The Empire Has No Clothes

By Paul Street and cross-posted from Counterpunch.org

Harsh realities have long mocked United States “elites’” ritual description of their nation state as a benevolent beacon and agent of freedom, democracy, and justice at home and abroad.  The mythology doesn’t square with stark disparities and oppressions inflicted by the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, class, race, and empire. The many dark truths about America behind the nationally narcissistic fantasy include:

Globally unmatched and hyper-racialized incarceration rates.

The imposition of poverty or near-poverty on half the U.S. population while the top tenth of the upper U.S. One Percent possesses as much wealth as the nation’s bottom ninety percent.

The U.S. ranks ahead of only Turkey, Chile, and Mexico among thirty-one “advanced industrial nations” belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in measures of economic equality, social mobility, and poverty prevention.

Shocking levels of racial, ethnic, and gender inequality.

+ The hyper-segregation and mass criminalization of the nation’s disproportionately poor Black population.

+ Rampant domestic police-statism and ubiquitous related public and private surveillance.

+ Transparently plutocratic electoral and policymaking systems and outcomes the mark the country as “an oligarchy” and “not a democracy” (mainstream liberal political scientists Martine Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern) regardless of which party or party configuration holds sway in elected offices.

+ The cultural and informational dominance of a corporate- and military-propagandist commercial media owned by a small handful of communications conglomerates.

+ The maintenance of more than 1000 U.S. military installations across more than 100 “sovereign” nations.

+ An empire (“defense”) budget that accounts for nearly half of world military spending and for 54 percent of U.S. federal discretionary spending.

+ The absence of affordable quality health care for tens of millions living in “the world’s richest country.”

+ More than a third of Black and Native American children live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level while parasitic financers and other capitalist overlords enjoy unimaginable hyper-opulence.

+ The loss of 93 American lives to gun violence each day.

+ A recently discovered and unprecedented decline in the life expectancy for American working class whites.

+ A labor market in which 94 percent of jobs created over the last eight years have been temporary, part-time, and contingent, non-life time contract and “gig” jobs.

+ The reliance of 1 in 7 citizens on food banks in “the world’s richest country.”

+ The rampant pollution and poisoning of air, land, water, and food, contributing to sky-high cancer rates.

(This is the short list, taken from the Age of Obama.)

Still, symbols and marketing matter in selling the American System and U.S. power at home and abroad.  And the perceived character of the U.S. president is a big part of that marketing and public relations.

Nothing was better for portraying the United States as something it is not – a wise and benevolent, forward-looking agent and embodiment of freedom and democracy – than the replacement of George W. Bush by the neoliberal Wall Street darling Barack Obama in the White House in 2008-09.

It’s not that U.S. policy changed to any significant degree with the shift from George W. Bush to Obama. It did not.  As the former longtime top Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren notes in the fourth chapter – tellingly titled “Do Elections Matter?” – of his important book The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government (2016):

“In 2008, Barack Obama the change agent ran against the legacy of George W. Bush.  But when he assumed office, his policies in the areas of national security and financial regulation were strikingly similar.  Even the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans vilify with uncontrollable rage, is hardly different in outline from Bush’s Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act (both expand medical coverage by subsidizing corporate interests)…[Obama was] merely an ambitious politician who tested well with focus groups, and who arrived at the right moment, promising hope and change as a pretext to administer an entrenched system…”

Lofgren might have added that the “right moment” included the Deep State establishment’s sense that the American System needed a significant re-branding in the wake of the all-too openly plutocratic, stupid, unhinged, and imperialist Bush’s criminal and bungled occupation of Iraq and the collapse of the economy by the powerful financial institutions that controlled Washington and the White House under Bush43 as under Bill Clinton42.  And that’s one part of why American presidential elections do in fact matter to the nation’s wealth and power elite

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