Much of the United States (US) is in crisis as capitalist-imperialist chickens are coming home to roost.
Multiple Interrelated Crises Rooted in Bourgeois Evil
Millions of acres on the onetime US Western frontier are on fire, the natural and predictable outcome of the over-heating of the arid and now drought-plagued West by the reckless capitalist extraction and burning of fossil fuels. The evacuation of Lake Tahoe in the face of the Caldor Fire is just the latest shocking yet increasingly normalized symptom.
Massive rainfall and flooding menace millions in the eastern half of the United States, the natural outcome of atmospheric carbon saturation rooted in the growth-addicted profits system. The lethal flooding that killed more than twenty people after 17 inches of rain fell in central Tennessee two weeks ago is a recent example.
The hurricanes and tropical storms that periodically smash the American south and east coast are more frequent and intensive than before thanks to the carbon-cranked capitalogenic climate catastrophe. The latest and most dramatic example is the near paralysis of New York City this week by the remnants of Hurricane Ida, which dropped 7.1 inches of rain in Central Park and killed at least 43 people in the Northeast last week. It’s the first time New York City has issued a flash flood warning.
Masses displaced by epic wildfires, floods, power outages, tornadoes, mudslides, drought, and storm surge confronted extreme heat (the main climate-related cause of death in the US) rooted in the relentless, barbaric heating of the planet by capitalist carbon emissions. Flood, hurricane, fire, wind, and smoke victims requiring hospitalization face bed shortages thanks to a resurgent wave of a (likely) zoonotic pandemic caused by capitalism’s unyielding incursions into formerly uninhabited zones of the natural world. The profits system’ relentless high-speed globalization, devaluation and underfunding of public health, extreme inequality, and inability to pause have fueled and spread the reach of the deadly virus (these holds true even if COVID-19 emerged from a lab leak).
The pandemic’s US victims are disproportionately Black and brown, a reflection of American capitalism’s longstanding systemic exacerbation and exploitation of racial, national, and ethnic forms of oppression and division.
A solid third or more of the country refuses to slow the spread of the pandemic by getting vaccinated and wearing masks. This reflects the monumental mass idiocy and irrationality that has generated by decades of soulless and anti-intellectual corporate-commercial culture and the capitalist devaluation and under-funding of public education. It also suggests the tragic but predictable discrediting of science by its destructive misuse in service to rapaciously selfish capital and capital’s giant military empire. Alienating, oppressive, and murderous Western capitalism and its Siamese twin imperialism have been really bad advertising campaigns for modernity and the Enlightenment.
The lethal US anti-vaccine movement, up and running before COVID-19 hit, draws heavily on an anti-government “personal responsibility,” “freedom,” and libertarian “free market” politics that capital has long developed to insulate it from social regulation and responsibility. Pathetic Americans who claim to reject “government tyranny” by foolishly infecting themselves and others in the name of “personal choice” and “individual freedom” reflect what the pioneer New Left historian William Appleman Williams saw as capitalism’s “over emphasis and exaltation of the individualistic, egoistic half of man functioning in a marketplace system that overrides and crushes the social, humanitarian half of humanity.” Even when they relent to “take the jab,” it’s all about “me, me, mine” for these alarmingly ubiquitous selfish yet self-destructive sociopaths.
The right-wing pandemicist politicians who lethally spread covid, vaccine, and mask skepticism and who actively obstruct and even forbid common sense public health measures (mask and vaccine mandates) to stem the pandemic’s spread are themselves fully vaccinated. They avail themselves of access the best and most expensive treatments if they suffer breakthrough infections. Covid Confederacy Republikaner governors like Greg Abbott (Texas), “Killer” Kim Reynolds (Iowa), Bill Lee (Tennessee), Ron DeSatan (Florida), and Kristi Noem (South Dakota) have embraced anti-science pandemicism for plainly selfish and partisan purposes – more testament to bourgeois society’s pathological elevation of self over the common good. As Karl Marx and his clever capitalist drinking buddy Frederick Engels wrote in 1848, that society “le[aves] remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest.”
The nation’s absurdly powerful rightmost major capitalist party blames the pandemic on “diseased” “infestations” of brown-skinned migrants from Mexico and Central America. This neofascistic nativist and racist charge is absurdly false. But demographic pressure on the southern US border is all too real because the US-led capitalist climate catastrophe has combined with decades of Yankee corporate, financial, and military imperialism to make life miserable in much of Latin America. Blaming societal problems rooted in the profit system (and its aforementioned twin) on dehumanized and racialized Others is a longstanding “divide and rule” practice of bourgeois politicians and propagandists.
The Pentagon Suction Tube
The resources required to meet the intertwined social, environmental, and epidemiological crises of our time – if they can be met at this point – are in short supply because capitalists use their outsized political influence (of which campaign finance is but one of many forms) to rape the public sector and because the nation spends trillions of dollars each year to sustain a giant military empire that eats up more than half the nation’s discretionary federal budget. The Pentagon killing machine, responsible for untold millions of deaths abroad, functions like a great “suction tube” (Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967), taking monies that need to be invested in green jobs, flood control, national health insurance, public health departments, schools, housing, and medical services (and so much more) and handing them over as cost-plus public subsidies to high-tech “defense” (empire) firms like Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed-Martin. The massive US war and empire regime owes its origins and persistence to capitalism’s global military requirements and to the massive profit source it represents for the investor class. As Washington signs off on yet another stupendous Pentagon budget to sustain a planetary military that possesses the world’s single largest institutional carbon footprint and maintains more than 1000 bases across more than 80 countries, the nation’s showcase financial and cultural capital, New York City, lacks the public water management systems required to meet the challenges of the hotter and wetter planet that US-led capitalism has created.
Slaves to an 18 Century Aristo-Republican Constitution
The implementation of sane policies and the development of a rational politics that might seriously addresses the nation and world’s multiple and interrelated crises are further blocked by an archaic 18th Century Slaveowners’ constitution that capital has seen fit to preserve long past what ought to have been its expiration date. This US constitutional order’s openly undemocratic systems of presidential selection (the preposterous and bizarre Electoral College), parliamentary mal-representation, federal fragmentation, and judicial review are structured in such a way as to checkmate progressive and humane policies adequate for the crises of our time.
Pity poor Bernie Sanders, bless his heart. He’s trying to advance Scandinavian social democracy in a regime where right-wing 93% white Wyoming, with less than 600,000 people, has the same number of representatives as liberal and multicultural California, home to nearly 40 million, in the absurdly powerful upper body of the nation’s unnecessarily bicameral legislature. It’s a system that fails to select and install its very powerful chief executive by a national popular vote and in which Democrats must significantly out-perform their fascistic (Republikaner) opponents with voters to have any chance of winning the executive branch. It’s a system where concentrated wealth has practically unlimited “free speech” power to shape politics and policy in accord with its wishes, regardless of technically irrelevant majority opinion on one major issue after another. It’s a system where fifty constituent states are remarkably free to geopolitically manipulate (gerrymander) national and state legislative districts in reactionary, racist, anti-urban ways – and to pass laws and implement policies that more directly strip nonwhites of basic bourgeois-democratic voting rights. Some “red” Republikaner states are moving to fully nullify the popular vote in the 2024 presidential election if it doesn’t go their way.
The Soft State Underbelly, the Not New Big Election Lie, and the New Gilead
By all indications, the Amerikaner Party of Trump (APoT) is poised to take full control of the nation’s policy and politics in 2023-2025. So what if the Republifascist Party is backed by just a quarter of the adult US population and disliked by a larger share of the US citizenry? The holy constitutional order is badly tilted in its minority rule favor. And it is attacking what’s left of US bourgeois electoral democracy in the nation’s soft fascistic state-level underbelly, making sure to rig the electoral game further in its destructive direction in the name of the Big Hitlerian Lie of a stolen 2020 presidential election.
There’s nothing new about the lie, incidentally. As the historian Nancy MacLean noted four years ago, right wing Republican Koch brother operatives “and their allied officeholders systematically kindled the irrational conviction that Barack Obama had won [in 2008] through massive voter ‘fraud,’ and that, unless a battery of new [state-level] laws prevented it, such fraud would be used to ‘steal’ more elections….So avidly has this big lie been spread that nearly half of registered voters, and even federal judges and Supreme Court justices, came to believe that fraud was a big problem…”
Aptly described by Noam Chomsky as “the most dangerous political organization on Earth,” the APoT (the former GOP) is now actively working to spread COVID-19, whose resurgence it sees through the pathological lens of partisan advantage. This sick party has passed numerous state laws forbidding honest discussion of white systemic racism past and present in public schools.
And just last week its Texas vanguard party of Christian fascist reaction passed a savagely sexist and mercenary bill with direct parallels to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. This measure deputizes anyone on the planet to get $10,000 by suing anyone in Texas who gets, carries out, or assists in any way an abortion. This stunningly wicked and reactionary act of forced motherhood and female slavery makes no exceptions for rape and incest. It has been left intact by a 5-4 right-wing Supreme Court majority than can be realistically expected to abolish women’s right to control their own reproductive lives later this year. This Christian fascist assault on women’s and sexual freedom is yet another sign that America is fracturing on the brink of a new civil war. Texas may be the “New Gilead,” but make no mistake: the plan is to make the whole country the New Gilead and the nation’s absurdly powerful high court (which hosts a full-on Handmaid’s Tale jurist appointed by the Christian Right’s “Cyrus” Donald Trump) is on board.
“Lincoln Refused to Buckle to the Slaveholders; Biden Wants to Have Lunch with Them”
Who’s gonna stop the racist, sexist, eco-cidal and neofascist Republikaners? Sleepy Joe “Nothing Will Fundamentally Change” Biden, who says that getting rid of the racist, reform-killing Senate filibuster would cause governmental paralysis, and the dismal neoliberal Weimar Dems, for whom the filibuster provides useful cover to hide the inauthenticity of their nominal opposition to the ever more rightward drift of American society? Don’t hold your breath. Serious opposition to the nation’s chilling reactionary direction would mean calling millions of ordinary Americans into the streets and public squares, out of their homes, schools, and workplaces to fight for the common good. And that is something that a thoroughly bourgeois organization like the Democratic Party will never do. And it’s certainly nothing Status Quo Joe would never consider. His declared mission is to Make America Competitive Again – to “win the competition [with China] for the 21st Century,” transparently capitalist language that has nothing to do with guaranteeing and advancing poor Black and brown folks’ voting rights and making health care a human right.
“In the fall,” the left historian and journalist Terry Thomas writes me, “the Supreme Court will likely declare Roe v. Wade unconstitutional in the case brought by right-wing Mississippi. The Fugitive Slave Law was overturned by civil war. Lincoln refused to buckle to the slaveholders; Biden wants to have lunch with them. He is sinking fast. And there’s only goose-steppers to replace him at the moment.”
Sinking fast indeed. This just in from N “P”R:
“Amid the chaos of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden’s approval rating slid to just 43% in the latest Marist poll. That is down 6 percentage points from a survey conducted in July and is the lowest mark for Biden in the poll since taking office. The decline is principally due to independents — just 36% of them approve of the job he’s doing, a 10-point drop…. Republicans have struggled to drum up the kind of animus toward Biden as they did for, say, Hillary Clinton. But now, seven months into his presidency, they seem to have found what to grind their teeth about, from cultural and economic issues to Afghanistan. A whopping 41% of U.S. adults, including 82% of Republicans, now strongly disapprove of the job Biden is doing. That is similar to the unprecedented enmity shown toward President Donald Trump.”
No Power Elite Fix
Don’t expect the owners behind the scenes to magically fix things. The ruling class has no solutions. It is a capitalist class and capitalists are ultimately incapable of internal class cohesion, much less of long term rational and decent societal management, especially here and now. The things that created an atypically cohesive mid-20th Century American ruling class and an at least somewhat sophisticated “power elite” – the threats to emergent US global hegemony and capital more broadly at home and abroad posed by German imperialism and the Third Reich-fascist bloc, the Russian Revolution and Soviet socialist bloc, the Chinese Maoist revolution, leftist third world nationalism, the New Deal regulatory state and the US labor movement – have all been defeated. The related triumph of neoliberalism and corporate globalization have opened new anarchic fractures and competitive tensions at home and abroad.
The Closing Frontier
Meanwhile, the planet is full. The frontier is closed. There’s only so much “cheap nature” (human labor power included) for capital to appropriate, commodify, and poison in its relentless competitive quest (intra-class war) for profit. The reckoning is here. The borders of time, space, and ecology are closing in. There’s nowhere left to run, even if billionaires momentarily fly into space. The Great American Evasion has hit the wall. There are no non-radical paths left. It’s socialism or barbarism/fascism. The big bourgeoisie will choose the latter over the former every time.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in his final essay, “A Testament of Hope,” the “real issue to be faced” beyond superficial matters, is “the radical reconstruction of society itself.” The alternative, King knew, was a fascistic police state. (Much of the institutional, political, and policy architecture for such a state is already well in place in the US, the world’s mass arrest and incarceration leader, home to a giant and very disproportionately brown-skinned prison population.)
King’s 1968 warning was premature, perhaps, for the system had another half century of expansive life fueled in so small part by the demise of the Soviet empire and the overthrow of Chinese socialism. (China’s counterrevolution handed the global bourgeoisie a vast new reservoir of cheap proletarianized, formerly peasant labor critical to renewed accumulation). Or maybe not. Already, even before the collapse of the post-WWII “Golden Age,” Barry Commoner and other astute environmentalists were warning of an historically imminent ecological collapse resulting from the extreme pollution that accompanied US-led global capitalism’s unprecedented and literally rapacious acceleration of world economic activity between 1945 and 1970 (when the “Anthropocene” really kicked in). Even if the nature and extent of the climate threat was only slightly understood at the time, the handwriting was already on the wall when Commoner wrote his brilliant book The Closing Circle in 1970. It was already “[eco-]socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky” (as Istvan Meszaros wrote in 2001) when I was starting junior high school.
It’s all been foretold, to some degree. As Marx and Engels noted in 1848, class rule societies “end either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” America is leading itself and the world down the latter path at present. We will get serious about “the revolutionary reconstitution of society itself” – from the bottom up and/or top-down and/or side in (all-of-the-above is indicated at this late ecological stage) – and begin the radical replacement of capitalism with (eco-)socialism or we will be writing an end not just to America but to humanity itself in no short historical order.
Paul Street is an independent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of eight books to date: Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: a Living Black Chicago History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010); (with Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011); and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014). Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and the Politics of Appeasement (CounterPunch Books, September 2020). Paul writes regularly for Counterpunch and Dandelion Salad. Help Paul Street keep writing here and/or here.
Originally published at Counterpunch, Sept. 6, 2021
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