The difference between the United States and most countries is that America, more than anywhere else, is designed to be a never-ending winner-takes-all contest of wealth and power. It rewards winners with riches and power. It punishes losers with bankruptcy and servitude. This sometimes brutal war of high-stakes risk drove the great pioneering expansion of thirteen obscure colonies into the fifty powerful states that made 20th-century libertarian America the envy of the world.
Today, though America’s image may be tarnished, the allure, for migrants with a certain self-centered ambition, remains strong as ever. Economically, militarily and culturally America is a factor in every facet of world affairs.
What happens in America matters. What is happening across America – civil unrest, pandemic incompetence, polarized identity politics, looming threat of civil war race war – will impact the future of all countries, all races, all humans beings and all humans to be.
The everyday reality of the America’s survival-of-the-fittest society is complex. The demands of an expanding nation are very different to those of an advanced country of over three hundred million. From the latter half of the 20th-century and first twenty years of the 21st-century, power dynamics changed, hardening at the edges and polarizing away from moderation of competing interests to monopolies of wealth and power. Economists back in the 1970s predicted the dangers of unregulated capitalism playing through to maturity. Self-interest means profit. Profit became tied to growth. Growth in perpetuity needs an ever-growing sphere of exploitation. Corporations, immortal legal entities of unlimited size, make perpetual exploitation growth a reality.
It doesn’t require an evil cabal of billionaire lizards or a malevolent New World Order for systemic wealth to consume power (government, education, justice, regulations) until society itself is subordinated to the needs of economic growth. If profit is best served by an authoritarian consumer police state, the oligarchy of corporate wealth will make it so. As the most advanced capitalist timeline, the United States is going through the difficult transition to micromanaged plutocracy.
Since the establishment of government-corporate partnership in the 1950s, the cutting edge of American enterprise has been built on competing but increasingly pervasive tactics for exploiting the poor and persecuting the weak. It’s a capital v labor paradigm writ large.
The crucible of the American dream has become corrupted by unchecked, advancing exploitation. Exceptional individuals may occasionally withstand the forces but the vast majority find quality of life gradually eroded. The small percentage migrating out of the immediate clutches of systemic oppression are held up as an example, proof to all it’s possible to be welcomed into the ranks of the wealthy winners. But exceptions can only buy time if the lived experience of the rest keeps getting worse. It has been getting worse since the 1990s.
America has always been a Darwinian capitalism. Competition of interests is written into the Constitution as a prerequisite of individual freedom. In effect this has created a heritage of inequality and shrinking opportunity for half the population as factors historical and socioeconomic resolve generation to generation. For those lower down the ladder of society, life is a daily struggle to keep a head above water. Migrant brown and emancipated black populations were thrown into the survival game with established, experienced white European colonial lineages without provisions for safeguarding opportunity. The former were poor, handicapped, culturally ghettoized, facing a racialized battle from the get go.
America has always been a results based social order. Winners get to live rich and influential. Their progeny inherit privilege. Winners stack the deck for their successors. Losers get to die poor and powerless. Their progeny inherit nothing. In America, with such high stakes competition and a particularly divided racial ethnic heritage, the institutionalized legacy of past winners is an aggressively white-dominated social, political and economic landscape.
Race is the ultimate poor underclass profiler, by design and by consequence of generational wealth. Whether perceived by privileged whites or not, race is a defining influence on every interaction between state institutions and the individual citizen. How it’s defined varies. It’s a different experience for whites versus blacks, rich versus poor, old versus young.
Police brutality is the front-line of extant authority. Its purpose is the defense of wealth, property and opportunity of those entrenched higher up the ladder. Police enforcement is racist – despite the successful repeal of segregation in Civil Rights Act 1968 – because black and brown people are disproportionately poor; and therefore disempowered, at the bottom of the ladder. The police may not be racist to a man, but policing will always be aggressive enforcers of the hegemony and thus a recipe for white-dominance, for as long as white generational wealth owns the nation’s institutions. It’s a simple fact of a system of unregulated, absolute Darwinian power.
It’s worth noting that poor whites can be brutalized too, individually, just as black and brown Americans. The white underclass is part of the “weak loser” demographic in the American wealth-power dynamic. Arguing police brutality solely only in terms of skin color risks missing the bigger picture. It omits blaming an out-of-control plutocracy, susceptible to cheap counterargument citing non-black casualties of authoritarian excess. Truth is, police violence will attack any threat to wealth and is designed to target an entire poor underclass. Profiling means targets are disproportionately black and brown but there are always going to be plenty of whites in the mix.
The problem guess far beyond the police departments. The entire American justice system is set up to be a +1 for the “house”. Police, courts, bail, jail, prisons, probation, disenfranchising, national guard, civic enforcement, three-strikes rule, etc. Brutality works in defense of the winners at every stage; against black, brown, poor, weak. It’s the dirty engine of the glorious American dream, protecting vested interests from having to share their stake in the ownership of the world.
GEORGE FLOYD PROTESTS
The George Floyd protests sweeping America are, given the endemic dearth of opportunity, an entirely natural explosion of pent-up energy from a vast exploited underclass, mostly black and brown, born into a reality that’s relentlessly oppressive. The deck of history is still stacked against them, despite all the fine words and promises of opportunity. It becomes clear to every young American of color that nothing is being done to improve it.
For tens of millions the rigged system is getting worse. For a hundred million plus the cost of living a decent life has become out of reach. The plutocracy that coalesced out of neoliberal economics and neocon social structure asserts itself against the population, to keep them in their place, divided: weak, poor, ideal fodder for exploitation. The top-down oppression is more intense today than any time in living memory, especially in the race-segregated urban ghettos.
Hence the breadth and the force of protest across America.
Hence the justification the protestors feel crying out against town halls, legislatures and police precincts.
But the protestors will need a plan of action that harnesses the energy of the disenfranchised millions. No atomized population will be strong enough to damage extant power dynamics and a roadmap for mass-action may be needed to achieve necessary unity. Without a plan, the protests will fail.
One of the most intractable problems faced by proponents of American democracy is the proper placement of race and police brutality, in the context of an ultimately anti-democratic plutocracy that’s coalesced out of the least scrupulous winners of decades’ unregulated corporate capitalism. The bigger picture is necessary, to direct the people en masse against the root causes of corruption, but without diminishing the catalyst for the violent passions motivating people onto the streets in the first place.
There must be a paradigm shift in the American institutions, government first and foremost, to force a just realignment of wealth and influence. It must happen without disintegration of social order. It mustn’t destroy the free market or diminish the entrepreneurial, pioneering spirit at the heart of the American dream. Both the need and the solution lie beyond the coarse party ideologies of Left and Right.
The advantages of entrenched power won’t ever be given up without a fight. Winners don’t become winners by showing mercy to the weak. But winners in the corrupt plutocracy aren’t the best of us, or the most foresighted. The corporate oligarchy resolution of civil unrest will inevitably be totalitarian.
If there’s no solution to equity across race and ethnicity and class, America is doomed. If a solution has to be imposed from above, American liberty is doomed. Whether by neoliberal inches, or by neoconservative convulsions, a police state would be the end of the United States.