FH: Decline And Fall of the American Empire (1980-2090)
Chapter One - The First Signs (1980 - 2010)
When the United States of America entered the third millenium, it had all the reasons to be proud of the path it took to get there, and of the results it achieved in its relatively short history as an independent nation. An unchallenged sole superpower with booming economy, powerful military, and a significant technological edge, little seemed to be able to penetrate its kevlar armor to seriously damage it or its interests. It was nearly inconceivable to think of it as being ridden with numerous problems, or suffering from divisions that would threaten to break a smaller or less unified nation apart. Even the economic woes beginning in later part of 2000 were but a minor slip of the market, following an unprecedented growth in the second half of 1990s, the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union, and opening of the markets, which allowed the United States to continue in its unabated prosperity for many years to come - or so it seemed.
To examine the roots of United States' decline and eventual fall, one must look as early as late 1970s, when the first major oil crisis exposed the nation's major dependency on fossil fuels, as well as its willingness to use any and all means to bring the Cold War to a state of decisive victory, including the use of fundamentalist paramilitary fighters in Afghanistan, many of whom later formed the core of anti-American insurgency following the events of September 11, 2001 and the aftermath thereof. While rather minor by themselves, these factors were compounded by prodigious spending during Reagan administration through the 1980s, easily doubling the US deficit in a matter of eight years, and justifying it by the need to bring the Soviet Union to its knees. Reagan's policy, however seemingly beneficial at the time, and seen as success with the end of the Cold War, set a dangerous precedent that would be further used by some of his successors to the detriment of the nation's long-term economic and financial health.
In a meanwhile, the renewed prosperity resulted in a trickle of immigrants both from Latin America, Eastern Europe, and other parts of the world becoming a flood. The fall of the Soviet Union resulted in a widespread immigration towards the United States, while immigrants from Latin America, many of whom crossed the border illegally and managed to stay for longer and longer periods of time due to a certain complacency of the US enforcement agencies, were becoming a much greater factor in the American economics and politics to such extent that practical bilinguality was effected in some parts of the country, catering as much or more to Spanish-speaking population as to the English-speaking one. In a matter of a generation, these issues would spell trouble for the United States; for now, they were ignored by all but a number of fringe groups, most of whom had radical agendas that were more based on fear than genuine concerns. Moreover, the increasing influence of business lobbies virtually guaranteed that nothing would be done, since corporations that were ingrained into the American economy found it not only easier, but much more profitable to cater to and employ these new arrivals.
One can point to the events of September 11, 2001 as being the turning point for the United States as it was forced to physically exercise its power as the world's leading nation at the time. Coupled with suffering economy and lowering standards of living, this set a tone for much of the decade, over the course of which the United States fought in several conflicts across the world as a part of its infamous "War On Terror". All of these conflicts followed the same pattern - a crushing attack that crippled any opposing nation's immediate military forces and that resulted in prompt capture of objectives, followed by lengthy, decentralized, and lethal insurgency that the United States were never quite capable of uprooting completely. It was a bitter irony that the core of the insurgencies was very frequently the very people armed and trained by the Americans during the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, now using the skills and tactics to fight against the United States' troops.
This inability to bring these conflicts to a decisive end, as well as propagation of nuclear technology to a number of unfriendly states, resulted in political fallout at home that resulted in two leading political parties yielding more and more to various fringe lobby groups to ensure an edge over one another. As such, several special interests groups, in particular the energy lobby, and the immigration lobby gained much greater influence over the American politics that was to be realized in the first quarter of the XXIst century.
Individually, these factors were rather minute, and would have held little sway over the long-term viability of the American nation. Combined, they, along with uninspired leadership and inability to take occasionally unpopular, yet decisive course of actions spelled the beginning of the decline for the world's one-time sole superpower.
Chapter Two - Division Nation (2000 - 2020)
To understand the nature of American society in the late XXth and early XXIst centuries, one must first understand the origins of its people, and the fundamental reasons for explosion in both American power and population in the XIXth and the XXth centuries. There are a number of works dealing specifically with topics such as the role of immigration in the United States history, the American Civil War of 1861-1865, and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, so we shall not cover but the very basics thereof, concentrating more on the divisions these issues created than on what seemed like certain unity during particular periods in history.
As any society built largely on immigration, the American society undoubtedly went through periods of xenophobia, isolationism, and exploitation of the newcomers, all to varying degree. At the same time, the United States remarkably managed to integrate numerous immigrant groups into one society to where after one or two generations very little traces of the said group's origins remained, instead replaced by an all-encompassing generic "American" culture, which reached its absolute peak in the second half of the XXth century.
While some groups were generally excluded from political process, or, in some cases, treated as second-class citizens at best, one must note that by 1990 most legal basis for discrimination was removed, and instead laws were propagated to the opposite effect, overcompensating for the one-time discrimination with preferrential treatment, group-based quotas, and the like, resulting in one of the outcomes that later on factored in the United States' eventual collapse, that being disproportionate influence of various minorities, which led to the nation pursuing goals that were immediately advantageous to those minorities, but detrimental to the nation as a whole.
Political polarization of the country in the first decade of XXIst century gave various minorities and special interest groups a greater role in the government and public affairs than ever before, frequently due to them being "swing groups", that is, those capable of swinging a close vote in two-party political systems either way. It is hard to understand the peculiarities of the system that led to such disproportionate representation of special interest groups and essentially voluntary self-deprivation by the ruling majority, however, it can be speculated that American political system of the time, in which two primary parties monopolized political power, and as such had to not only appeal to as broad an array of voters as possible, but also sway the vote towards themselves, was a large factor in this.
In the polarized climate such as the one described above, both political and business groups managed to capitalize on the divisions that existed in the American society, and to ensure that they were continuously maintained. While difficult to understand in the present times, in the context of the time it was easier to keep various smaller and special interest groups distinct and differentiated from the rest of the nation, since the moment they became essentially indistinguishable from the public at large was the moment the special group agenda was no longer applicable, and the edge in votes obtained by the political party, or the edge in profits obtained by mega-corporation based on catering to that particular minority group was lost, resulting in frantic rethinking of strategy to maintain an edge through a different interest group.
In a way, we can say that American interests became victim of the struggle to maintain monopoly on power by the major parties on one hand, and a struggle to gain an edge by the parties on the other hand, mirrored in business endeavors to accommodate special interest groups through attempting group-specific marketing, and inadvertedly creating another infrastructure that minimized the need for those groups to assimilate into society at large. The idea of diversity became the word of the day - the ideology of the "melting pot", or assimilation of various groups into the greater whole was left on the sidewalk, as it did not carry with it any political or financial advantage that could have been immediately seen.
By 2020, the newly "diverse" United States of America was quickly beginning to turn into a set of disparate communities, united by common nationality, but divided by ethnicity, language, religion, and other factors. Demographics added to divisions - different groups tended to have different growth rates, with the previous majority of Americans of European and significant minority of those of African descent no longer the case. When the previously dominant Americans of largely European descent were no longer the numerical majority as of early 2020s, many suddenly found themselves facing quick slide towards being second class citizens at best, as old anti-discrimination regulations had been generally geared towards protecting various then-minorities from being shut-out of employment and privileges.
It is impossible to discuss the era of beginnings of critical division in the American society without bringing up the economic factors leading to it. Historically, the American society managed to advance by leaps and bounds because of strong, well-protected middle class whose political and economic power ensured a more or less democratic government being maintained through the years without sliding towards either extreme. By 2020, however, the once-celebrated American middle class was rapidly descending towards impoverishment, with many jobs previously fulfilled by it now being outsourced to cheaper overseas providers; the shift towards service economy that became prominent since 1980s resulted in further impoverishment of the middle class when cheaper alternatives to employing Americans became available. Despite certain political leaders loudly proclaiming to stand up for American worker, it became clear that any kind of sanctions against the companies outsourcing jobs were either ineffective due to numerous legal loopholes, or were not followed through with due to the business lobby's influence. As such, the class divide grew in all sections of American society, with the middle class increasingly forced into low-paying jobs that maintained them afloat, but barely so, with most working well into their seventies and sometimes into their eighties to support themselves as the government's social protective measures became largely ineffective.
The United States of America of early 2020s was, in effect, a nation of divides, and, while still precariously maintaining its position as a premier superpower, was beginning to be seriously challenged by resurgent Russian Federation, rising People's Republic Of China, and internally troubled, yet rapidly integrating European Union, along with a slew of lesser but growing powers of India, Brazil, and Nigeria, the latter benefitting greatly from scarcity of fossil fuels and no infrastructure for alternative fuels still fully implemented. Then, in 2023, the disaster struck.
Chapter Three - The Downfall Begins (2020-2045)
In retrospect, the events that led to the United States' default in 2023 were not hard to foresee. Populist government policies combined with ever-more-prodigious spending and numerous concessions to corporate interests created an ever-widening national debt that was increasingly owed to the foreign nations whose interests were often completely at odds with the United States' interests. The signs were obvious as early as in the first decade of the century, although the governments managed to stave off the collapse without doing much to correct the situation until the 2020s. In 2022, shaky American economy combined with dwindling fossil fuel reserves was brought to its knees by a stock market crash, which led to the infamous American Default the following year.
The panic that ensued resulted in a fourteen-year recession, somewhat mirroring the Great Depression of a century before, albeit with a number of peculiar characteristics that not only prolonged the suffering, but resulted in a number of irreversable changes that would further serve to bring the Union down on its knees. First, secessionist views, long considered to be representative only of a small fraction of the population, came back to the fore in a number of states, in particular, those in American Southwest, where economic misery was rather profound. A number of "Aztlan Pride" movements and the like emerged, some resulting in armed rioting that was only barely put down by the federal military with significant collateral damage. At the same time, organized crime reared its head again in the larger cities, while gangs of varying complexity, sometimes independent, but most frequently in employ of crime syndicates terrorized the streets.
During the late 2020s and 2030s, the United States saw her geopolitical influence wither away, first through a number of nations intentionally going against stated American opinions, but later mainly through its opinion being disregarded and marginalized. By mid-2030s, only still somewhat powerful, albeit increasingly decaying military maintained the nation's status as an important power, since American economy has long been surpassed by numerous nations, and its citizens' prosperity and purchasing capability has reached an all-time low.
Within the nation, different regions enjoyed alternatively relative prosperity reminiscent of the "good old times", and poverty and desperation of the unprecedented nature. Major financial centers of New England area managed to survive the economic disaster somewhat well, and through draconian government enforcement policies kept at least a semblance of order on the surface. California and the West Coast, though former plagued much by organized crime, gang violence, and separatist sentiment through certain elements of Hispanic majority, and the latter heavily dependent on other areas for resources, were still somewhat economically well-off, leading to the state governments imposing harsher limits on movement of people into the states for the fear that people from the poorer areas may shatter that relative prosperity while moving to their states en masse.
On the other hand, conditions in Southwest, Midwest, some of the Great Lakes states, and American South were abysmal. Unemployment levels reached staggering heights; tensions between different racial groups were simmering, only waiting to erupt, and crime ran rampant. Poverty was widespread, with most remaining wealth kept in the hands of small elite that controlled vital services, local media, and local employers. It was these conditions that led to the rise of the populist President LaShaun Rodriguez, elected by landslide in 2032.
Sometimes considered the last of the great Presidents, Rodriguez was frequently compared to Franklin Roosevelt of a century ago, both for his efforts to fight the oncoming downfall of the United States, and for his economic and social policies that proved to be more common sense than anything, bringing at least a measure of order to most of the nation by 2040. So popular was Rodriguez, that a Constitutional Amendment was passed in 2039 to allow him to run for third term, which he won by a crushing margin. His policies managed to mitigate the depression, albeit at the cost of increased centralization of powers, and increased marginalization of the legislative and the judiciary branches of government. While Rodriguez indicated that he would not be seeking fourth term, during his third term (2041-2044) he had to dodge numerous accusations of wanting to establish a dictatorship - at any rate, it is clear that he enjoyed power much greater than any of his predecessors in a century, which was the likely reason he managed to make the United States appear as if it were well into recovery by 2044, when his assassination in July 2044 by a disgruntled member of Aztlan separatist movement spelled the beginning of the end of the Union.
Chapter Four - Towards The Darkest Days (2045-2070)
Assassination of President Rodriguez was significant for a number of reasons. Not only it stopped apparent efforts to restore the United States to their place of prominence in the world affairs, but it also set a precedent of long-lasting, almost authoritarian rule of the President, complete with series of trials against the prominent members of local and regional elites accused of corruption and undermining federal authority in their respective areas. Under a strong leader, such policies received tacit approval from the citizens, glad that some of the worst excesses suffered during the depression had been curbed, while economy managed a moderate recovery due to tough and radical measures proposed by the Presidential administration, including severe restrictions on big business and improved and streamlined taxation system; finally, United States' image in the international affairs has been somewhat repaired, once again seen as a significant power by the other nations. By 2044, the United States seemed to be well in shape to resume its previous position as a superpower.
Unfortunately, Rodriguez' successors were not quite up to task of restoring the nation to prominence; instead, most appeared content with the status quo, perhaps believing that the recovery has already been complete, and that it was time to rest on the laurels - indeed, actions of President Williams (2044-2049) did indeed hint at an apparent sense of normality prevalent in the administration, as evidenced by increased participation in the world affairs and cessation of many of Rodriguez's programs. Indeed, by the end of Williams' tenure, federal army was used to crush a serious insurrection in Arizona and New Mexico, likely triggered by a major crackdown on Aztlan separatists initiated immediately after Rodriguez' death.
In a more stable geopolitical climate, even Williams' and his successors' relative lack of talent would have mattered little, given the rejuvenation of the American economy during Rodriguez' time, and a semblance of peace within the nation - however, the situation that Williams was about to face would have made much greater men break. The global climate change was a known issue since 1980s, first noticeably manifesting itself in the first decade of the XXIst century with changing weather patterns. Over the course of the following four decades, the climate change resulted in numerous droughts, crop failures, and floods, bringing many a nation into a dire state. In 2046, an enormous drought struck the crops in the agricultural regions of the United States, while combination of unfavorable weather conditions and poor planning resulted in major shortages of food in Mexico and much of Latin America. This in turn triggered the second great wave of migrations into the United States, where bureacracy and food distribution systems still functioned properly, and which was still one of the most economically well-off nations in the Americas.
The new immigrants were met with suspicion and distrust; many were suspected, possibly rightfully so, of being Aztlan sympatizers, and many more crossed the border illegally, settling in the Pacific Southwest and Southern Southwest parts of the country, although large numbers settled in Texas, Alabama, and Florida. Even before the latest wave of immigrants, much of the Southwest was primarily Spanish-speaking; by 2050, Spanish was the language of majority in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and some of Nevada. By 2060, around 40 percent of the United States' population spoke Spanish as their first language.
Matters came head to head in what became known as the Bleeding Texas Incident, where an assault committed by an immigrant gang member against a resident led to all-out battle between local police and militia forces against the gangs, supplemented by scores of heavily armed Aztlanistas. Surprisingly for all, the Bleeding Texas ended with an overwhelming victory for the insurgents, prompting the government to mobilize National Guard in the area. However, it soon became clear to the government officials that using military means to solve the issue was risking a civil war due to strong support the insurgency had amongst the Spanish-speaking population, by now one of the most powerful forces in the American politics.
In 2062, President Cruz, himself son of the illegal immigrants who moved to the United States shortly before his birth, signed into law the Citizenship Bill, in effect legalizing all previously illegal immigrants' presence in the nation. The bill led to massive protests in the English-speaking parts of the nation, however, with both army and National Guard mobilized, an immediate incident was avoided. Still, the ill feelings of the English-speaking population persisted, resulting in a number of near-pogroms in several major cities, some of which claimed a large number of victims.
While the troubles with immigration and increased linguistical and cultural divide continued, the increased regionalization and division of the nation went nearly unnoticed by the general population. During the fiscal crisis on 2066, the United States agreed to sell Alaska to the resurgent Russian Federation in return for cancellation of much of its debt and some payments; the Russians gladly obliged, returning Alaska to the fold where it remains to this day. On an interesting note, the Alaskans themselves voted overwhelmingly in favor of a sale due to perceived mismanagement from the federal government in the decades prior, as well as considering the promised Russian investments into the area, ensuring its continued prosperity and preservation of its citizens' rights. In a meanwhile, pro-independence streak began to surface in Hawaii, which effectively managed an economy independent of the nation at large, and which became increasingly unhappy with being treated as a marginal state despite its apparent profitability to the Union.
By 2068, recognizing the fact that some of the regions had become essentially self-governing, President Michael Davenport signed into law an act creating offices of Regional Presidents, one responsible for the predominantly Spanish-speaking Southwest, Texas, and parts of the Pacific Coast, another charged with the primarily English-speaking New England, Northwest, and most of the Deep South. In the law, it was directly implied that the "Northeastern" Regional President was in fact an additional duty for the President of the United States, and thus he held seniority over his "Southwestern" colleague, however, in practice it quickly became obvious that the Southwestern States acted independently for all intents and purposes, with the Northeastern States' leadership incapable of enforcing any sort of practical authority in the area. While still nominally a single nation, by 2070 it was obvious to all but the most oblivious of observers that the United States of America as a unified country was no more. The events that followed resulted in even further degradation of an already tenuous situation.
Chapter Five - The Hammer Falls (2070-2090)
While federal authority was in a state of effective disintegration on many levels, some other dangerous trends began to show themselves in the American society. Ever since the beginning of the XXIst century, increasingly aggressive religion has been a major part of American politics. While the Constitution guaranteed separation of church and state, by 2040 numerous leaders routinely plugged religious agendas in their election platforms and subsequent policies. Until the end of Rodriguez's presidency, an uneasy equilibrium between the primarily Catholic Southwest and Protestant Northeast was somewhat maintained, however, after his assassination and eventual division of the nation (then billed as "increased autonomy" for the Southwest) the government in Washington began to be dominated by the leaders heavily influenced by fundamentalist, hardline Protestantism, calling for return to "traditional values" and curtailment of relatively liberal policies of a more enlightened - and more prosperous time.
As a result, by 2070 there had been an increased crackdown by what was referred to as "The Moral Right" against various religious minorities, homosexuals, and others the religious groups blamed as the cause of the United States' slow and painful "fall from divine grace". One of the groups that found themselves discriminated against after the nation's separation into two were the Catholics, most of whom by that time, incidentally, were either Spanish-speakers, or the descendants of Spanish speakers. As such, much of the Catholic population of the Northeast found itself drifting closer and closer towards the Southwestern states, in particular Colorado, California, and relatively liberal Northeastern states of Oregon and Washington.
While the Northeast succumbed to controversy after controversy, the situation of Spanish-speaking immigrants triggered what became known as the Crisis of 2076. After a particularly bad drought, shortages of food were abound in the Deep South, where the English-speaking population frequently denied the Spanish-speakers access to food and other necessities, sparking numerous riots that resulted in outbursts of violence on both sides. It became obvious to the Northeastern leadership that the situation could not continue as such for much longer; military intervention and establishment of martial law proved to be extremely unpopular, as the English-speaking citizens believed that the government was taking dwindling resources away from them, and giving to the Spanish-speakers.
Tension finally reached the boiling point in August 2076, when local militias assaulted federal food distribution units near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Within days, much of the South was up in arms, with the military stunned by open desertions of many English-speaking soldiers who took side with the militias. In October, the government of President Talbot was effectively paralyzed as the infighting between the members of the congress, divided into factions that could not cooperate to bring an end to the crisis. When Talbot declared martial law, only a handful of army units obeyed, with various generals attempting to utilize the crisis to their own ends, some openly siding with the militias, while some others aligned themselves with the now increasingly organized Spanish-speakers, where Aztlanista movement began to gather momentum again. For all intents and purposes, by January 2077 the Northeastern States were in a state of a civil war, with the Southwestern States barely maintaining peace with their own internal tensions of the same nature, and the world community at large letting the conflict play out before attempting to intervene.
In February 2077, the Spanish-speaking leadership convened in Baton Rouge near the site of an incident that began the conflict, proclaiming an Aztlan Congress, and an Aztlan Republic, in which they were supported by a number of renegade Northeastern troops, primarily recruited from Spanish-speaking population, and some of the ambitious generals that decided to throw their lot in with the Aztlanistas. Upon seizures of the federal military bases in the region, and help from numerous sympathizers from the Southwest, who often provided private funding to the rebels, the Aztlanistas became a credible military threat to the Northeastern loyalists.
It must be noted that there were many in the Southwest who saw the problems in the Northeast as a way to rid themselves of the dangerous radicals who would otherwise disturb their own states. As such, the Southwestern government quietly began to make promises to various quasi-Aztlanista militias and the like of financial support and weapons, as well as other forms of covert assistance should they join in the conflict in the Northeast and attempt to carve out their homeland there. With this, they believed they would achieve twin goals - first, weaken the potentially threatening Northeastern States, and second, get rid of the troublesome groups that would threaten stability of the Southwest.
The capture and subsequent sack of Washington by the rebels in July 2079 was perhaps the most notable scene from the entire war, resulting in much of the federal government fleeing for the relative safety of Chicago and prompting the loyalist leadership to consider using nuclear weapons - stopped only by pronouncements from Russia, United Europe, and Brazil that any use of nuclear weapons would result in retaliation in kind. By 2080, the Deep South was almost completely devastated by war and massive migrations that followed; with Aztlan firmly in control of Louisiana, southern Mississippi, much of southern Alabama and Georgia, Florida, and coastal areas of both Carolinas, and the Northeastern army nearing mutiny, a cease-fire was declared, interrupted only occasionally by militia actions from both sides.
The aftermath of the war was severe. While the Northwestern government still managed to hold on to some of its core territories, the states of New England immediately announced their intentions to secede, being more prosperous than the rest of the nation, and not wanting their wealth to be used for reconstruction of the war-torn nation. With the Brazilians and the Russians immediately stepping in to broker the peace treaty with Aztlan as well as secession terms, there was little remnant of Northeastern government could do. Before 2090, these secessions were followed by those of the Southern states, or what was left of them over the Northeastern government's inability to protect their citizens' interests, and by referendum in Oregon that essentially divided the state in two, with the larger southern part joining the Southwestern States, and only smaller northern part remaining within the Northeastern States.
The damage was irrepairable, forever shattering the image of the United States as a unified powerful nation; while both Northeastern and Southwestern leaders still claimed to be "two halves of the same country", it was never to be the case again. The division was near-final; the hammer fell. Yet, over the following century there were numerous attempts to rebuild the Union, which we shall focus on in the following chapters.