diplomacy and economic initiatives, the old American style of forced imperialist violence is doomed to fail.
We must ditch our old methods of control in favor of a more constructive internationalism, one that demonstrates an American commitment to prioritizing human welfare and advancing sovereignty in every nation.
The proposal of constructive U.S. international leadership is partly a way to expand our own influence over China, but it is equally an initiative to move toward a multipolar world altogether — one in which an economically bolstered and unified second world has a seat at the table.