By around mid-May, more Americans will have died from Covid-19 than during the Civil War, which killed 655,000, and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, when 675,000 are estimated to have perished.
The unraveling of American politics
Yet America’s largely self-inflicted Covid-19 disaster may be eclipsed by the US’s political unraveling, which has proceeded with warp speed in the last few weeks, with the once-celebrated American way of succession in power via the ballot box dealt a body blow by a large sector of the electorate that has marched in lock step with their leader in refusing to accept the results of the presidential elections.
Joe Biden will be seated this time around, but this may well be a Pyrrhic victory purchased at the cost of being regarded as illegitimate in the eyes of the majority of the 71 million Americans under the spell of Donald Trump. Future electoral contests for power may well end up being decided by a strong dose of street warfare, as the US goes the way of Germany’s ill-fated Weimar Republic. The violent storming of the Capitol by a Trumpian mob underlined the face of things to come.
How a sparse protest became a Capitol Hill riot | Image from Wall Street International.
America’s crisis has been building up for decades, and Covid-19 has merely accelerated the march to its dramatic denouement. Central to explaining this crisis is the erosion of white supremacy, a condition that the Republican Party has exploited successfully since the late sixties, through the so-called “Southern Strategy” and racist dog-whistle politics, to make the party the representative of a racial majority that is threatened subliminally by the demographic and cultural expansion of non-white America.
An added contribution to the Republican consolidation of its white political bastion has been the desertion by the Democratic Party of its white working-class base – the pillar of the once-solid “New Deal Coalition” put together by Franklin Delano Roosevelt – as “Third Way” Democrats from Clinton to Obama legitimized and led in promoting neoliberal policies.
The violent storming of the Capitol by a Trumpian mob underlined the face of things to come | Image from Wall Street International.
Neoliberalism has been central to the concurrent and seemingly irreversible economic crisis of the US. By preaching that it would lead to the best of all possible worlds for America and everyone else if capital were free to search for the lowest priced labor around, neoliberal theory provided the justification for shipping manufacturing capacity and jobs to China and elsewhere in the global South, leading to rapid deindustrialization, with manufacturing jobs falling from some 18 million in 1979 to 12 million in 2009.
Long before the Wall Street Crisis of 2008, such key U.S. industries as consumer electronics, appliances, machine tools, auto parts, furniture, telecommunications equipment, and many others that had been the giants of the capitalist global production system had been relegated to history, that is, transferred to China.
With highly paid manufacturing and white-collar jobs sent elsewhere, the US became one of the world’s most unequal countries, prompting economist Thomas Piketty to exclaim, “I want to stress that the word ‘collapse’… is no exaggeration. The bottom 50 percent of the income distribution claimed around 20 percent of national income from 1960 to 1980; but that share has been divided almost in half, falling to just 12 percent in 2010-2015. The top centile’s share has moved in the opposite direction, from barely 11 percent to more than 20 percent.”
Trump smelled opportunity here that a Democratic leadership tied to Wall Street ignored, and he made anti-globalization a centerpiece of his 2016 electoral platform. And, by tying anti-globalization to anti-migrant rhetoric and dog-whistle anti-black appeals, he was able to break through to the white working-class that had already given signals it was ready to be racially swayed as early as the Reagan era in the 1980s.
Ironically, the combination of neoliberalism’s ideological conviction and corporate America’s hunger for super-profits made China’s state-managed economy the so-called “workshop of the world,” contributing centrally to the creation in just 25 years of a massive industrial base that has resulted in China’s becoming the new center of global capital accumulation, displacing the United States and Europe.
Xi Jin Ping has his pulse on the New China, infusing confidence to millions of Chinese with an ideology that combines the vision of ever-rising living standards with nationalist pride that China has forever left behind the “century of shame” from the mid-1850s to the mid-1950s.
The violent storming of the Capitol by a Trumpian mob | Image from Wall Street International.
America’s ideological malaise
Even as an ideologically motivated Chinese population emerges from the Coronavirus crisis, convinced that China’s ability to contain Covid-19 proves the superiority of China’s authoritarian methods of governance, the current spirit of American society is perhaps best captured by William Butler Yeats’ immortal lines: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” American ideology—and there is an American ideology—is suffering from a profound loss of credibility, and not only among non-Americans but among Americans themselves.
Two primordial beliefs undergird this ideology, and both have been irretrievably eroded: the so-called “American Dream” and “American Exceptionalism.”
The American Dream has long lost its sheen, except perhaps to immigrants. To people on the left, the American Dream is now mentioned only in cynical terms, as a lost Golden Age of relative social mobility that was destroyed by neoliberal, anti-worker policies. To those on the far right, the American Dream is one that liberals have taken from whites through all sorts of affirmative action programs and given to racial and ethnic minorities.
The subtext of the Trumpian counterrevolution has been, in fact, restoring the American dream, the bright prospects of social ascent, to its rightful owners, that is, to white Americans, and to them only.