Center of the Universe (23)
End of Empire
First text this morning — early this morning, Amsterdam time — came as I was fitfully dozing between acts of a strange CNN dream-play about the apocalypse. The message was from my Sorellas co-religionist Gary and said:
“The sisters and I are moving in with you.”
Before we’d left town, I’d assured Gary that if the Great Pumpkin was elected, we were going to remain in Amsterdam. Call the kids to ship over fresh undies. And now, in the hour or so I’d been snoozing, there was red all over the map, red all over everything — state results, electoral results, Wolf Blitzer. The dream-play turned out not to be a dream at all.
Wave of not-metaphorical nausea and not-hyperbolic panic as I opened my eyes to the TV. I wanted to jump out of my skin. I wanted to nudge Roni, but she’s been sick. No need to make her sicker. She will be soon enough.
Don’t know what the sisters think about President-elect Trump. Don’t care. We don’t talk politics (unless it’s the politics of Kim Jong Un — whose state newscast offered warm words for candidate Trump — with Rev. Kang). Sorellas is the center of the universe, not the Washington Press Club. And it’s fake family, constructed and voluntary, always more polite than the real thing. Sure, from time to time, Soy’s hubby John lights into the universal corruption of politicians, implacable obstructionism of bureaucracy and wasteful government blah-blah-blah. But that’s just John, a gifted drummer, doing a verbal paradiddle, trying to kick a song into gear. At Table 10, we know better than to follow the cue. Anyway, politics is not a topic a deft hostess like Soy would ever encourage.
And maybe it’s time for China to rule the world after all.
The US has had a good run — since WWII, when we bailed the Brits. Who, in turn, had an even longer run before us. Who succeeded the Dutch — whose Golden Age lasted about as long as ours has — and who had earlier taken back control from the imperial Spanish. Somewhere in there were the Portuguese, who conquered Goa, among other peoples and places, where the mother of Merl, my new Dutch bartender friend (chapter 22), would join an invading armada of hippies centuries later.
But it seems like, when not picking on Africa or India, the Great Nations of Europe were picking on the Chinese, or picking on them with extra cruelty — encouraging them to get hooked on opium, for instance, to drive greater opium sales. Which is what Britain’s East India Company actually did.
So it seems only fair. Righteous payback, when the Chinese take over. And we slip into the ranks of supplicant nations, blind to the bigger currents, engulfed by a literally rising tide, beset by endless civil wars over gods and colors and the varieties of human love, getting smaller as our flags get bigger. All glory to the Narcissus of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Who — just look in the pond, America — is us.
So as the Chinese swoop into Africa, conquering with money and materiél and expertise, kitting out an empire of influence and resources way gentler than anything from the Age of Discovery or the British heyday, but no less powerful or, within the velvet glove, direly authoritarian, we sail into the sunset on a flaming hoverboard made in Shenzhen.
Fin de siècle. End of empire.
It sure feels like it. With Trump’s ascension as only the first flight of the down-staircase to disengagement and decay. And if we can’t help but feel apprehension and even nostalgia, the only sadness I’ll allow myself is that we didn’t do this on purpose. By the immutable law of unintended consequence, it did us. Our greedy and god-filled, who, in pursuit of treasure and holy truth, of the most gilded empire of all — on heaven, as it is on Earth — lost it all, for all of us.
No doubt the history of empire is not good, a crime against humanity, filled with death, disease, suffering and servitude. But as much as foreigners like to dislike our empire, sometimes they still want us around, our strength, our resolve, our cheer. And it was fascinating to experience it, up close and personal, here in the Netherlands: their fear, that, under President The Donald, we might not be there for them anymore or for Europe or, for that matter, for the parboiling planet. The Dutch we encountered were as teary as we were. There’s no other nation does what America does, for worse and other times for better. In important ways, we were a different kind of empire. Exceptional.
But we’re not going to do it anymore. Instead, we’re going back inside to light the curtains on fire. Leave the world outside our glorious new great wall — along with justice, compassion and the nuclear and environmental fate of this sweet blue spot in the black — to a nation which learned eight centuries ago that a Great Wall can never keep out the troubles of the world or a world-conqueror named Khan.