Sunday, November 13, 2016

America: En Route from Republic to Post Democratic Empire

With the election of Donald Trump as President, the United States has taken another major step from a Republic to an Empire ruled by those who would be Caesars.

The American republic was born in a struggle against imperial rule from across the sea. Its leaders—who were soiled by the racism and brutality of slavery—nonetheless counted themselves children of the Enlightenment.

The conquest of a continental domain and the Monroe Doctrine’s proclamation that the Western Hemisphere was an American sphere of influence were followed by the rise of the United States to global power.

The early republic, whose founders shunned a standing army in favour of local militias, now has hundreds of military bases around the world. It is an imperial power on a scale that dwarfs all the previous empires in history. It is the only power on earth ever to have dropped atomic bombs on cities.

Americans have a deep and quasi-religious attachment to their Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of 1787. The connection today, however, is much like the nostalgic attachment of many religious people to their rituals.

For the first time in American history, a very wealthy man has bought and paid for his own campaign for the nation’s highest office. Trump’s campaign was less costly than that of his liberal opponent Hillary Clinton. This does not lessen the point that Donald Trump is a would-be Caesar who financed his personal assault on the presidency. American liberal election campaigns, those of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama before her, were also affairs of vast expenditure. Neither Republicans nor Democrats now acquire public funding for their campaigns. Their campaigns are far too stratospherically expensive for that.

A state that places no limits on campaign finance for its highest office is not a full democracy. In the last days of the Roman Republic, candidates for office, some more liberal than others, financed their own lavish campaigns, famed for their “bread and circuses”. They fed the Roman population and hosted gladiatorial contests in the Coliseum.

Today, American presidential campaigns finance travel, communications, and unseemly rallies where thousands cheer for their opponent to be locked up. The Caesars would have envied the lavishness.

A democracy, in which each citizen counts for something greater than the mere formality of equal rights, ceases to exist when meaningful political participation is far beyond the means of the vast majority of the population.

In addition to threatening American democracy, Trump’s election widens the chasm that exists between what can be called Old America and New America. The victories of Barack Obama in two presidential elections came as a horrific shock to much of white America, those who have not adapted to the racial, ethnic and cultural changes in the country. These were the people drawn to the Birther lie, promulgated by Donald Trump for years, that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Let’s call them the forces of Old America.

The demographic shift in the United States is perceived as a threat to those in the population who most consciously derive their identity from the demography of the Thirteen Colonies at the time of the American Revolution. The United States has been transformed into a country in which minorities, taken together, are en route to becoming a majority. A New America, characterized by an acceptance of diversity, is coming into being. New America is inhabited by tens of millions of people of all races, among them a very large section of the millennial generation.

By the middle of this century, non-Hispanic whites — it was non-Hispanic whites who made the Revolution — will become a minority in the United States. By that date, demographers project that Latinos will constitute 25 percent of the population, African Americans 15 percent, and native Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders a total of 10 percent.

White resistance to Hispanic immigration is widespread in the United States, but is especially virulent in certain regions. All along the border with Mexico, there are self-appointed white militias who attempt to stop Mexicans from crossing the border illegally. This is a form of group vigilantism that is closely tied in with the gun culture and the propagation of the freedom to bear arms guaranteed through the Second Amendment.

The leadership of Old America has drawn together a section of the very wealthy classes along with vast numbers of much poorer people. To establish a wide alliance of white Americans, from some of the poorest to the richest, the movement embraces a range of causes that give it its cohesiveness. Antagonism to trade unionism, immigrants, African Americans, as well as to feminism and gay rights are among those causes. The protection of gun ownership is another. So too is evangelical Christianity. The causes and attitudes that animate Old America have not been contrived by a few propagandists. The values of Old America have been nurtured in the soil of the country over decades, even centuries.

Trump’s promises to deport millions of Latinos who are undocumented in the United States, to build a wall along the southern U.S. border, and to block Muslim immigration to the United States were central to his election. His victories in states that have experienced massive industrial decline---Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin—were driven by his promise to bring jobs back to America and to clamp down on immigration.

What Trump succeeded in doing, not for the first time in history, was winning over much of the working class to the “fool’s gold” of racism. In times of deep social crisis, the far right specializes in drawing alienated and marginalized wage earners away from class politics to scapegoating and exclusionism. The failures of crisis prone neo-liberal capitalism, with its enormous divide between the superrich and the rest of the population, are falsely blamed on immigrants. This political strategy triumphed in the drive for Brexit in the UK. Marine Le Pen will utilize it in the presidential election in France in the spring of 2017. Trump’s victory is being touted all over the world by those determined to win power in their own countries through racist and anti-immigrant campaigns.

To conclude, America has been sliding from Republic to a post-democratic Empire for many decades. Not surprisingly, Americans are the last people on the planet to perceive this. The populations of imperial powers are well known for lacking much understanding of the world beyond their borders. That is one of the costs of empire and a major reason that empires, sooner or later, decline and fall.

Plato insisted that a universal state would be a tyranny.

The United States is the closest the world has ever come to a universal state. Its claims to champion democracy and human rights around the globe have long rung hollow. Now with a self-proclaimed racist, misogynist and climate change denier about to take the helm--a billionaire who admires dictators--the United States has become a tyrannical menace to humanity and the planet.

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