The End of American Hegemony?

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Yesterday’s images of people literally invading the Senate chambers of the U.S. Capitol are stunning. Following months of “mostly peaceful” (i.e. violent) protests in major cities last summer, these scenes conjure up comparisons to revolutionary moments in history. What they don’t conjure up, however, is the quintessential image of America. Things like this aren’t supposed to happen here.

Now, as of this writing, it is not known whether the individuals who invaded the Capitol building are Trump supporters, Antifa infiltrators, or just opportunistic loons. I tend to think they are part of the lunatic fringe of the Trump movement. That’s not a critique of Trump’s supporters. Every large movement attracts a lunatic fringe—just ask me about my pro-life activist days. 

However, more important than the invaders’ identity is the fact that the Capitol of the United States—the most powerful country in the world—was invaded for the second time in its history. Previously, only the mighty British Army during the War of 1812 was able to accomplish what happened yesterday. This act shatters the myth of American invulnerability. How can we continue to say we’re the most powerful country in the world, one that sets the global agenda, when we can’t even keep a scruffy band led by a shirtless dude in a viking cap out of the national Capitol?

For decades, Americans have been content in our superiority. We were the most powerful nation in the world, the global cop both setting an example for and imposing the American way on the rest of the world. We were convinced that, unlike other empires, from Rome to the Soviet Union, we couldn’t be toppled. Revolutions were things that upturned other countries, not us. Yet now revolution is clearly at our doorstep. Our country is tearing itself apart, and the term “United States” is becoming as oxymoronic as “pregnant man” or “same-sex marriage.” 

It’s inevitable that yesterday’s events will be used to crush opponents of the Left. It won’t matter if those who stormed the Capitol are Trump supporters or not. Facts like that are irrelevant to the Left in their quest for total power. But we can’t make the mistake we’ve made for years, which is to continually engage in pathetic apologetic groveling for the actions of a few. Yes, these actions should be condemned. But they don’t reflect a wider movement among conservatives. Yet the professional “conservative” apologizing class will be sure to use this event to further pander to the Left. And chancery functionaries around the country are hastily writing condemnations of yesterday’s events, even though the bishops were mostly silent during last summer’s riots. Falling all over ourselves to show we’re not like those fringe types only encourages more oppression from the Left. Yesterday’s acts should not silence us one bit in our mission.

The end of America’s hegemony likely will mean various competing forces will battle for control of our future. It was during the chaotic, fading days of the Russian tsardom that the Communist revolution took control of the country. Similar forces hope to take advantage of America’s declining influence and increasing chaos. So it is into this battle that we as Catholics are called. What is our battle plan? Prayer and resistance. First and foremost, Catholics must take to prayer. We must pray that the forces aligning against us are defeated. We must pray for strength and fortitude to defend the rights of the Church and to protect the vulnerable among us. 

But we also must actively resist the forces attacking our country from within. That resistance takes many forms, from simply living a family life contrary to our debased cultural norms, to openly defying oppressive and unjust laws. It must, however, always be consistent with the moral norms set down by the Church. Unjust violence is never permissible, nor are other sins such as calumny, slander, or lies (no matter how much our opponents use these tools to great effect). But the power of a life lived in accordance with the Gospel should never be underestimated. It can topple nations and bring an end to oppressive forces. Ultimately, that is the fundamental resistance to which all Catholics are called.

Sadly, the past year revealed that many Catholics don’t have the stomach for resistance. As state and local governments around the country put restrictions on the celebration of the Sacraments, nary a word of resistance was spoken by our leaders. The mandates and restrictions of the past year have been in many ways a successful test run for the State’s growing impulse to oversee the Church. Too many Church leaders were all too willing to concede control of the Sacraments to government bureaucrats. If the Left takes the levers of government power, do we really think they will need the excuse of a virus to continue to control the Church? 

Is this the end of America’s hegemony? It certainly looks that way. A country this divided has no power to lead and set the agenda for the rest of the globe, much less keep its own house in order. But how our country—or countries, if we cannot hold together—emerges from this time of decline and revolution might very well depend on how Catholics respond to this crisis and prayerfully resist the forces arrayed against us.

[Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images]

Eric Sammons

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Eric Sammons is the editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine. His upcoming book Deadly Indifference (May 2021) examines the rise of religious indifference and how it has led the Church to lose her missionary zeal.

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