And They’re Not Doing a Very Good Job of It
There’s a line from a great John Lee Hooker song that pops up at our house from time to time and always gets a big laugh: “This is nineteen and fifty-two, baby, I’m gonna turn over a brand new leaf…”
If you’re over the age of 16, you may have discovered by now that it’s not always easy to turn that leaf over, especially if you live in the United States. Large parts of the rest of the world are substantially different. The differences have to do with sovereignty and priorities. In most European countries the citizens rule their own countries by means of highly-respected, honest, and closely monitored democratic governments. As for their criteria, most of them have to do with the wellbeing of the citizens.
In the United States sovereignty rests, through devious indirect control of all three branches of government, in the hands of big interests: Big Oil, Big Tech, Big Pharma, Big Banks, Big Tobacco, Big Defense Industries… Everthing that could conceivably be privatized has been privatized. Most Americans perceive this as normal. The all-powerful private sector is erroneously seen as a given, but it’s not. It’s a choice. Why would the citizens of an advanced society entrust the running of their country to a small minority of mega-wealthy money jugglers and industrialists with one priority: the absolute rule of the greatest country in the world, with policies that benefit only themselves? What could persuade a sovereign people living under a democratic Constitution to relinquish the rule of the their country to such a band of parasites?
The answer is both simple and complicated. The people have been tricked. It’s been a long time coming, but today big business’s dominance of the United States is pretty much absolute. Who’s going to turn over the new leaf now? And how? And when? One great uncertainty hovers over all the rest: Is it already too late?
All for Profit in the Past, Present and Future
All the trappings of a modern democratic government in the United States are just a shadown drama of shifting kimonos on a rickety, ill-lit stage. In all matters of fundamental importance, American business calls the shots. And we don’t have to guess at their priorities. They are all about securing their own rule and maximizing profit for their managers and stockholders with little or no regard for the hopes and aspirations–and at times the very survival–of everyday people, both at home and abroad. Who are the stockholders, anyway? Curiously it’s mainly the bankers, industrialists and their congressional facilitators, themselves.
Other kinds of issues are considered vital in more truly advanced countries, beginning with the character of their maximum leaders and the impression of sanity and seriousness they project at home and abroad. Every American president since George W. Bush has been perceived by discerning observers, in greater or lesser degree, as a sinister clown. Then there are the principal subjects of concern in any truly advanced country: education, public health, equality of opportunity, racial justice, the climate crisis, truth and decency in dealings with their world neighbors–issues that hardly enter into American government calculations, regardless of which of their political parties–Tweedle Dum or Tweedle Dee–is in office.
Do you doubt it? Ask any black or brown American. Ask any American family living in a car or on the street, or any head of a family who works two McJobs and still can’t afford to rent a decent home. Question any Iraqi, Afghan, Libyan, Iranian, Somali, Central or South American. Inquire of China, or even Japan, whom America ushered into the history books as the first country to endure not one but two surprise nuclear bombings. (Why two? Because America had two different bomb models, playfully dubbed “Fat Man” and “Little Boy,” and President Truman wanted to test them both in real-world situations.)
A History of Exploitation, Genocide, and Other Iniquities
American colonists from the very beginning felt that they had a God-given right to eliminate the heathen Native Americans. The few that survive today are just a result of a slipshod genocide. Slavery in America rested on the same God-given foundations. Despite a series of poorly-executed laws to end the horrors of slavery after the Civil War, it didn’t die. It mutated. Thanks to Jim Crow laws, passed in all southern states and given a wink and nod from Washington, black people in the south suffered decades more of brutal exploitation. Nor is that sordid heritage over yet. Today the American penal system–the largest in the world–has picked up where Jim Crow left off, disproportionally incarcerating and exploiting black citizens in similar or worse conditions than their slaveholder forbears.
America’s special brand of racism has broken the back of their democracy, a fact that has been highlighted by the recent spate of voter suppression initiatives around the country. The US is home to so many–and such virulent–racists that they can severely limit voting rights through democratic processes alone: racist-majority state legislatures, courts, juries, and police, not to mention the majority of race haters militating in the Republican Party.
Where America Excels
There is one field in which American technology is unsurpassed, and that is the business of communications, persuasion and salesmanship. They have never been bettered in the business of mind twisting, devious salesmanship and the diffusion of false “facts.” They have convinced the majority of American citizens that their country is a hilltop beacon of freedom and democracy with the sacred obligation to take that enviable model abroad to less fortunate countries.
That basic “truth” has given rise to myriad bastard offspring, including the subversion of legitimate governments and “regime change,” assassinations of legitimate political leaders included (Guatemala, Iran, the Republic of the Congo, Chile…). Nor were they averse to outright invasions (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia); along with those that are currently/still brewing (Yemen, Libya, another Afghanistan, Syria, Taiwan, Cuba, Venezuela, another Iraq…)
The American salesmanship voodoo is wonderfully exemplified in the decades-long campaign to involve allied defense establishments in the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II project to develop an advanced fifth-generation stealth fighter aircraft. This endeavor began its life in 1992 as a congressional pork-barrel operation situating manufacturing operations in 48 of the 50 states. This is standard operating procedure both for winning widespread backing in Congress and creating a project that would be too big to fail. They were right on both counts, as the project is still stumbling forward 20 years later.
The product is a multi-faulty multi-service fighter plane with expensive and ungainly separate versions for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. It also resembles a textbook fraud, by casting all prospective clients as partners, thereby making them co-responsible for the aircraft’s myriad development glitches, holdups, and astronomical cost overruns. It is, in short, a big-B boondoggle, the most expensive weapons system in military history, to the tune of $1.7 trillion. Aviation and military procurement insiders refer to it as “the fighter plane that sank the Pentagon.” According to an article in Forbes (Feb. 23, 2021), the US Air Force has just declared the F-35 unfit for duty. “The 25-ton stealth warplane has become the very problem it was supposed to solve. And now America needs a new fighter to solve that F-35 problem.” One wonders about the experts from other countries who signed on to the program. What convinced them, the carrot or the stick? Do they have important stock portfolios? Do their kids go to elite schools in America?
A Grisly Endgame
American business had its demise dialled into its DNA. As companies became more concentrated and monopolistic, with more advantages and fewer controls engineered by their legislative arm, more of their domestic competitors were driven to the wall. That led to layoffs and deteriorating conditions for workers. Little by little big business in America was killing the market it needed to stay afloat and now the job is almost finished. Ironically, this process, while stifling trade in America, opened up fabulous opportunities for the Chinese, who are creating millions of jobs and getting rich as America’s manufacturing arm.
China’s annual Gross Domestic Product growth rate has hovered just under 10% since 1978 when they began reforming their economy, never dropping below 7.9%, even during the pandemic. By way of comparison, the US GDP growth rate over that same period never reached 5%. These numbers go a long way towards explaining America’s perception of China today as an arch enemy. The Americans have always had trouble distinguishing between adversaries and enemies. The difference seems to be: you can bomb the latter. This last graph reflects the growth of Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) in the United States over the past two decades. They’re buying up their last viable competitor.
Two of the sectors that still thrive in the US are the so-called “defense industries” and financial services. The needs of the former dictate America’s policy of forever war, making defense a distinctly risky business. The latter are essential to the management of the fortunes of America’s 20.27 million millionaires and 724 billionaires, none of whom sleep in their cars nor on the street.