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In his seminal 1941 essay, “The American Century,” Henry Luce enjoined his country to reject isolationism and assume its rightful place as “the intellectual, scientific and artistic capital of the world.” The 20th century, he proclaimed, was to be America’s century: “Blindly, unintentionally, accidentally and really in spite of ourselves,” Luce wrote, “we are already a world power in all the trivial ways.”

How the World was Won: The Americanization of Everywhere is an exhaustive reckoning of America’s stature in the seven decades since it emerged empowered, wealthy, and irrepressibly optimistic from a war that devastated much of the world. Author Peter Conrad’s book-length essay examines how America has dictated a political will and exported a way of life — in the form of Hollywood movies, Coca-Cola, pop music, magazines, and jazz — to every corner of the globe; how the world has responded with exasperation, envy, disgust, obsession, and admiration; and ultimately, how it engineered its own decline.

Throughout, Conrad is rather affectionate about America and not without sympathy when, as in the passage below, he traces its slow exit from the world stage and asks how it got there.

You can purchase the book here.

Occasionally it looks as if our Americanized world has no room for other countries or cultures. The cover of The Whole Earth Catalog, launched in 1968, did not show the whole earth, only the continent partially occupied by the United States. At the cinema, Universal brands the globe by letting it revolve until the so-called western hemisphere basks in the sun: now it can rest, ensuring that America is never on the dark side. Every October, baseball teams compete in a championship that is called the World Series even though it is confined to North America. Near the end of his life, Steve Jobs took his family on holiday to Turkey. In Istanbul he hired a local historian as a guide, but soon became irritated by lectures about the rites of the Turkish bath and the preparation of Turkish coffee. To himself, he said ‘So fucking what?’ Out loud, he commented that kids in Turkey apparently drank what every other kid in the world drinks, wore clothes that might have been bought at the Gap, and of course used cell phones. ‘They were like kids everywhere,’ he concluded, meaning that they were like kids in California. Is globalism actually become the universalization of the United States?

Proclaiming the advent of the American century in 1941, Henry Luce noted the country’s jazz, slang and patented products were ‘the only things that every community … from Zanzibar to Hamburg, recognizes in common’. Inevitably, the entire world became America’s market. But some Americans were keen for this era of omnipotence to end. Arthur Miller thought he had slowed its progress in 1949 with his play Death of a Salesman, which blasphemed against Luce’s cult of success by examining a single case of failure, the career of a shabby, deluded commercial traveller. In the 1960s the student agitator Todd Gitlin expressed the hope that ‘an anti-American century’ had begun, instigated by protests against the war in Vietnam, and in 1968 Normal Mailer heard Nixon deliver a speech about a friendlier foreign policy that ‘seemed to be calling for an end to Henry Luce’s American Century’. By 1980, after the bungled rescue of the hostages in Iran, Hunter S. Thompson warned that the Arabs, unafraid of the United States and aware of the advantages their oil gave them, were ‘looking beyond “the American century” ’. During the course of his confession in 1998 about his sexual peccadilloes, Bill Clinton said that he would prefer to spend his time preparing for ‘the next American century’: the phrase now sounded as hollow as his quibbling self-defense. The American century began shortly before I was born, and it seems likely to last about as long as an average human being does.

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Politicians keep boasting, though their assertions are increasingly windy. In 1998 Madeleine Albright, the American ambassador to the United Nations, justified an attack on Iraq by claiming a fortune-teller’s uncanny powers. ‘We are the indispensable nation,’ she said. ‘We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future.’ In July 2011, during the squabble about the debt ceiling, the Speaker of the House of Representatives spelled it out. ‘We are the greatest country that ever existed in the history of the world,’ declared Nancy Pelosi. Maybe so, but the assessment seemed retrospective, and it had undertones of disgruntlement and regret, since with greatness come onerous responsibilities and tragic perils. Early in 2014 President Obama edged around the usual superlative when he carefully referred to the United States as ‘the largest organization on earth’ and added that the country still had the power to do good, whether or not – he added, with a telling proviso – anyone was paying attention.

Today even Superman has been stripped of his role as the superpower’s muscular embodiment. In 2011 Action Comics decided that in an interconnected world he could no longer go on defending ‘Truth, justice and the American way’, a motto first heard on the radio in August 1942; to prove his change of heart, he undertook an exploratory flight to Tehran. An improvident nation currently casts nervous glances at the rivals who underwrite its excesses. The skyline of Shanghai makes Manhattan look stumpy, Bollywood is in ruder health than Hollywood, and in the autumn of 2012 the latest dance craze originated in Korea. Although the Universal logo still allows the United States to enjoy the warming sun, the company was sold in 1990 to Matsushita Electric/Panasonic, then to the Canadian liquor firm Seagram, and finally to the French water utility and media conglomerate Vivendi. In the luminous gulch of Times Square, a glaring totem pole continues to advertise Coca-Cola, but American brands are jostled by Hyundai and Samsung. Climbing towards the top of the pole is the billboard of the Chinese state news agency Xinhua, which in October 2013, days before a possible financial default by the United States government, called for the construction of a ‘de-Americanized world’. I shivered when I heard that on the CBS television news in New York: the adjective was new to me, but I expect to be hearing it again.

The philosophical farmer Hector St John de Crèvecoeur, the first European to recognize Americans as human beings of a new kind, said in the 1780s that they were ‘Western pilgrims’, whose mission was to follow the sun and carry on a culture that ‘began long since in the East’. In due course, he expected them to ‘finish the great circle’ by returning the impetus to the East, where it originated; we are now living through the start of that closing phase. It is time to look not towards America but back at it, retraversing three-quarters of a century that began with its promise to raise up bruised, battle-sore humanity and renovate our world.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, purchase the full book here.

Excerpted from How the World was Won: The Americanization of Everywhere, by Peter Conrad. ©2014 Peter Conrad. Reprinted by permission of Thames & Hudson Inc.,

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At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at