US society and politics: Some linkages between the domestic and the global

US society and politics: Some linkages between the domestic and the global

Graffiti of swastika on a softball field dugout in Wellsville, N.Y., Nov. 9, 2016. Brian Quinn, Wellsville Daily Reporter

Jan Oberg

June 24, 2023

One of the constant features of US society is, to put it crudely, that it is an enigmatic mixture of the worst and the best.

Few who have followed this country from abroad over decades would dispute that the US has spearheaded a lot of essentially good developments, ideas and products that have benefited itself and the world. The other side of the US is that, over time, it has decayed into innumerable dimensions and types of domestic and global violence and become more destructive to the rest of the world and itself than it has ever been – and than any other country.

The main historical catchwords are genocide on its native people, the slave trade, racism, socioeconomic inequality, discrimination in terms of justice, employment, incarceration, health care, housing, work and business, voting rights, military service, extreme poverty, class divisions, and many more. Today, the idea that the US society was a melting pot and a place for everyone to try their hand and get to the top is, at least today, much more of a public relations stunt than a sociological fact.

Towering people who fought for the betterment of these fundamental points were killed – the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr. A future president who would embark on a deep-rooted change on these dimensions would likely suffer the same fate.

The fact that these inter-related domestic problems have not been solved decades ago must be explained by there being elites and classes who do not want them to be solved, benefit from them and have the power to prevent deep change. Stagnation, in other words.

Thus, the Americans and the rest of the world are stuck with the tragedy of two extremely unattractive presidential candidates – Biden and Trump, who have no sense or ability to embark on deep change policies – and Robert F Kennedy, Jr., who has already been barred from certain media or demonised although he is the only candidate with a vision – a vision constructive also for the larger world. US democracy is, therefore, coming to an end.

The US insists on being Second To None, the only world leader, and the only real empire. However, its main contributions to the contemporary world is warfare, threats, Cold War policies, cancellation, armament, arms sales, sanctions, demonisation of countries that could be friends but must be seen as enemies, arrogance, lack of a global vision – which a global power must have – and a fundamental incapacity to adapt to the ongoing, rapid world order change towards cooperation, multipolarity and non-intervention in domestic affairs of other countries and culture, i.e. a world without missionaries with their Bibles and, if not yielding the desired results, the Sword.

Add to these, violation of some of its fundamental historical values like freedom of the press, promotion of double and triple standards and the pervasive belief that the US remains both exceptional(ist) and indispensable and, therefore, can do what it tells others is unacceptable or evil.

Macro-historian such as Arnold Toynbee have documented that empires emerge and rise, they have a peak and mature point and then – just as everything looks so promising and monotonous group think confirms that ”We’re second to none” across several power scales – the decline begins and leads to fall. But like the passengers aboard Titanic, they deny or pretend not to see what is happening.

Because of the wish to dominate, not cooperate, the us US manifest destiny seems now to be down and out.

If sociological laws exist, one is that empires go down, sooner or later. Why? Most often because of over-militarisation and over-extension, lack of legitimacy in the eyes of others, lack of vision and innovation, humility and the ability to listen and adapt. Fatigue because of too much success. They are all internal factors, not external conquerors.

Let’s now address two connected questions: Why is violence such a fundamental dimension of the North American society? How is it connected to the global role of the US Empire?

I would venture to say that a central factor is that violence comes from having eradicated, or exterminated, its native people. The history of the US is extremely violent, its military budget perverse – according to some measures about 60% of the government budget. This creates a sense of omnipotence and concomitant hubris: We can still get away with everything and accept no challengers.

Like with every other kind of violence, it flows from something deeply unhappy, undefined unresolved, dilemmas, inner pain – something like ”if we can’t fix our own problems at home, we can at least divert the world’s attention to our still being the global Second-To-None power.”

This requires more investment in the military that – like the drug addict – will be increasingly self-destructive, taking human and other resources away from urgently needed domestic reforms.

A third factor that deserves mention and ties, say, racism at home with global dominance is what has been called the contempt for weakness – a concept that resembles Edward Said’s (1935-2003) concept of ”Orientalism” which he applied to Western policies vis-a-vis the Middle East. Cyma Hibri summarises it well – ”Said shows how Orientalist writings and ideologies actively shape the world they describe, and how they perpetuate views of Middle Eastern people as inferior, subservient, and in need of saving. As a result, these often racist or romanticised stereotypes create a worldview that justifies Western colonialism and imperialism.”

The contempt for weakness theory was developed by the Norwegian moral philosopher, Harald Ofstad (1920-1994), in his now classical book from 1971 ”Our Contempt for Weakness: Nazi Norms and Values—and Our Own.”

An absolutely fundamental element in all violence is contempt: You are not worth being respected, not worthy of living – because you are not as civilised/strong/right/intelligent/etc as we are. Therefore, it is OK for us to use violence on you – you being humans, cultures, gender, the global environment, or whatever. You do not exterminate someone you look up to and respect deeply. Most violence thrives out of contempt, from regarding the object worthless, below, evil, despised, disgraced. Humiliation is related to the word ”humus” – soil.

While it is absolutely true that one cannot always or easily apply concepts of individual psychology to collectivities such as a nation, one can now and then sense that it is relevant. It’s an interesting hypothesis that the US – and it is not the only one but the major one – constantly projects it own dark sides onto others. Example: It condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine as if it had never done something similar (or much worse) itself. The psychological, perhaps perverse, idea is that such psycho-political projections help oneself legitimise one’s often much larger crime.

Finally, one must wonder how the US with its good and bad sides – like everyone else but now more bad than others – has been able to promote itself worldwide as a force for good – good only.

The only answer seems to be: Because of its super power over the Western mainstream media. If you influence or even control the media, you control people’s way of thinking and worldviews since the media is the conveyor of the world to most people who cannot travel and see for themselves. When combining that power with telling your citizens that they are constantly threatened – your power, your violence and your lies expand and delusion follows. ’Realpolitik’ becomes irrational and self-destructive.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that no state can operate on these mechanisms forever. Truth will out. It will end and more and more will listen to the little boy who points out that the Emperor wears no clothes.

Humanity and the United States would benefit tremendously if the US began to fix its own problems, left behind the illusion of the Eternal Empire and, instead, contributed to the common peace and good.

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2 Responses to "US society and politics: Some linkages between the domestic and the global"

  1. F Jahanpour   July 4, 2023 at 2:32 pm

    As someone who has always admired and still admires many aspects of American ideals, history and way of life, some of which still continue, regrettably I have to agree with many excellent points that you make in this balanced and thought-provoking article. I have always had a very idealised and romanticised view of “American values” but, like you, I have been disappointed in the way that those ideals and values have been neglected, distorted and even deliberately suppressed, and replaced by violence and arrogance at home and abroad. One can say that hubris and unchecked power has been at the root of all those ills. As Lord Acton is reputed to have said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

    One cannot argue against many of the points you make after looking at the sorry list of America’s unending wars during the past few decades, killing millions, destroying many cities, causing enormous damage to infrastructure in often poor countries, torturing and humiliating the unfortunate victims and, to add insult to injury, claiming that it was all done in order to spread democracy and human rights. One cannot look at the role that money and corporations play in US elections, and the shenanigans that we have witnessed under Trump and still claim that the United States is a true democracy.

    Having said all that, I believe that the great principle of free speech which has not been totally suppressed yet can come to the rescue. It is extremely encouraging to see that many American thinkers, scholars and writers have gone even further than many foreign observers in criticising and condemning what is wrong in the current American society. On 4th July, the American Independence Day, we can hope that American intellectuals and the public at large will rise up against the distortions of American values and will draw a new charter of independence from intellectual, political, military and financial exploitation, and will chart a new path towards the realisation of real American values. By doing this, they will do a great service to their country and to the world.

    • JO   July 10, 2023 at 3:44 pm

      Many thanks, dear Farhang. We share the attitudes and the disappointments!


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