After the Fall: Being American in the World We’ve Made

Review by Joseph Langen

When I saw the ad for this book, I had mixed feelings. I am tired of thinking about the mess which has developed in our country, how we have created it and questioning what to do about it. On the other hand if we do not think about what faces us, at best we are stuck with it and at worst the problems will only deepen. I decided to forge ahead and read the book.

One question I had while I was waiting for the book to be available at the library was what the author meant by “the fall.” By the end of the book, I realized that the author never did address this issue directly. After discussing it with my friend Bob over lunch, I realized that the fall referred to losing our preeminent status of leadership in the world and the emergence of China as positioning itself to take our place as the pre-eminent world power. He also notes that we have contributed to China’s rise through our extensive dependence on their capital investment and cheap goods.

He begins the book by chronicling developments in Hungary as it moved from a democracy to an authoritarian system. Among the factors contributing to this change in national focus are developments, many of which we have seen arise in our own country. Among those he mentions are partisan propaganda, packing the courts with right-wing judges, favoring big business over individual citizen needs, demonizing opponents through social media channels, political contributions branded as free speech and attacking as “others” people of color, the poor, immigrants and liberal elites.

The author has lived and worked in a variety of countries around the world and chronicles developments elsewhere which parallel our own slippery path including Hungary, Russia, and China. Our patriot act after 9/11 moved us toward despotic practices which have stayed with us. These include surveillance, restriction of immigration, detaining people without trial, torture of people in custody and killing people in other countries.

We came out in a leadership position after the world wars and cold war. Yet now we find ourselves enveloped in a cold war at home “between people who live in the reality of the world as it is and people who are choosing to live in a false reality made up of base right supremacist grievances and irrational conspiracy theories.”

All of this leaves us in a dire situation with reason to fear for our future. The author leaves us with no clear path toward resolution of the many difficulties facing us including other issues such as global warming, Covid, and ongoing racial tensions. He reminds us that we have faced and overcome many dire situations in the past, many through cooperation of other peoples around the world. We need to come together as an American people and also see ourselves as part the world community rather than feeling exceptional.

The question remains whether we as a society will be able or willing to rise to the challenge.