Wednesday, August 8, 2012

From American Dream to American Illusion

Rising government acceptance of corporate corruption, intensifying corporate control over politics, rising preference in Washington for a foreign policy based on force rather than diplomacy, and accentuation of class divisions with rising inequality in the U.S. constitute a shift in direction away from the post-WWII growth of the middle class and democracy. The decline in the prospects of the average American have been so slow that most seem unconscious of the change, but in the space of one generation, the American Dream has been transformed into the American Illusion. 
Four core trends have combined fundamentally to alter the course of U.S. society over the last generation. Under the cover of a flood of elitist propaganda equating corporate growth with social good and circus-like elections with democracy, in one brief generation, the social, political, and economic prospects of U.S. society have tragically dimmed. Individuals have reacted with resignation by opting out of politics (precisely what the rich wanted) or self-defeating anger by blaming Moslems or liberals for their own failures (again playing into the hands of the rich), becoming increasingly focused on the present when careful consideration of the long-term impact of our behavior and government policies are the key to reversing the decline.

Corruption. Corruption is rapidly eroding the quality of governance in the U.S., with a complacent Federal Government attitude toward war profiteering,  environmental, and financial crime leading the way. Most striking is the shift government behavior from the 1980s, when the FBI ran a vigorous and successful campaign following the S&L crisis resulting in the imprisonment of hundreds of financial criminals, to the Bush Administration’s war against regulation and the Obama Administration’s refusal to bring to justice the financial criminals at the heart of the 2008 Financial Crisis.

Corporate Rule. The continuing popularity of the Corporate Party and its strengthening chokehold on government in the aftermath of the blatant misbehavior of Big Finance in 2008, even with the supposedly pro-people party in power, attest to the growing shadow of corporate power over U.S. democratic institutions. With even the Supreme Court upholding the shockingly anti-democratic principle of “one dollar, one vote,” it is clear that democracy is not just under attack but being soundly defeated.

War Is the Answer. The increasingly blatant use of violence, open calls for aggression under the thin veneer of “preventive” war, and the rising tendency of officials to brag about economic warfare, terrorist attacks against foreign scientists, and drone bombings of individuals whose identities may not even be known with the justification that the victims “may” have been fighting against some pro-U.S. foreign regime all point to the institutionalization of a policy of violence by choice as the preferred method of solving all problems. The War Party remains nearly as powerful as it was following 9/11 despite a decade of disasters that were incredibly costly to all but the rich, and the U.S. currently pursues a belligerent policy toward not just Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan but also desperately poor Latin America and Africa. Gore Vidal’s characterization of the U.S. party system as one party with two conservative wings seems more accurate every day.

Return from the Dead of a Class Society. The post-WWII rise of the American middle class to the point where Americans broadly felt that they lived in a middle-class (i.e., a class-free) society has now clearly been reversed and is well documented by the Congressional Budget Office. With home-ownership under attack by corrupt banks, jobs increasingly part-time, contracts being broken by both corporations and governments, unions weakened almost to the point of irrelevance, wages declining, pensions a dream of the past, and a massive new class of unemployed people simply written off as superfluous even as a new super-class of billionaire financial manipulators arises, there can no longer be any doubt that the U.S. is evolving backwards into a new class society that Marx would have no trouble recognizing.

Although Americans have of course always faced problems, U.S. society has been distinguished by “the American Dream,” the belief that progress toward equality, liberty, and peace would occur. These four trends--government acceptance of corporate corruption, corporate rule undermining democracy, the international use of force rather than persuasion, and the return from the dead of a class society predict the end of the American Dream. The probability of that sad prediction coming true is only strengthened by the evident decline ineducation; the alienation of Americans from participation in public affairs (reminiscent of the stereotypic “long-suffering Russian serf”) that hands victory on a silver platter to the exploitative international corporate elite (prime recipient of Iraq War largesse Halliburton, for example, is no longer a U.S. corporation); and a general refusal in American society to think about long-term consequences.

Given the wealth of the country (if not of the population) and the historically demonstrated ability of U.S. society to rise to meet major challenges, this last point—the unwillingness of Americans to think about the long-term consequences of their behavior—may be the most serious weakness of all.

All of the four trends identified above are--from the perspective of a society that thinks only about the present, sneers at history, and forgets almost everything more than a few years old—very much long-term processes. Other fundamental threats to American security, most obviously global warming, are considerably longer-term processes. If one cannot even remember the S&L crisis, how can one see the shift by Washington toward acceptance of financial crime? In a few years, will Americans have forgotten that diplomacy used to be the method of choice for exercising influence in the world? Will Americans be watching drone warfare in our own skies as the whole world copies the U.S. innovation of illegally bombing with drones wherever it wants? Will corporations be openly handing voters envelopes filled with cash to make “democracy” function “properly?”

Before Americans can figure out how to correct this decline in their fortunes, they will have to recognize the nature of the decline that has occurred over the last generation so they can see the impact of current behavior on future prospects.

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