As democratic embers of our republic fizzle, the big question remains: what term best fits our situation, if not our degraded system? If unconscionable wealth and overbearing billionaires stratify income and wealth, funneling the best educations, life-styles, and jobs to managers of the status quo, so much for our fabled land of opportunity. Opportunity can’t knock when there’s neither front door nor ringer.
If the 2016 race ends up featuring two harnessed mules from the Party of Plutocracy, then “representative majority government” staggers again, turning the next election go-round into which dynasty makes fewer folks howl. Not lesser of two evils, simply another missed opportunity to make all-important systemic change. Despite its facile currency, “fascism” borrowed from Europe four generations ago is not a great fit IMO, as our muddled, more diverse culture is not that coherent. And since freedom of speech, movement, and association (even massive gun collections) continue, we hardly qualify as full-scale, topdown tyranny, requiring an untouchable elite with authoritarian control of the courts, governments, and major military forces.
But there is one open-ended term that captures our worsening plight — and happily doesn’t rule out insurgency, even revolution. This former English colony, after a 225-year experiment with relative freedom, is morphing back into a grim colony. That term fits even when “the empire” has no king, nor permanent kingpin, nor evinces widespread controls over all sorts of majority behavior. Imperial qualities are in evidence, namely endless, if blundering militarism abroad, growing asset inequality, and elections denigrated by the vote-numbing Citizens United blitzkrieg. That last catastrophe hands great control over nominations, thus election options to a few dozen billionaires far more proficient at hoarding treasure than understanding governance, if not general welfare, demands much more free flow of goods and services. Today’s fat cats are oblivious how absurd wealth accumulations boomerang against them, especially when the angrily dispossessed take to the streets and disrupt their precious status quo.
Look how much news dramatize not just contempt for Constitutional democracy but the ongoing re-colonization machinations by the Party of Plutocracy:
House radicals vote to abolish the estate tax (while bashing the IRS, Obamacare, jobs training, community safety nets, and “confiscatory” taxes on capital gains/hedge fund profits).
Senate dinosaurs, scoffing at climate change and incensed over Keystone delays, put national parks up for sale, shield TPP from scrutiny, militate against Iran, and push even greater deregulation against dirty polluters.
Every taxpayer subsidizes low-pay industries with corporate welfare: like Food Stamps, health coverage, housing assistance. UC Berkeley study found 56% of all public assistance ($153 billion yearly) goes to the employed.
Republicans war against those just getting by with attacks on Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.
Since ’08, “America’s wealth” grew by 60 percent (over $30 trillion) while homeless children’s numbers also reached 60 percent.” Thus, we have “one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world.”
State abuses continue unabated: the police execute unarmed minorities, the state illegally invades privacy, punishes dissent and whistleblowing, impedes reproductive options and minority voting.
Smacking of colonialism, the US is divided into two nations: one for the fully-vested citizens and one for the second-class, with shredded rights and little or no recourse. Who is surprised? What empire, when it runs of easy pickings, doesn’t backtrack to its own backyard. Just consider the transport, travel and military savings! Certainly, from the late ’40’s through the ’70’s, general American affluence grew as never before in history. That surge answered to rational, even humane responses to the Great Depression and WWII, thus the New Deal and Great Society. Well before Reagan, the super-rich avoided looking like early Scrooge, reluctantly accepting a 90% top tax bracket.
Geo-politically, the global landscape for ready imperial invasion is shrinking. With exceptions, only the “fertile crescent” offers consistently fertile ground for belligerence, typified by ever-growing, troop-sanitized drone warfare. How likely are big troop invasions in Central or South America, eastern Asia, India, China, even chaotic Africa? Imperial “troops on the ground” shy away after the quagmires of Korea and Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, let alone Libya, Syria and now Yemen. Instead, the ruling class shifts to economic and market imperialism, and what stands out today is it’s vigor not just abroad, but coming home to our own backyards.
The Empire Comes Home
Initially, once cheap domestic labor (from unending early immigration, plus slavery of blacks, with variations for children, Indians, and Hispanics) propelled imperialism, and our accumulated wealth still pays for hundreds of global outposts. Ruthlessly, corporate empire-builders like the Koch and Walmart clans don’t just outsource now costly labor but amp up domestic resource devastation. Along with predating remote areas, America endures huge domestic fracking and shale production, risky deep-water oil rigs, unsafe mining, all the while burning dirty coal and discharging heavy-metal pollution. That leaves personal choice pretty much to where we live (fewer toxins the better) and what we eat, however that relies on knowing which food lacks chemical “additives” (or, like GMOs, more aptly called “subtractives.”)
Is not the classic definition of a “colony”– when an uncaring, predatory “outside power” commandeers legal and commercial control over oppressed locals? Okay, we’re not Bangladesh or Haiti, but now lagging in socio-economic mobility vs. Europe and Asia. And doesn’t our mammoth prison population, double the No. 2 country, reflect hyper-controls over real and perceived threats? Does not high youth unemployment, or unconscionable student debt in the richest country, dramatize how this super-power is “leading” (and oppressing) from way behind?
Further, just as first-class citizenship is denied colonists shunned as “foreign,” does that not explain rightwing hysteria to “take back our country”? Right, “returned” from all those devious (less Christian?) “illegal aliens” diluting “purity of essence” — what, in a land teeming with immigrants. Thus Palin’s bigoted “true Americans’ refuse to share national blessings with those they deem “others” (read: less American). Take raises to the minimum wage, the result less of compassion or a sense of fair play than coercion from irate workers and consumers.
Oddly enough, our colonial status is not without glimmers of optimism: not only do nasty homeland abuses expose ruling class desperation, but as more colonists realize our plight, the greater the resistance, with triggers for insurgency. Because empires are engines of conquest, the elite never knows when enough is enough. Myopic empires balloon out, leveraging their military and scientific prowess, then eventually hit walls, forced back on less dangerous prey. Until dramatic reversals occur, we won’t know a real wall from a mere obstacle. Yet history is a grand parade of imperial hubris, then collapse, though no one knows how long and how messy the finale.
Aside from warring against Native Americans, the US kicked off its explicit imperial march with a war against Mexico and the annexation of the Southwest. Then chapter two: the Spanish-American war 50 years later, and we conquered the Philippines with appalling violence. And yet that’s also when the modern Progressive movement surged, even impacted top leaders like Teddy Roosevelt (imperial warts and all). Consider the values and leaders then vs. the Bushes, the Clintons or Obama, current agents of reaction and concentrated wealth. Compare the brains and background of presidents like TR, Wilson or FDR vs. those running our largest businesses, universities, churches, even science centers, badly op-opted to rationalize corporate interests. Every bubble bursts, but inferior leadership, exasperated by chronic gridlock (thus denial of dilemmas) augurs change, even turnaround.
And though China looms as the empire of tomorrow, will their self-interested vision or lust for profits shift current capital-driven mindsets (though so far with less saber-rattling)? Waiting for change, or mass awareness of re-colonization, approximates waiting for Godot. Inevitably, I fall back on a favored axiom: that because we cannot know the future, the only certainty is something will happen that’s unexpected, perhaps unthinkable, as we grind closer to breaking points. Brace for unintended consequences, even systemic shocks could well be unkind to imperialists and the status quo. In America, that sounds like good news that will disrupt this latest version of neo-colonialism.