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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
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Great empire, little minds

Trump’s rise has deep roots in America’s mythology of itself, says Diane Roberts

In the Shadows of the American Century: the Rise and Decline of US Global Power by Alfred McCoy (Oneworld, £18.99)

“Greatness” is the essence of the American brand. We are great because we are good and good because we are great: a land of liberty and opportunity, a nation favoured by God. That’s what we Americans tell ourselves, at least, though lately the story’s been sounding a trifle shopworn. The current occupant of the Oval Office got there by promising voters he’d make America “great again.” But after 18 months of posturing “greatness”, it’s hard to find areas in which the US really is a leader—other than mass shootings.

The US is no longer one of the most admired nations. The American healthcare system continues to languish at the bottom among developed countries. We’re no longer a bastion of press freedom: Reporters Without Borders places the US at 45th in the world, citing the silencing of diverse voices through corporate consolidation and hostility emanating from President Donald Trump, who has called the press “the enemy of the people.” The Economist’s Democracy Index ranks the US as a “flawed democracy”, on par with Italy, India or South Africa.

The US military remains the most powerful in the world and the US economy still rules (for now). But what does America stand for these days? Traditional answers— the rule of law, equal opportunity, equal justice, hope for the oppressed, human rights—are necessarily qualified by the uglier realities of American history: forced removal of indigenous peoples, slavery and segregation at home, ill-judged wars abroad. Nonetheless, America used to have certain ideals. We often failed to live up to those ideals, but they were a moral template inspiring (or reproaching) our leaders.

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In Prospect’s August issue: Zoe Williams argues that the first thing we need to do if we are to remain in the EU is to tackle the reasons why so many wanted out—namely pay and conditions at home and the impact of unfettered capitalism. Prospect’s Alex Dean and Tom Clark interviewed former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg who says the liberal centre should keep the faith—there is another way to work closely with Europe, but the immigration question is central to finding that solution. Meanwhile, a group of writers including Wolfgang Münchau, Shashank Joshi and Owen Hatherley explain some of the pitfalls, prizes and things you hadn’t thought about when it comes to the UK’s relationship with the EU. Elsewhere in the issue: Former UK diplomat Tom Fletcher profiles the out-going UN human rights chief who is causing a stir by saying the things nobody else would dare. Steve Bloomfield asks what happened to Seymour Hersh—how did the legendary journalist come to echo the thoughts and ideas of Bashar al-Assad; and Phil Ball examines the crisis of male infertility asking: where has all the sperm gone?