The World’s First ‘Rich Failed State’
I learned three data points today that changed my entire outlook on the American future, in minutes. I spent the next several hours diving into US history. What I found is worse.
This morning, I read a statistic that took several minutes to sink in, even as the thought piece I was reading dove deeper and deeper into that very topic. At one point about 2,000 words in, it hit me: white Americans have never — never — as a bloc, voted for a Democratic candidate for the presidency. And given that they still represent 76.3% of the American population — a giant majority — it is white Americans and white Americans alone who determine the character of the nation: not just in governance, but in its trajectory.
And that’s where things get ugly.
Modernity, on a societal basis, by some definitions, is the outcome of people’s investment in one another’s wellbeing. Renowned cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said that “civilization began with a healed femur”; that is, that somebody took the time to heal somebody else. For her, civilization was modernity.
Civilization itself, then, is the delivery of mutual care, to the shared benefit of all. This makes perfect, self-preservational sense! Strength in numbers, as it were. Communal reach. Back-scratching.
Modern democracies accept this basic premise as the foundational societal truth: that we, the people, will take care to ensure that within our community, the young are made strong, the old are made comfortable, the frailest are propped up by the strongest, and that everyone in between is responsible for these existential bookends, through our participation — our contributions.
It is this inter-human communitas that separates Man from Ape.
The vehicles by which we deliver these modern societal investments — because they are all investments in shared long-term prosperity of the society — is through the continued administration of education and healthcare, and the needs-based redistribution of income and social services. Echoing this, the way we deliver modernity on a personal basis is through acts of civility: inclusion; care; equity; fairness; support. You know: what we do for our families, for the most part, because we want them to thrive.
Seen through this lens, it becomes clear that the United States, alone among all democratic nations on Earth, stands antagonistically against modernity; that is, with their votes, they have — forever and without exception — voted against modern democracy itself. They have never once voted for education, healthcare, retirement support, social services and income redistribution. They have, by contrast voted against civil rights; women’s rights; gay rights; and peace. Instead, as author and media consultant Umair Haque put it in in his recent piece on the Failed State of America, white Americans, as a majority bloc, have consistently voted for “Segregation. Endless war. Inequality. Billionaires. Capital. Guns and religion as primary social values. That is what the voting pattern means,“ he points out, correctly.
One’s vote is the primary, if not only, tool by which one’s voice is reflected in what become the laws of the land. The nearly 80% white voters who have essentially aimed the nation’s trajectory since its creation have been, to their credit, incredibly consistent on the matter of what matters, to them. The inconvenience of countless post-European waves of American immigrants have simply added to the perceived urgency that so many white Americans feel when they go to exercise their right to vote.
Haque’s conclusion scratches the surface of an alarming would-be truth, when he concludes that the only explanatory narrative that could elucidate Americans’ societal self-immolation — because that’s what it is when one chips away perpetually at the very things that makes one strong, as a group — goes something like: “I won’t pay for those dirty, filthy people’s educations, healthcare, and retirement!” And in doing so, he says that they have effectively chosen to stay on top of decline and ruin, instead of prospering as equals.
Conservatism (loosely ‘Republicanism’), he points out, in every other modern democracy outside of the United States, upholds and guarantees those basic societal investments and instruments. They argue with their liberal (aka ‘Democratic’) counterparts only on how best to pay for and deliver them. It’s not just Canada and Scandinavia who do this. In all, sixty-five nations — including autocratic Russia — provide their citizens with Universal Healthcare. In fact, in Russia, “Article 41 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation confirms a citizen’s right to state healthcare and medical assistance free of charge.” Moreover, since 1993, “Reform of new free market providers in addition to the state-run institutions intended to promote both efficiency and patient choice.”
Dozens of these — and other nations — similarly offer free education, if not heavily subsidized — i.e.: affordable — access. Here, too, there are surprises, like officially Republican yet Autocratic-leaning Turkey. The Atatürk reforms guaranteed an educated population, more than 100 years ago.
Essentially, any nation interested in its own prosperity invests in the fundamental drivers of that outcome. Thus, Haque argues, the United States is not, nor has it ever been, a modern democratic civilization. It has fallen embarrassingly short of Margaret Mead’s femur.
Rather, the United States, I would argue, as measured by its own voting majority, is theocratic (religious), authoritarian (obedience-enforcing), fascist (far right, ultra-nationalist) and guerrilla (weaponized), all at once.
These are simple scientific facts, not judgments.
Here are some things to consider.
Theocracy takes many forms in America. The Republican-led war on abortion, and the perpetual attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade by the voting majority. The unwritten requirement for any presidential candidate to be an avowed and confirmed God-fearing person (read: Christian). Its long-standing pro-Israel political stance, propped up not by some Jewish cabal, but chiefly by evangelical Christians, because the recapture of the Temple Mount by the Jews is the prerequisite for their religious Rapture — ascent to Heaven, aka End Times — that will bring the destruction of the infidels, Jews included, with it. We are talking about fully one third of the entire American population, here. And of course there’s taxation. US tax law considers churches to be public charities, rendering them exempt from financial contribution to the economy. According to the Washington Post, religion is a $378 billion annual business: “bigger than Facebook, Google, and Apple — combined.” Americans donate $74.5 billion of that money directly, to their congregations, of which precisely zero is seen by the Internal Revenue Service, or thus earmarked for government programs.
Kevin Phillips, the author of American Theocracy and onetime Republican party strategist, argues that his former party — and the nation — are headed for “disaster”.
“Christianity in the United States, especially Protestantism, has always had an evangelical — which is to say, missionary — and frequently a radical or combative streak. Some message has always had to be preached, punched, or proselytized.”
“In its recent practice, the radical side of U.S. religion has embraced cultural anti-modernism, war hawkishness, Armageddon prophecy, and in the case of conservative fundamentalists, a demand for governments by literal biblical interpretation.
The world’s leading economic and military power is also — no one can misread the data — the world’s leading Bible-reading crusader state, immersed in an Old Testament of stern prophets and bloody Middle Eastern battlefields.”
As goes theocratic empowerment, so go acts made in the name of God, buoyed as they are by a gust of divine wind, and with them, a total lack of introspective, human-centered humility.
Said another way, it is dangerous to be on the wrong end of a true believer’s AR-15.
Authoritarianism in the US also takes many forms. There’s racial authoritarianism, in which select groups of Americans have long lived very different lives from others, due primarily to the policies and policing that were set up precisely in order to control them. It’s not only that protracted — and often wistfully regarded — period of American slavery. It is equally what replaced it, in the modern era: pointedly, President Nixon’s War on Drugs. No less than John Ehrlichmann himself — Nixon’s domestic affairs chief — admitted to journalist Dan Baum, in 1996:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.”
Ten years after Nixon, President Reagan doubled down with his Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. In just four years, spending on drug enforcement units increased twelvefold, sending policing and racially inspired authoritarianism into overdrive, and leading to ever-widening gaps between the “two Americas”.
Just a month ago, Science Magazine published an article titled Racial Authoritarianism in U.S. Democracy. Without a hint of irony, the two words share a single title. The authors write:
“Recently, casual and savage violence of police against peaceful protesters and images of police in military gear sweeping up residents into unmarked vans has led journalists to question whether U.S. democracy is in peril. Many observers described these recent actions as authoritarian. But racial authoritarianism has been central to citizenship and governance of race-class subjugated communities throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries.”
“It describes state oppression such that groups of residents live under extremely divergent experiences of government and laws.”
That very fear — that of the minority, empowered — is what has turbo-charged the sprint toward authoritarianism in the US in recent years. While whites still comprise nearly 80% of the nation, they are terrified of the trajectory. As The Hill reports:
“The U.S. population continues to moves toward “majority-minority” status [projected, per the Brookings Institute, to reach a non-white majority in 2045]. As it does, a large bloc of voters — once the majority — will continue to search out a strongman leader, to reclaim their power.”
Enter the current Commander in Chief himself. The man with the biggest crush on the world’s most autocratic would-be brothers-in-arms is large and in charge.
His assault on the sciences and scientists, from his own cabinet to the CDC; his assault on the military he leads, or at least those who dare to voice opinions that counter his; his assault on the media, for their audacity to exercise the First Amendment, undermining his control of the national dialogue; his assault on protections — for the environment; for minorities; for our own health, during a pandemic; his assault on due process (to hell with the civil [aka citizen] courts; let’s load the Supreme Court and funnel cases to them, directly); and his assault on the Constitution itself, through too many acts to list here. All of these paint a picture that comes up Absolute.
Fascism, by definition, is “a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy.”
If that doesn’t ring true for those living today in the United States — as tomorrow’s election, and the lead-up to it, make clear — then you’re not paying attention. It’s not just the politicians. It’s the empowered and emboldened, unopposed public: the “average Joes” clogging up bridges or intimidating voters outside voting stations — today — or suing the government to discount hundreds of thousands of legitimate early ballots, in just three of countless recent attempts to suppress voting and opposition, and violently hold control of the nation.
Fascism exists to protect a standing power — one committed to the ultranationalism that so many among the world’s most armed citizens — Americans — espouse in so many forms.
We didn’t need to hear Trump tell the Proud Boys to “stand by” in order to learn that fascism was alive and well in the US. We didn’t need the Aryan Brotherhood, the American Nazi Party, The Order, Vanguard America, or Stormfront — or the dozens of other neo-fascist or neo-Nazi organizations within its borders—all “ very fine people,” as the President told us, in Charlottesville…
The Second Amendment virtually begs it:
“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
What are these organizations, if not well-regulated militias, aimed toward fascist ends? They are defending their version of “a free state”, by which they mean free of unwanted change.
Jason Stanley, a professor of philosophy at Yale University, offers one perspective on the word. He defines fascism as “a cult of the leader who promises national restoration in the face of humiliation brought on by supposed communists, Marxists and minorities and immigrants who are supposedly posing a threat to the character and the history of a nation.”
Ah, history. The good old days.
The armed — military and lay, alike (there are 1.4 million active soldiers, and 20.4 million US veterans) — are gearing up. Of the 400 million firearms privately owned in the US (one per citizen, plus 70 million, to spare), 19 million of them were sold in the first 6 months of 2020 alone, as fear is driving a 41% spike in gun sales, over normal years, according to Reuters.
The CEO of Smith & Wesson, Mark Smith, estimated that 40% of gun sales this year went to “neophytes” — that is, non-gun owners who have determined they need to protect themselves from what’s coming.
While guns don’t kill people — the NRA’s famous excuse — people with guns do. And 400 million triggers at the ready don’t inspire much confidence in this guy.
So with New York City — where I am sitting — boarding up its stores as I write, in advance of tomorrow’s coming storm, as are other cities; with the FBI referring to a “growing domestic terror threat”, like the recent plot to assassinate Michigan’s female, Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer; and with CBS News’ report on militias like The Boogaloo Boys and the Home Guards, currently gearing up to “protect” themselves from civil unrest that they believe will occur, whomever wins the election — tomorrow; we are living in imminent danger of epic, weaponized proportions.
It is, truly, unprecedented.
Haque argues that “White Americans have impoverished themselves, through decades of such folly. Voting against their very own basic public goods. Which meant they had to pay monopolists eye-watering prices for those very things which could and should have been socially provided — healthcare, higher education, retirement and so on. Today, the average American dies in $62,000 of debt. Do you know what that predicted, a few years ago? A fascist implosion. When majorities grow impoverished, they turn even more regressive, violent, ignorant and brutal. Americas majority was already all of those things — and then they became even more so.”
From Man to Ape. Or, unmended femurs.
In another article, Haque ties the American COVID-19 death toll — dwarfing every other nation — as an example of its anti-modern, non-democratic, uncivilized values in action. As in Britain, the ‘other deadliest country’, per capita, in the US, the very young and the working class are both prioritizing their enjoyment and their right to work over the health of the nation, by resisting or ignoring lockdowns, and even limited-size gatherings, in order to attend to their own (perceived) needs. In doing so, they are placing the desires of the self before the health of the very places in which they live, and on which they depend, whether or not they know this.
And he does not see a change coming.
Haque paints a grim picture of the American future. Certainly, I never quite saw it in such stark terms, until he pointed out that A: whites remain a giant majority; that B: they are a dizzyingly theocratic, autocratic, fascist and/or guerilla bloc of people who have always voted for the candidate who will uphold their values; and that C: we have washed through enough electoral cycles that the day is drawing near — with every unprecedented act occurring live, right now — when these forces and their agenda will be acted upon, in spectacular fashion.
If that doesn’t scare you, then these words are likely not for you, but for those who fear you.
The Age of America has nearly concluded; and the world outside has deemed this once-mighty nation a Failed State.
As a citizen and longtime believer in the American trajectory, my heart is broken.