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Dark Forebodings: America at the Cross-Roads

No, neither the Hebrew prophet Amos nor Priam’s daughter Cassandra inspires these thoughts, but the actual condition, ideological/psychological, of the contemporary American mindset, and its material foundations, an overly-ripened stage of capitalist development needing a constant infusion of power abroad, inner certitude at home, to maintain an acceptable rate of economic growth and the conviction that its military strength is sufficiently intimidating and in evidence as to provide for the unilateral determination of the global structure after its own wishes and image. Nothing short of that would satisfy, a nation running on (moral) empty, fear-ridden in extremis, unwilling and unable to adapt to the prevailing realities: its own deeds of commission, the principal war-maker, intervener, cause of human suffering, since World War II, which has in turn stimulated dislocations and engendered resistance, and the interrelated historical-political dynamics, partly in response, partly a function of independent industrial, technological, and scientific forces unstoppable as previously underdeveloped, exploited, countries, realizing their own potential and acting on it, demand a place for themselves and their people at the World Table. The US is no longer the sole determiner—if in fact it ever was, taking into account the incipient thirst for freedom of the persecuted and downtrodden which would eventually find expression—of human destiny. Time is not, and perhaps should not be, on America’s side, as it bullies all in its path whilst the international system exhibits gradual yet drastic and permanent change.

The notable change is a growing decentralization of world power, America’s holding action via counterrevolutionary policies which have thwarted Third World autonomy and fostered global armament races intended to keep its real and potential rivals in check no longer seems to work. As plainly seen, the Emperor wears no clothes, or rather is so sheathed in body armor as to be weighted down with Maginot-like walls of defensiveness inculcating a spirit of pervasive fear of the Stranger (this week the governor and attorney general of Texas tried to prevent a family of Syrian refugees, including six children, from settling there, on the ground that they and others might be suspected terrorists, part of a landslide sentiment opposing immigrant settlement). Trump, as we know, advocates for wholesale proscription of Muslims, and despite gestures from all sides of disagreement, it is obvious he has struck a sympathetic authoritarian chord in Americans’ minds, one inseparable from the nation’s championing of so-called gun-rights, an amalgam of rigidifying ideology synthesizing ethnocentrism and preternatural violence as the raw materials of proto-fascism. No question, that is the direction the country is heading, these eruptions of gun violence merely the surface twitches of a society denied its dream of conquest on the world scene.

We as Americans internalize the militarization of our value system, transmogrifying it from one that purports to be democratic, however dishonored in historical practice, to that of an assault on the rule of law as a solemn compact between government and people to ensure equality as a human birthright. Instead, billionaire is the new arithmetic of American capitalism, corporate mergers (today, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, tomorrow, who knows what’s next?), and further never-ceasing attempts at regime change accompanied by agreements integrating defense and trade into a geopolitical structure bent on rolling back the historical process to recapitulate the benefits of traditional imperialism, to which, in addition to market penetration and securing raw materials, we find in US-sponsored globalization a range of ambitions unknown to the late-19th century, its heyday, such as outsourcing industrial production and control of international finance. Globalization is merely America in macrocosm, or so it is hoped. Even Europe, its kept ally in all things commercial, financial, and military, is beginning to demure, as in looking fondly at China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. In fact, where the American Empire may find itself most vulnerable in the short run, its Achilles’ heel being exposed for the first time, is not the challenges mounted by China and Russia to its economic supremacy, but a disillusionment with America’s iron-clad determination to remain on top of the changing world system on the part of Britain, France, and Germany. The EU-NATO shield and spearhead for US control of the West, extending to the Russian border, is starting to crack, just as comparable plans for Asia are also, now with AIIB and firmer cohesion of the BRICS, ready for the ashcan.

But not without a fight. The US is tightening its hold on its own people, if not in preparation for Armageddon (the prominence of religious zealotry is surely a sign of contemporary amorphous fears increasingly pointed to the search for scapegoats), then at least a take-no-chances view of security as the new Absolute already previewed in NSA’s massive surveillance program of the American public, whose genesis lies in decades of pumped-up anticommunism to destroy the spirit of political and mental independence. It’s the season for Handel’s Messiah, in which we hear the echo of a more innocent and trusting time in the words, “We all like sheep have gone astray,” which thought now becomes mandate and license for reducing humans into sheep and penning them up, lest any go astray and seek social justice and international peace. Welcome, the 2016 presidential election, wherein we are “free” to choose from the likely candidates the Maximum Leader to take us down the path of a Vesuvius discharge of hatred toward whomever and whatever appears a denial of American Exceptionalism. Who needs a social safety net, save for the manifestly unfit; ditto, those who shy away from aggression and confrontation with America’s Enemies, to which, beyond unfitness, we must add the lack of patriotism. A boiling cauldron of ethnocentric withdrawal awaits the American future.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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