Home | About | Donate

How We Got Here: American History After "the End of History"


How We Got Here: American History After "the End of History"

Andrew Bacevich

The fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 abruptly ended one historical era and inaugurated another. So, too, did the outcome of last year’s U.S. presidential election. What are we to make of the interval between those two watershed moments? Answering that question is essential to understanding how Donald Trump became president and where his ascendency leaves us.


Peace, the ultimate foe of war and mongers thereof.


Bravo for a great essay and analysis to Andrew Bacevich!

After the Cold War "the “sole superpower” left standing now perfectly positioned to determine the future of all humankind." - unfortunately the prime-movers of that direction were lacking in moral compass and consumed by wealth, corrupt power, and profits

"the election of 2016, the United States looked increasingly like a society divided between haves and have-nots, the affluent and the left-behind, the 1% and everyone else. - the establishment itself remained stubbornly oblivious, with the 2016 presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton offering a case in point - It was, after all, her turn"- except for the principled candidacy of Bernie Sanders and support from millions - all betrayed by the establishment.
"Knocked briefly off balance, Clinton (the establishment) responded by modifying certain of her longstanding positions." sabotaging change for self-serving service to status-quo "centrism".

"From one administration to the next, of course, presidential efforts to deliver Americans to the Promised Land regularly came up (predictably) short. Even so, the political establishment and the establishment media collaborated in (destroying Bernie Sanders & the hopes of millions for a new direction) sustaining the pretense that out of the next endlessly hyped “race for the White House,” another Roosevelt or Kennedy or Reagan would magically emerge to save the nation."

The ascendance of the trump regime led by the most despicable self-serving mental case, was built upon the failure and collusion of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to build any organized progressive 99% Common Good foundation and the anointed "Red Queen" HRC, to alter the direction toward a different dynamic - all three served the establishment and big-money to the detriment of most all else!

To Andrew Bacevich' comprehensive piece I would like to add another commentary from Cornell West.


I would like to add one other example of the trump regime and its direction
designed to move 1% America toward even more vast wealth, usury, exploitation, obscene inequality, and corrupt power - "business" used and viewed as a bludgeon against all others, as intended and as trump has lived his entire life. The life of a contemptible, pathetic excuse for a human being - who espouses and exhibits the worst behaviors and betrayals of human endeavor - an astonishing ignorance born of greedy self-interest and ambition, really caring or being concerned for nothing but a bloated vicious ego, pathetic narcissism, and general contempt for all except the vulture capitalist model he espouses.

The obverse of this contemptible model of life is shown dramatically in the beautiful heartfelt words of Meryl Streep last night.

"An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work. There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.

And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, ’cause it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose."

Those words of spirit, integrity and deep humanity, so desperately needed now, were met with the usual despicable, shallow, and reprehensible tweeted response......................


Great "catch" with the Guardian article. The commentary in that piece is especially good Thanks...


Obama's legacy will be examined in the future by historians for sure, but I bet that list West provides will be looked at in a much more encompassing and illuminating light than West's personal gripes. Obama is the most left-leaning president we've had in generations. He made some missteps, but so did FDR.

I do want to add, interesting essay by Andrew.


This is an excellent summation of and analysis of U.S. history that puts the end of the Cold War, the consequences of 9/11 and the other crises that occurred during those years, the election and administrative haplessness of Predident Obama, and the weird triumph of Uncle Don Trump.

But like many other superb analyses of what went wrong and why, when it comes to the what to do about it part, it gets vague and platitudinous, suggesting massive ideological change and enormous shifts in values without offering the slightest clue as to what people in or out of leadership positions could do to bring these about.

And his analysis good as it is gives not much mention to the environmental crisis we are in and which is escalating at an extremely rapid pace -- and in the psychological effects this is having on the people which I think is situationally central to everything. Trying to negotiate the deepening gap between the hopes that need to be there to motivate survival actions and the frequent indications that it's too late to save the day.

I think that this civilization psychological double bind is the driving force behind the occurrences of "motiveless" mass killings, the culture war between classes and factions, and the mounting paranoia that tries to hide from itself by an hysterical grabbing of snything to try to embidy and perpetuate a cutesy poo Pollyanna positivity.

What can be done? I have suggested that people use all these marvelous communication devices and techniques that techno-industrial Capitalism has given most if not all of us and become as obsessive-compulsive about using them to do much more than they're doing now to get the word out. If we don't know what exactly "the word," begin the process of trial and error and see if it can be learned.

To paraphrase one of the campaign tropes of our almost new president, we're living in an ever worsening mess, so what have we got to lose by trying?


thanks for the excellent Cornel West article.


Thanks Norcal and ice.

The Cornell West piece speaks many truths that most others dare not speak.
"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends - Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. - A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus." - Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

“sow a character and you reap a destiny” great words from Dr West.

"A few of us begged and pleaded with Obama to break with the Wall Street priorities and bail out Main Street. But he followed the advice of his “smart” neoliberal advisers to bail out Wall Street - Obama met with Wall Street leaders and proclaimed: "I stand between you and the pitchforks. I am on your side and I will protect you", he promised them. And not one Wall Street criminal executive went to jail."

"Obama’s lack of courage to confront Wall Street criminals and his lapse of character in ordering drone strikes unintentionally led to rightwing populist revolts at home and ugly Islamic fascist rebellions in the Middle East. And as deporter-in-chief – nearly 2.5 million immigrants were deported under his watch – Obama policies prefigure Trump’s barbaric plans.

"Bernie Sanders gallantly tried to generate a leftwing populism but he was crushed by Clinton and Obama in the unfair Democratic party primaries. So now we find ourselves entering a neofascist era"

I am reminded by West's words - “sow a character and you reap a destiny”
of the words of Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, and in slightly different form by Mohandas Gandhi, The Mahatma.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.” - Mahatma Gandhi

"Be careful with your thoughts because they will become words
Be careful of your words because they will become actions
Be careful of your actions because they will become habits
Be careful of your habits because they will form your character
Be careful of your character because it will form your destiny and your destiny will be your life"

"There is no higher religion than the truth" - His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso


I was waiting for an article by a man such as Andrew Bacevich.

Thank's Andrew for your thoughtful take on things.

There are a few posts here on 'character' - and I believe these hit the mark.

Fridjtof Nansen spoke words to that exact same theme in his rectorial address to St. Andrew's University back in the twenty's - i.e., he wondered out loud what the great thinkers of the past would make of all our material and technical progress?

He stated that he thought they would ask - "but has it made you a better man?", or words to that effect.

Here's my thought this frigid Calgary morning:

We have Andrew Bacevich - and his character is sterling.

And we have Eric Snowden, an actual mythic-quality hero.

And both - 'made-in-America'.

I just watched Citizenfour on Netflix - & I read the Wikipedia article on Eric Snowden.

The documentary "Citizenfour" struck me with tremendous force - because I could see and hear Snowden in person.

And so in this darkening age we have 'sterling character' and mythic heroes already - and that is not a small thing.


Thank you, Common Dreams, for posting this wonderfully crisp summary of our recent past by Andrew Bacevich. Thank you, Mr. Bacevich, for continuing to hand us all the brilliant gifts of your large experience and keen learning.

Now, to all my friends and others who see possible hope in the things Bernie Sanders works to achieve. Here is the blunt reality informing the vision we will either deliver to the voters, clearly and effectively, before the end of this calendar year, or we have no one else to blame for our being considered marginal at best.

For those unsiure ones, hesitant & needing a bit more inspiration, devote 3.5 hrs to this: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/everything-rich-man-trick/ because the Nazis began a century ago designing their contemporary total control over our government, economy, wars, and entire lives. Either we face what we have, or we and our children are swallowed by it.


An excellent article. Sadly, I think H.L. Mencken said it more succinctly in his article in the Baltimore Evening Sun on 26 July 1920. I'm afraid we've finally made it.
"The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

		H. L. Mencken on elections
		Baltimore Evening Sun, 26 July 1920



My neighbor and Dr. West's father were best friends, so I feel as though I know the family and know of their long standing intellect and religious sincerity. I have followed Cornell in his intellectual journeys for many years and can only say that I love and respect him. Thank you for your view it is accurate and much appreciated.


The 'age of expectations' is an academic's/historian's perspective on the post Berlin Wall era and while a valid cultural and political descriptive in general, it skips past a detailed discussion of the the collary negative analysis of the era for the most part. Perhaps the greater truth is that what we have seen is a a lack of expectations inherent in our society. All we had was greed and while that seemed sufficient (especially for those who could actually be greedy) for many, as a society we began to fragment and encountered a breakdown of all that we extol as virtues whether patriotism (for example, Halliburton's excess in Iraq or Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy while borrowing to pay for a war) or cultural - we realized that we don't very much like each other and are often openly hostile to one another by habit. We aren't really good neighbors to each other any more, we mostly see opportunities to 'get something' from each other. The very idea of helping each other has become almost sinful in this capitalist conservative society where being rich is the only goal.

We created our Frankenstein Capitalism and that monster is getting away from us.

Ever notice how Americans don't actually like other Americans? Cut back Medicare? Increase corporate tax cuts.

The instantaneous fulfillment of greed is not the ideal society but we never thought about what is the alternative to that selfishness.

A society composed of people who don't like each other... folks be grateful that you are progressives because we are surrounded by self destructive madmen who just don't care about others.

Trump may not be a flash in the pan like the good professor seems to think. Here today and regretted tomorrow. Trump may be more insidious than that and far more destructive. Beware mostly of Trump's setting into play long term political damage and turning back the clock to pre Berlin War days and in fact pre climate awareness days.

He doesn't like people... or haven't you noticed?


It may not quality as a vision but one thing we must do, no if, and, or buts, is make a rapid transition away from fossil fuels to energy that does not emit carbon dioxide. Making such a rapid transition is probably a greater challenge than any challenge we have met in the past. And the global cooperation required would surpass any in history. For not understanding this it would fair to label people who voted for Trump stupid, ignorant, or simply out of reality. This transition is not an option and it has to take place whether the country is liberal or conservative. Without action the US may only have five or six decades to go. Perhaps even less. This is the most dire emergency situation the US has ever faced. It is especially dangerous because it is slow moving or at least until now. It will likely greatly pick up speed in the near future. And nothing may be able to save us. Not a new leader, a decision to finally take the action needed, nothing. And the consequences could last for thousands of years. We talking about the end of a habitable planet.


If you like this essay, you (and Mr. Bacevich) may also like the works of ClassWarFilms.


If you check out these short powerful videos, start with CWF's foundational vid "Let Your Life Be A Friction to Stop the Machine"


Great article. It makes us think.


From another perspective, more focused on conditions right here in the US: The US had implemented a wide range of policies and programs from FDR to Reagan, taking the country to its height of wealth and productivity (far from perfect, but much better). Then we changed our minds, and decided to do the exact opposite, reversing the policies, ending the programs, and have steadfastly pretended that there are no consequences. The US shut down/shipped out a huge number of jobs since the 1980s, ended actual welfare aid in the 1990s. For some 30 years, much work went into successfully pitting Americans against each other by class, race, and ideology. The overall quality of life in the US went from being rated at #1 when Reagan was first elected, down to #48 by the time Obama was elected.

Since the end of WWll, the US has earned the distrust/rage of much of the international community. With the 21st Century, the US pursued the longest, most expensive war in its history, draining the country out militarily and economically. Putting all of this together, we no longer have the means to rebuild, nor the will to do so. And we are at a historically weak point.

Now a fascist (by definition) is taking control of the US government, and those in Congress will serve him. What began with the "Reagan Revolution" has achieved its goal. The US will finish transitioning into just another third world labor state that discards those who aren't of use to the corporate bosses.


Yes, people have been pointing out the urgency of this for at least the past half century. Have we made much progress?


Luckily, we have great progressives like Cornel West, who clearly has "brother" Trump's ear, to tell us the pure and right way forward.