At some point in the future, the ape historians may look back at this time and call it the Bush – Clinton period of the American empire. The period started with the first Bush presidency in 1989, roughly corresponding with the end of the Cold War and concluding sometime around now. It is hard to know if this period is at an end or if it will stagger on for a while longer. It would surprise no one if Hillary Clinton or one of the Bush clan takes one last stab at the presidency in 2024.
The rivalry between the Bush family and the Clinton family mirrors the rivalry between the Compson and Snopes family in the William Faulkner novels. The Compson family represented the old Southern order that emerged from the wreckage of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The Snopes family represented the new, white trash culture that was slowly overtaking the old order. It was order and dignity at the end of its time versus an emergent disorder and lack of dignity.
In the American context, the Bush family represent the old WASP order that cannot update its thinking to the present. They are built for the old America that was confident and ascendant, but they find themselves at the end of empire. Desperate to maintain their status and position, they aligned with shady characters like Mexican cartel members, the Saudi Royal family, and the neoconservatives. This toxic blend of anti-American interests would shape the empire for decades.
The Clintons are far less grandiose. Like the Snopes clan, they represent the new order that is not really order at all. Instead, it represents the vermin that infest the dying old order, doing anything and everything to get an edge on the other rats. Unlike the Bush clan, they don’t seek power for prestige. They seek power for profit. They cut deals with China in the 1990’s for campaign cash. Then Hillary was auctioning off state secrets from her perch in the State Department during the Obama years.
The analogy breaks down a bit as the Clinton family was not productive like the Snopes family, so there will be no second and third generation. On the other hand, they did unleash the new breed of Baby Boomer politician. While biologically unrelated to the Clinton family, the entire political class has been shaped by them. The Poppy Bush type is nowhere to be found in modern politics, but the political class is thick with women who admire Hillary and men who think like Bill.
Just as the Faulkner novels play out in the shadow of the old order represented by the Compson family, American politics continues to play out in the shadow of the Bush clan and their efforts to remain at the top of the old order. Even though the 20-year debacle in Afghanistan has ended, it remains a big player in politics. Of course, the neoconservatives are still embedded in the system. It was their brains and the gross stupidity of George Bush that made Afghanistan possible.
The Bush family, like a drug resistant virus, will not go away. George Bush gave a speech to on 9/11, as Joe Biden was cognitively unable to do it. Of course, he took the opportunity to remind everyone of his contempt for ordinary people. He said of the January 6 protestors that “they are children of the same foul spirit, and it is our continuing duty to confront them.” Despite his inability to string a sentence together on his own, that perfectly captures the sentiment of the ruling class.
Taken together, the last thirty years have been a decaying ruling elite willing to strike any deal necessary to maintain their position. This includes allowing a rapacious vermin-like Clinton clan to gnaw away at the social fabric. One side looks at the American society as fuel to be used for the imperial engines, while the other side just sees America as a host on whom they will feed until it dies. Nowhere in the struggle between the two sides are the interests of the people.
No analogy is perfect. Donald Trump is certainly a member of the Snopes side of this fight, but hated by the clan nonetheless. He saw his opportunity for some personal gory in 2016 and he seized it. He had no grand plans or even a desire to reform the system, so he spent his time on personal projects. In a way, Trump was the new and improved version of Bill Clinton. It is a nice bit of narrative irony that Hillary was defeated by one her husband’s old golf buddies.
An important potential parallel between this age and the Faulkner novels is that the story preceded the upheavals in the American South. The new South that emerged in the late 20th century was not like either side of the struggle. The world of Faulkner is a distant memory now. Similarly, the old imperial order represented by the Bush clan and the grasping thievery of Boomer politics represented by the Clinton family is not going to survive the dissolution of empire.
What emerges from the inevitable turmoil that comes when these two modes of politics collapse under the weight of their own immorality is unknown. What is certain is a period of upheaval where the empire contracts in fits and starts, staggering from one crisis to the next. Each crisis shrinks the empire a little more until the very concept of empire is no longer tenable. The people will be spectators as the dying elites savage one another for their share of the declining profits.
The lesson from the Faulkner tales is that elites must be replaced by elites. The Snopes clan either had to evolve into an elite or be replaced along with the old elite as represented by the Compson family. That means the Bush side of the struggle will not last, but neither will the Clinton side. Rapacious thievery can never be the foundation for a new elite. A generation from now, the people at the top of whatever comes of America will be nothing like the ruling class of today.
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