I think that when the USSR finally fell, as it would have eventually regardless of what we did, IMO, the US felt vindicated, being the only remaining “superpower”, but not so much for reasons of democracy and self-rule, but for reasons of economics: Capitalism had crushed Communism. But Capitalism, left to itself, can also crush democratic self-rule, because the nature of unregulated capitalism is for wealth to flow upwards.
But the neoconservatives, the ones who foisted Afghanistan and Iraq on us, never understood how big a role “soft power” played in defeating Communism. They assume American military might alone did it, but they are wrong, just as the USSR was wrong in thinking they could use military force to get their way.
What the USSR couldn’t give people is a sense of fun, being happy for the sake of being happy. There could never be a Beatles in Russia because the State was entirely preoccupied with preserving its own power above all else, and as we saw, once enough people got fed up with the whole thing, the system fell apart. Not that what replaced it is much better.
Capitalism has the same problem, which by the way is why Liberalism, Socialism and Communism came into being in the first place. “Work ’till you die” for the benefit of a very few wealthy people is no foundation on which to build a society. We learned this lesson before, it seems it’s one we will have to keep learning over and over again.
Which is why, of course, I’m a liberal. I love the good things that capitalism brings us, I love the variety of products, I love the idea of being part of a system that not only protects my political rights, but makes those rights meaningful by giving me the economic freedom to make my own choices. But left to itself, capitalism will strip those freedoms away bit by bit so that a few people, whose only skill is the acquisition and retention of wealth, can dominate us both politically and economically. What’s happening in West Virginia now is a perfect example of that, a state government colluding with a private company that is casually poisoning its own citizens for the sake of profits, and sadly, they still have the support of many of those citizens who have been made to believe that economic freedom is the only freedom that exists, and that money is the only meaningful measurement of success. Propaganda, unfortunately, works all too well. Maybe that’s changing, we’ll see.