Apropos of Shithole Countries 4/4

Let’s Take a Perspective Look at the Model

It has been 10 years since then-president Donald Trump made his despective remarks about “shithole countries” that raised such a brouhaha at home and abroad. According to the LA Times on the following day the offending words were:

“What do we want Haitians here for?” the president asked, according to the people briefed. “Why do we want all these people from Africa here? Why do we want all these people from shithole countries?” Then he added ludicrously, “We should have people from places like Norway.”

LA Times, Jan. 11, 2018

I think it’s time to deconstruct the declaration. ·What, exactly, is a shithole country? What are its salient characteristics? How do we identify it? What, if anything, can we learn from the former president’s declaration? What do the shithole countries tend to have in common. Shall we make a list?

Getting a Grip on the Elusive Shithole

  • They tend to be run by a coterie of dishonest and ruthless politicos who serve at the behest of shadowy monied interests.
  • They skim so much wealth off the top of their country’s economy that there is virtually nothing left for basic services and infrastructures for the society at large.
  • They are run along military/police lines. These two sectors have carte blanche.
  • What little wealth generated is siphoned off by non-resident, usually foreign owners.
  • Their communication with their citizens have nothing to do with truth or utility, rather political expediency.
  • The court of last resort in most of these countries has little to do with the judiciary. It’s often the clandestine services.
  • Education–the key to true democracy–in these countries is disconsidered and underfinanced. Schools for the children of the masses of the population are left to crumble and teachers are underrated, under-equipped and underpaid. Think of the importance good teachers had in your own life. Where would you be without them? The sons and daughters of the ruling elite have the option to attend exclusive schools, abroad.
  • Firearms policies in the worst of these countries are notoriously lax or unenforced. Legally-armed crazies roam the streets unsettling and destabilizing the citizens, who find themselves perpetually on the wrong foot. “Will I make it safely home from work today. Will I be gunned down in my workplace? Will my children be safe at school? Will they make it home safely? Shall I buy them bullet-proof book bags?” The absurdity of the non-regulation of firearms reinforces the absurdity all the other potential dangers the government fails to regulate: rents, living wages, killer capitalism, and everything else designed to clog the prosperity funnel that drains wealth from the poor to the rich. The trickle-down theory is shithole economics.
  • Exaggerated levels of nationalism and a perverted “patriotism” permeate the worst of these societies from cradle to grave, and degrade its values. A noxious by-product of these is the default justification of heinous human-rights abuses in other people’s countries. The ultimate expression of this thinking is overweening, forever-war militarism.

    Besides being a plague on their neighbors, these countries show utter disregard for the rights and welfare of their own citizens, as if these were a burden on national resources, not the exact opposite: the very essence and reason-for-being of an honest and truly democratic government. The most egregious examples of this phenomenon are racial minorities, who are the brunt of the worst injustices that flawed countries can dish out, whether at home, in the streets on in the prisons.

Wait, There’s More

The usual trope of shithole countries is some sort of castrated, conditional so-called democracy with its hands tied by self-seeking politicos engendering democracy-crippling legislation like the Patriot Acts or high court decisions like Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.

A pervading climate of hate permeates all. The left hates the right, the right hates the left. The rich hate the poor and vice versa. The whites hate the blacks and everybody hates the Russians, who also happen to put their trousers on one leg at a time. In these militarized societies nobody seems to be able to distinguish between adversaries and enemies. To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Poverty is weaponized. A father or mother who is worrying about where their children’s next meal is coming from, or whether they’re going to be evicted at the end of the month, is in no condition to demand decent social services or a living wage. It is this impoverished lumpenproletariat (Source: Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto) that pays the price of justification of paupers’ conditions for the whole society. Without them the ruling thugs have no-one to point to as examples of just how sordid they can make your life.

Where to Apply These Damning Epithets

That’s up to you, dear reader. You are the jury and the judge.You must decide where to direct your hammer. But before you strike, permit me the luxury of citing a few words from the poet, Robert Burns. They’re archly familiar and seem to me to be particularly apt in this case:

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us. To see oursels as ithers see us! 

Robert Burns



Citizens United Opened the Door to the Abyss

(Turning on the music enhances the reading.)

Democracy Had Been Ailing for a Long Time

The Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (FEC) Supreme Court case was the final blow. It did not come out of nowhere. It was the culmination of a long leadup of right-wing election fiddling: lobbyist-led financing, the brainwashing and dumbing down of a series of vulnerable demographics (non-high-school graduates, ethnic minorities, hollow billionaires…), vote blocking strategies like gerrymandering and voter qualification limits, and strange bedfellows under blankets in Washington, DC. At bottom was the conviction of the members of the United States Congress–House and Senate, mainlyt Republicans but Democrats, too–that they had a God-given right to be re-elected, never to release the reins of power. And if they were obliged to use and abuse the civil rights of American citizens, their economic opportunities, the lives of their sons and daughters and the United States Constitution itself as bargaining chips in their sacred re-election endeavor, all of those contrivances were justified. They are capable of doing anything to retain their grip on power, even if it requires turning the government over to powerful criminal societies.

Nor am I prepared to affirm that this situation is attributable to capitalism. There are countries where capitalism marries nicely with humanity to create cordial, prosperous and liveable societies in places like Europe, Australia, Japan or South Korea, the new First World. The problem with American capitalism, it seems, is that it’s American.

The Worst of All Possible Worlds

The Citizens United verdict, which came down during Obama’s first term, opened the door to unlimited federal campaign contributions from corporations and consolidated extreme laissez-faire capitalism as the law of the land. That 5-4 decision issued from a US Supreme Court that had hovered between conservative and ultra-conservative thanks to appointments by presidents Nixon,  Reagan, and the two Bushes. The first two of these chief executives, both gravely deficient, the first one morally, the second intellectually, are arch representatives of what went wrong with American democracy in the 1970s and 80s. Nixon went so far as to prolong the Vietnam war, with the loss of lives and treasure that implied, in order to take credit for the  peace agreement. (Source: The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House, by Seymour M. Hersh, 1983).

Reagan was a tall, handsome second-rate Hollywood actor, outspoken anti-communist, FBI informer, and popular television spokesperson for American industry. His main achievements as president were in the field of public relations. According to History.com “Reagan made frequent and highly visible retreats to his California ranch, where he rode horses, fixed fences and cut firewood for the TV cameras.” Following his two terms of office and particularly after his death in 2004 reactionary America converted President Reagan into the essential talisman/myth of 20th-century American political conservatism. That should surprise no one. They also resuscitated Nixon.

The father-and-son Bush presidencies were characterized by devotion to fossile-fuel interests and dubious military interventions abroad. George H.W. Bush was a one-term president who occupied the White House after a landslide victory over Democrat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election. Bush the Father, considered by politologists to have been a mediocre president, engineered the first Iraq War, forcing Iraq to abandon Kuwait. He later ordered a senseless and bloody U.S. military invasion of Panama with the declared purpose of arresting Manuel Noriega, a drug-dealing dictator. It took US forces more than a month to conquer the tiny isthmus country in an operation disingenuously codenamed “Operation Just Cause.” According to Wikipedia, about 6,500 US troops remain in Panama today, ostensibly “monitoring Latin American airspace for unauthorized planes and training troops in jungle combat.” Bush I appointed two Supreme Court justices, David Souter, who abandoned the conservative cause by becoming a member of the Court’s liberal bloc, and Clarence Thomas, who became one of the most conservative judges of his era.

Emerging American Values: Tax Cuts for the Rich and Endless War on Something or Other

George W. Bush, the presumptive heir, was a populist president patently lacking the character and intelligence to occupy the office. The video footage of his reaction to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, sitting in a class of pre-schoolers in Florida, revealed more a confused bad actor than the leader of the free world. He was responsible over eight years for a $1.3 trillion tax cut for the usual suspects, the global war on terrorism, the invasion of Afghanistan, the civil-and-human-rights-destroying Patriot Act, and  the lies-based second Iraq War that set that killed, maimed and exiled hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and set the country back two or three generations. Not much of his rich agenda worked out as he planned. Bush the Son appointed two justices, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, in 2005 and 2006.

This brings us to the current US president, Donald J. Trump, the third American president to be impeached by the House though not convicted, by the Senate. The Trump presidency leverages an unprecedeneted lack of intelligence and tact, innate stagecraft, bald-faced self interest, lies and innuendo, while pandering to the lowest common denominator–white supremacists, neo-Nazis, magical religious cults and remnants of defunct right-wing movements, all of whom he refers to as “very fine people.” This grotesque baggage garnered him a previously  unseen level of voter loyalty.

President Trump has nominated two judges to the US Supreme Court, Neil McGill Gorsuch, who has a face like a choirboy who has never broken a glass, confirmed in 2017; and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. Kavanaugh is an ultra-conservative whose confirmation hearings were stalled for three years over charges of partisanship.  According to Wikipedia, he is a practising Catholic who serves as a regular lector at his Washington, D.C., church, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament; and has helped serve meals to the homeless. He has also tutored at the Washington Jesuit Academy. Before his eventual confirmation by the US Senate he was credibly accused of sexually assaulting at least two women.

Sixteen Appointments

The 16 Republican Supreme Court appointments since 1969 gave rise to the conservative courts that have dominated the American judiciary since the 1970s and culminated in the big-bucks-benefitting Citizens United verdict, which legitimized for all to see the notion that everything and everyone in America can be bought and sold, right down to the sacrosanct American democracy, personified in the United States Congress.

Thus, a minority of US citizens that desired and deserved a country whose pervading values were more complete, more human and more idealistic than those of the pork bellies market, was left out in the cold. Today they find themselves relegated to a sordid zero-sum world in which my gains are your losses, a world where generosity and solidarity have been supplanted by bare-fisted greed and the rule of the filthy rich. This brutal system of national values has exchanged once-normal human customs for cut-throat market standards. “Tell me how much you own and I’ll tell you what you’re worth.” It wasn’t always that way in the US, and Americans don’t have to look very far today to find a better model. There’s Canada right next door with universal health care and a $2,000 guaranteed monthly income for all their citizens. To belabor the point, I suggest you compare any declarations on any subject by Donald Trump on television news with those of Jacinda Ardern, the 39-year-old prime minister of New Zealand. It’s like peering into two different dimensions, Utopia and Dystopia. See which one you can relate to.

The controversial Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision was contested by Associate Justice John Paul Stevens who argued that the Court’s ruling represented “a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government.” A 2012 article on Demos.org lists 10 Ways Citizens United Endangers Democracy:

(These headings are links. You can click on them to learn more.)

  1. “Independent” Spending Farce Leads To SuperPACs
  2. Legal Money Laundering Increases Secret Spending
  3. Corporate Money Distorts Democracy
  4. Court is Blind to Reality of Corruption
  5. Citizen Voices are Drowned Out
  6. Money Is Still Not Speech
  7. Open Season on Remaining Money in Politics Protections
  8. Increases Corporate Power
  9. Unlimited Corporate Spending is Bad for Business and Shareholders
  10. Risks Reducing Respect for the Supreme Court

Now, ask yourself: Does the Citizens United decision merit revising by a future, less-ideologically-driven Supreme Court? Or can we climb out of the Abyss?


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