Capitalism’s Lies Are Destroying America
Political divisions, racial tensions, and economic inequalities are symptoms of a failed capitalistic society in need of reform.
America is more divided today than it has ever been since the Civil War. If you think this is an exaggeration, look no further than the Republicans officially calling for their states to secede from the union. Racial tensions are at their highest since the Civil Rights movement. The Department of Homeland Security recently released a memo outlining the imminent threat of white nationalist terrorism.
From abroad, America looks like a failed society plunging in chaos and fascism. Sure, Joe Biden’s swearing-in, Bernie’s mittens, and the first raft of executive actions have brought back a sense of decency, dignity, and humanity to D.C. and the White House, but we are still to see the real stuff. Holding Trump, his Republican abetters, and his mobs responsible for their crimes is paramount to restoring faith in the American experiment; this endeavour appears doomed from the start.
Faced with such destruction and depravity, we must try to understand where this all comes from. Why has America turned into the crazed, post-truth, divided nation that it is today?
There are three apparent reasons: political divisions, racial tensions, and economic inequalities.
The violence that preceded and followed the election demonstrated how unhinged American public life is. The political landscape is divided to a point reminiscent of Germany’s in the 1930s, with groups of angry fascist men in matched shirts beating up their socialist “enemies” in the streets. America is way past the Newt Gingrich era of political fighting and trickery. Trump and the Republican Senate have perfected political violence, rhetoric and literal, into an art form that culminated in the Capitol’s storming, the near assassination of Congress members, and the close-call toppling of democracy.
BLM demonstrations have shown the world how violently divided America is on the racial question. It also proved how racially biased law enforcement truly is. Fourteen thousand arrests were made during the mostly peaceful protests. Thirty states and D.C mobilised 96,000 National guard soldiers. When white supremacist terrorist stormed the Capitol on January 6th, the National Guard was nowhere to be seen. Officers of the Capitol Police opened the doors to the mob and took selfies with them. This attack on American democracy has led to a few hundred arrests, with many released on bail, while its chief organiser is all but certain to walk away scot-free.
When adjusted for purchasing power, Americans’ salaries have barely increased since 1964 while job satisfaction has steadily decreased over the past decades. The 1% now owns as much wealth as the entire middle class. While people die and lose their jobs because of Covid, the richest 660 people have seen their wealth increase by $1.1T in 2020 (that’s 1,100,000,000,000). It’s hard not to think Marx was right; it’s also hard not to think Robespierre was on to something.
These three phenomena, political divisions, racial tensions, and economic inequalities, fail to explain America's current state because they are not reasons: they are the symptoms of a failed capitalist society and of the elite’s attempts to preserve the status quo.
The real reasons behind America’s apparent decline and descent into craziness and violence are Capitalism and its Big Lies and the wealthy and powerful's apparent efforts to keep on with the same failed system.
As much as America hates all things communist, it’s hard to ignore that Marx had a point when you read him. He describes the proletariat as a mass of workers bound to alienating jobs that fail to provide them with a sense of fulfilment or satisfactory compensation. Capitalists only need to pay their employees a survival compensation, i.e. the minimum wage required for workers to stay alive and continue working.
Capitalism is not designed for all of us to succeed or for the many to have equal opportunities. It is intended for a minority to hold the means of production, extracting a profit from the working masses’ labour-time and paying them the absolute minimum to ensure their survival and their participation in the cult of consumerism. It helps if the masses are somewhat healthy and uneducated. Do you need proof of that? Look at the image below.
Over the past twenty years, the prices of televisions, toys, software, and telco services dropped between 50% and 100% while healthcare and education costs have risen between 100% and 250%.
What happens in such an inflation scenario? Healthcare is a cost you cannot avoid. It is something economists call an inelastic good. It makes sense to increase the price of inelastic goods; people can’t decide to purchase them or not. Notice how healthcare costs grow steadily faster than wages?
The same is true of education, but, unfortunately, this one is discretionary. If it’s too expensive, people don’t buy it. And why would they, the price of mobile phones and TV sets have been divided by twenty!
This detailed analysis of inflation tells us the true story of American society’s destruction. Consumer prices for useless things have steadily decreased thanks to outsourcing the production to low-cost labour markets while essentials have become unaffordable. This has created a population of uneducated people accruing debt to purchase things they don’t need until they must accrue debt to pay for over-priced healthcare service (or die if they can’t afford). Did you know most Americans die with $60,000 of debt?
As a European, the utter violence of American society is mind-boggling.
How do you get people to participate in such a broken economy? How do you get people to continue working and not revolt? It’s simple, you manufacture lies and hammer them until they are part of your country’s subconscious.
The first and foremost of these lies is the American Dream. The lie that if you work hard enough, you will succeed.
Toil away and save money to buy things you don’t need. You’ll be able to post your goodies on Instagram and make yourself look like you’re wealthy and successful.
A corollary to the American Dream is that you should owe your success to yourself alone. The myth of the self-made billionaire is what holds America together. It doesn’t matter that most of the so-called “self-made” billionaires come from family wealth and have benefitted for top-tier education and networks. The lie has been etched so deep in the American psyche that most people there would gladly relinquish any government help today in the hope that, when they make it on their own, they’ll pay a few dollars less in taxes.
This individualistic interpretation of success has prevented the formation, growth, and empowerment of national workers’ rights groups. Countries like France acquired welfare benefits through collective action and bargaining, mass protest, and general strikes.
The acceptance of the American Dream without second thoughts and the rejection of any form of government support have led America to vote against its interests consistently. A considerable proportion of the population immediately discards any policy that purports to support the weak or provide assistance to those in need. Being in need is a crime in itself. The fact that Americans call these programmes “entitlements” says it all.
The poorest (and whitest) counties in the country, those that rely the most on social welfare, overwhelmingly vote Republican. Democratic voters are no better when they publicly call for more social programmes, for America to take inspiration from Europe’s social democracies, and end up voting for the painfully conservative option in the primaries.
This is because of the Individualistic American Dream, a dream that endures through capitalism, low taxes, deregulation, and maintaining a status quo. It is also the consequence of its political structure.
With its two-party system, America offers its citizens and its political parties no choice. The former have to adhere to one of two platforms if they want their voices heard. The latter must shape these platforms as vaguely and broadly as possible to capture the largest number of voters.
If it looks lie a lose-lose situation, it’s because it is. Americans have a choice between the far-right and the rather-right.
At this stage, American politics has become a dance macabre. Every two or four years, Congress changes hands. When the GOP has it, they race to pass new tax cuts, deregulate the energy market and the banking sector. The Dems furrow their brows, point fingers, take to the media. And then they retake Congress. They don’t overturn the tax cuts. They “re-regulate” some here in there, just enough for the GOP to furrow their brows, point fingers, take to the media. And retake Congress four years later. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The blatant hypocrisy and immobility of American politics bore its citizens and disempower them. The same people, the same ideas, over and over again, all slowly shifting right as the GOP moves the Overton window and the Democrats do nothing to bring it back in the middle. Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Clinton, Trump (the odd fascist), Biden. American politics looks like these TV sitcoms that never end where characters always come back one way or another. It is The Bold and the Beautiful.
In this never-ending cycle, what happens when people get fed up and want real change? They become excited, restless. They resort to protesting, perhaps even to violence. And what does a government do in the face of growing unrest? They come crashing down on the protestors with the full might of the state’s law enforcement apparatus. This is why we saw tens of thousands of arrests during the BLM protests. This is why students were bear-maced during the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.
The government instrumentalises these protests to pit one group against another, and this is where neo-fascists and alt-right goon come into play. They are defending the system against those who would change it. Buenaventura Durruti, a Spanish anarchist, said that “no government fights fascism to destroy it. When the bourgeoisie sees that power is slipping out of its hands, it brings up fascism to hold onto their privileges.”
What we see in America today, the political divisions, the racial violence, the gross economic inequalities, all of these are symptoms of a dying capitalistic society. They are the direct consequences of the elites fighting for their privilege. It is a rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.