As the Uvalde community mourned the loss of 21 precious lives, millions of Americans were celebrating the ‘victory’ of actor Johnny Depp Image Credit: Muhammed Nahas/Gulf News

On October 1, 1981, US President Ronald Reagan unexpectedly quoted the 14th century Arab social scientist Ibn Khaldun at a White House press conference as he discussed the impact of higher taxes.

Empires thrive when revenues increase outweighing taxes, but they decay when the revenues decline and taxes surge, Reagan said as he paraphrased the great Arab writer. Reagan, a staunch free marketer who opposed higher taxes, meant to warn that the US empire, the world’s superpower, will begin to lose its edge as the ultimate superpower unless taxes remain significantly low to keep the money in the people’s pockets to spend allowing the economy to grow.

He did manage to reduce taxes, thus allowing the US to win the Cold War. Ten years on, after that press conference, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the US claimed victory over Communism.

However, 35 years after that interesting press conference, in 2016, an entirely different breed of a president came to the White House with probably a similar economic agenda but with social and political policies that must have made Reagan turn in his grave.

Danger of exaggerated taxes

The single term of Donald Trump has left America divided and shallower. Reagan was right, and accurate, when he cited Ibn Khaldun, to warn of the ultimate danger of exaggerated taxes, but he apparently didn’t see then the impact of other factors in the decline of great states.

Trump’s policies made sure that those factors were seen clearly as the US’s stature as a superpower began to decay from within — race relations were at their lowest during Trump’s presidency. The killing of African-American George Floyd while in the custody of two white policemen in 2020 unleashed racial war, not seen in the US since the 1960s.

In the past month, under another president, the seemingly frail Joe Biden, several mass shootings in schools and malls have turned the spotlight again on the surprisingly growing gun culture in the US.

As per the national statistics, published by US media recently, “of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in the US since 1900, seven have occurred in the past 10 years.” So far, nearly 100 people have been killed in mass shootings this year alone.

On May 14, a white racist stormed a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and opened fire on the mostly black shoppers, killing 10 people. It was the deadliest mass shooting of the year, but not for long. Ten days later, an 18-year-old crashed into an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and began shooting randomly inside the school — 19 little children and two teachers were massacred. Last week, on June 1, in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s hospital, three people were gunned down by a former patient.

214 mass shootings in 6 months

We are still in the first six months of the year; yet the US has suffered at least 214 mass shootings, an average of 10 a week. Reagan, who ironically was a victim of a gun attack himself during his presidency, would probably add these grim figures to his list of the signs of a declining empire. Half of the US is at war with the other half, literally.

The north-south divide that sparked the civil war in the 19th century seems to be back with a different coating. It was the ‘freedom to own slaves’ then and is the ‘freedom to own guns’ today. Texas will remain a bastion of the freedom to own guns, its governor Greg Abbot insists. “I’m EMBARRASSED: Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let’s pick up the pace Texans,” he tweeted few years ago.

Rich people’s fights

Interestingly, as the Uvalde community mourned the loss of 21 precious lives, millions of Americans were celebrating the ‘victory’ of actor Johnny Depp in his defamation suit against his former wife, actress Amber Heard. It was one of those rich people’s fights. Their abhorrent behaviour during the marriage and thereafter was broadcast live to billions of viewers around the world. At least one billion people watched the trial on YouTube.

But the shameless parade of their intimate moments revealed more about the society than the two celebrities’ lifestyle, which is typical of many in the community of show business. The trial revealed how rich societies are shamelessly fond of characters that defy decency and display an utmost disregard of morality. We have seen that before in the trial of O.J. Simpson, charged of killing his wife.

Heard may have deserved the defeat. She was clearly lying and contradictory in many of her court statements. But she is right on one thing — the Depp victory represents a setback for women who might be reluctant to report abuse by powerful white men who can afford to buy a brilliant lawyer’s service and a savvy publicity machine.

However, the fact that millions of Americans were stuck to their TV screens and mobile phones to watch an outrageously ridiculous court circus is another sign of a decaying empire. (Don’t forget that Trump was powered into the White House because of his years as a reality TV star)

Guns, reality TV and racial divide, with the longer cycles of economic recession in the past two decades, are signs of a society at ill, an empire in decline. It is clear that the US is losing its edge as the ‘world’s maestro’. Those are visible signs of decay, while its adversaries are advancing their agendas and influence further than they had ever thought was possible in Europe and Asia.

This is no easy challenge for the current administration or the future ones to address, although I doubt that President Biden’s administration is up to the task. As we have seen so far, under this White House, the great American empire will continue to decay.