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The Slippery Slope: Rolling Downward, No Brakes, Nuclear War

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Policy is not a discrete entity; indeed, instead, it is a cumulative force, broadening in scope and direction, as it—in this case—plunges toward self- and global-annihilation. Destruction is in the very air we breathe, as though Thanatos looming overhead, because exceptionalism is reaching a point of satiety and feelings of emptiness and alienation make other than war and dominance meaningless. Militarism gnaws at the vitals of democracy. The world knows it about America; we do not. In false modesty, we are God’s chosen people of liberal humanitarianism, a.k.a., the seat of wealth and power locking world capitalism into ideological place, with special rewards and advantages for, putatively, being good global citizens. Hypocrisy knows no bounds in the eyes of the assassin (as in armed drones targeted for that purpose) and unilateral claimants of moral authority.

America was not always thus. Its mixed history contained, even under conditions of severe repression, as in plantation slavery and the struggles of industrial labor, fighting back with no little idealism against socioeconomic and structural forces of evil. Domination has, perhaps until now, never been a one-way street, even though a thirst for freedom has stopped at the water’s edge (except for what I see as the necessity of World War II and, to a lesser extent, World War I, the latter nonetheless for the worse because of Wilson’s hegemonic vision). In foreign policy, in general, nowhere more than now, there is an unrelenting thrust to assert force and confrontation into international politics, with unavoidable consequences for the abridgment of freedom at home. The nation is only as good as, and must be judged by, what it does overseas.

Reciprocally, what it does at home contributes directly to the nation’s goals and parameters in foreign policy, the road from police state to garrison state, in neither, totally consummated, but the tendencies in both are becoming daily more evident. Through it all, capitalism, sails flying, has safe passage as the social wealth of America becomes increasingly divorced from the needs, health, and well-being of the people and subject to accumulation and consolidation into fewer hands and deeper pockets. Monopolism above, socially-induced paralysis of will below, makes for the illegitimacy of rulership when the State serves its upper groups, chiefly, its economic and military elites, to the exclusion of all else.

A class-state cannot remain static. Capital accumulation, particularly through the assistance (connivance?) of government, is self-reinforcing, until capitalism itself exhausts opportunities for further enrichment when, saturated, played out, the process is renewed again, at each stage structurally breeding more inequality, more control over government, more intolerance of opposition, more determination, more rigidification, when it comes to the deeper gradations in disparities of power in society. Capitalism is antidemocracy in spirit and practice; no wonder the importance of the military factor in its history and development since at least 1900. For America, foreign markets, as though to export surpluses which might otherwise lower price levels at home, in addition to the generous profit margins often afforded in overseas trade, are peculiarly important in capitalist development, and as such, they require constant pressures, interventionist, military and otherwise, in securing political and commercial benefits.

Likes partake of each other’s features: capitalism = antidemocracy = hierarchical, systemic inequality = militarism/expansion as the singular mode of achievement for the former. One senses here the internal motion, the dynamism of repressive economic features, of what is, paradoxically, capitalistic stasis (a state of static balance or equilibrium—Webster’s, but hardly meant to apply to capitalism). The more capitalism advances in form, complexity, onerousness, the more it stays the same. Thus we come, then, to the slippery slope, capitalism’s downward progression (from the standpoint of structurally-inscribed equalitarianism, rule of law, and human rights), with, the momentum underway, no brakes to check its progression. At some point, currently approaching, nihilism characterizes the modal response of policy makers, and nuclear war, whether limited or full-scale, becomes thinkable, if not already being entertained.

Rolling downward. America is tilting dangerously toward fascism. Societal bonds of moral obligation to humankind, the environment, Nature in all its splendor, the historical past and future, no longer or barely exists as a defining trait of American political culture, the display and discussion of democratic values notwithstanding. The pantheon of law-making is just that (a temple dedicated to the gods, in this case, those of wealth, power, and status), wholly removed from the people in their just demands and everyday needs. For America, all three branches of government seem color coordinated (red, white, blue) in their uniform endeavor on behalf of capitalist stabilization and the status quo in class and race relations. Some tugging and hauling exists, but within predefined limits that reinforce the fundamental pattern of order, deference, the individual’s self-pacification. There is no need for rage, when each has a place in the folk community of exceptionalism and capitalism.

The downward systemic progression has nothing of the teleological (design or purpose in nature) about it. It is a product of policy, turning the screws on working people and the poor, and as such, reveals its class origins, whether the skillful manipulation of banking, tariff, and tax policies, the sweetheart relation of government and media for promoting indoctrination and official truths, or the internal espionage of massive surveillance. All have as their purpose the twin-fold societal desiderata (as defined by themselves) of bestowing on elite groups the free hand for maximizing profit and privilege simultaneous with curbing social protest in case of a rise in popular awareness of the wealth-siphoning practices ideologically and every which way used against the people. As of now, this paradigm of exploitation and personal enrichment seems to be working quite well.

No brakes. Within the structure and ethics of capitalism, there are no checks on this downward progression, only its own apparent contradictions, which, in any case, do not result in obstacles to wealth-gathering and –accumulation. Stinting oneself of gain is so foreign to the individual’s values and personal make-up as to permeate the mindset of the total society, which renders the working poor hostage to the social mythology presented down-the-line as ideological bait to ensure acquiescence. When a system of political economy has no checks on its immanent (here, inherent) tendencies, expect the worst—a grotesqueness and intensification of its viral (causative) attributes: war, alienation, underconsumption, a sizable differentiation of wealth and power among its people, in the case of capitalism, and more so America, in the world its purist expression.

Which leads to the third point, the potential for nuclear war. I see only America and Israel as prime instigators of such an eventuality—and hopefully, not even them. Russia and China give no indication on those lines. The problem is, one of desperation, should America see its world standing seriously diminished or undermined, increasingly likely as the international structure becomes decentralized through the rise of new centers of power. China will not go away, nor will a whole host of countries, beginning with Russia, but also, in financial-industrial terms, Japan, India, the list grows as America weakens (in all but financial schematics, more grounded in speculation than in production). Yet not economic performance that may be determinative, but ideological mindset, in facing the prospects of nuclear war. Americans have become jaded to an unbelievable extent, a dulling of political sensibility nowhere better seen than in the current election campaign, so that not even desperation takes on a hard edge, again, the slippery slope alluded to, where it becomes possible to drift into an anomic (lack of purpose or ideals) state, devil-may-care, actually welcoming self- and social-destruction.

If this state of mind persists, all the markets in the world, the unearned profits of deal-making and gunboat diplomacy, pride of ownership and the ability to press down others, will not do to feed the colossal appetite of America. Then?

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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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