As discussed in the previous article in this series, America has been experiencing a particular type of fear for over a decade. Fear could often make a person, or a dominant group within a society, obsessed with an object or a desired outcome, or with a way in which this society has identified with an image of itself.

America’s unchecked way of operations across the globe in the past three decades, which has reflected itself in unchecked ways of managing its internal affairs, could well be such a desired outcome or view of itself. This means, America’s victory in the Cold War and the three decades since in which America got used to achieving whatever desire or objective it has, has given rise to unrestraint behaviour in internal American politics. We have seen various examples of that in the past two decades in which American internal politics appeared for many observers to be driven not only by partisan bickering, but primarily by imperial hubris. At the core of internal American politics, there has existed for at least two decades now, a vague but powerful conception that America can abandon many of the ideas upon which it had been founded, with limited if any consequences.

Being able to do whatever one wants, irrespective of the costs, including to one’s own resources, could nurture acute forms of indulgence. The person – or the society – gradually loses its ability to control itself. Self-control is the golden mean of success; it is the secret ingredient without which many endeavours go wasted. And so, when a society loses its ability to control itself, the society loses its objective compass of what is right and beneficial and what is wrong and destructive, primarily for itself.

The result is often fixation with the status quo. In such cases, the society internalises that the privileges, and often joys, of abandoning self-control are too precious to let go, and so there emerges an insistence on retaining that status of unrestraint behaviour.

Such a fixation could lead to choosing a political leadership that embodies losing restraint. In the case of America, the attraction becomes the idea that at moments of looming changes in and outside the country which threaten to shatter the status quo, only a highly assertive leadership is needed, a leadership that is not mindful of these changes but on the contrary that is able to reverse them. Bravado, abrasiveness, and disregard of subtle calculations, and often even ignorance of the changes taking place in the world, become, in the minds of many, the needed qualities to steer the society in the unchartered waters it is entering, towards the safety of the known, the safety of what has been experienced in the past three decades, since America won the Cold War and ruled supreme over the world.

Fixation can turn into identification. The groups that feel threatened by the changes in and outside of the country identify with the ideas of the assertive leaders who promise to crush the threats and steer the society towards the safety of the familiar. Identification becomes so strong that these leaders seem unstoppable, because the underlying fears that propel their ideas and fuel their narratives, are so powerful.

Such fixation, however, brings on major costs. Wisdom gets lost. The society narrows its vision to only the experience of the recent past – in this case, the last three decades in which America was able to act as the sole superpower in the world – and becomes intentionally ignorant of the accumulated lessons of its long history: America’s rich experiences since it began to engage with the world at the end of the nineteenth century.

Decision-making gets impaired. The society indulges itself in selective, and often delusional, interpretations of its own experiences. This is done, almost unconsciously, to reinforce narratives that feed abandoning restraint and seek to maintain the status quo without serious assessments of the likely consequences.

Self-righteousness replaces self-control. Those who need the narrative of rejecting the changes around them, see the voices amongst them calling for restraint and for serious measured assessments of the reality of the internal situation and the subtleties of the circumstances abroad, as enemies. This is why simplifications about restoring a society’s greatness or associating a political choice with some sort of destiny or even divine intervention, gain currency.

In some circumstances this leads to fractures. Societies initially get divided along clashing ideas about not only their desired objectives, but as discussed in the previous article, also about their frames of reference and their conceptions of goodness. With time and as societies come to big choices concerning their future, the divisions could well grow into splits. Societal cohesion goes up in flames.

This affects that society’s international relations. As this series presented, the current moment presents many challenges to America’s relationships across the world. But the gravest impact now is on America’s relationship with China. In this regard, fear and fixation with a desired, unrealistic outcome, can drive towards rigidity and assertiveness. In calculations clouded by fear and fixation the desired outcome acquires immense value, while associated costs and consequences, to oneself and to others, get diluted.

This can lead to wars. The American-Chinese strategic confrontation will highly likely remain political, economic, and technological. But if America’s desire to retain its status as the sole superpower that is able to achieve whatever it desires anywhere in the world without being mindful of consequences turn into a fixation, the American stance in that strategic confrontation will become more assertive and more inclined to take risks. Arguably, America’s thinking will become increasingly anchored on the idea of being inherently right and morally superior. Assertiveness will become more and more rationalised as an inevitable course of action dictated by being on the right side of history. There could well emerge a dynamic between the two countries in which opposing fixations with clashing desired objectives feed on each other.

There is another course, however. Societies, like individuals, can emerge from fear and fixation, can heal the spilts and bridge the gaps between their clashing components. Energy that would have flown towards internal antagonism and international assertiveness, could be channeled towards mature understandings of the different views of the society internally, and of the different conceptions of American power and role internationally. Here, tensions are eased, and fear is transmuted into a desire for growth, for oneself and for others.

In such a course America would be reconnecting with the greatness that was inherent in the ideas upon which it was founded. As this series has presented, at the core of the idea of the American republic was the expectation that that nation would rise to become a supreme power, but there was also, at the core of that expectation, a concrete belief by America’s founding fathers that that nation’s greatness was not a divinely granted right, but a summit that would be reached, and that America would remain at, if the American society continuously endeavoured to retain and sustain the ideals that form its desired greatness and subsequent supremacy.