The American system of government has essentially devolved, since the New Deal era, back into a corporatist structure of financial exploitation domestically and war for profit internationally. This situation is not new, but the failure of the great New Deal experiment in reforming the system peacefully, from within, by the rules is new, and this failure–so clear since the 2008 corporate bailouts and Obama’s refusal to prosecute financial criminals–raises the question of whether or not American democracy and liberties can still be preserved by reforms from within the system.
Where it counts–at the top, capitalism in America is dead, replaced by corporatism that amounts to fascism-light, where the authorities use brutality against individuals (e.g., throwing people out on the street by force when a bank illegally forecloses) or activist groups (police violence against peaceful protesters) but, so far at least, do not organize gangs of thugs to suppress political dissent. Corporations retain a capitalist structure but operate in a protected environment that rewards corruption (by government refusal to prosecute major financial criminals) and uses tax money to protect against failure (e.g., via bailouts) while more broadly providing a tilted playing field (e.g., with low capital gains and high income taxes, secret and massive flows of Treasury funds directly into corporate accounts, pumping up the stock market). The result of this official class war against the 99% is the gradual impoverishment of that 99% along with the further enrichment of the corporate elite and big investors. Capitalist competition is reserved for the 99%, who are free to be tried by the law of the jungle, free to go bankrupt, and–should they engage in small-scale crime, welcome in jail.
The U.S. has returned to 1929, with this difference: this time, Americans have been through the experience of the New Deal, an historic compromise that allowed the rich to remain rich in return for their acquiescence in a reformed financial system that would allow progress and guarantee a social safety net for the 99% as well. The principle of the New Deal was that a rising tide raises all boats. Since the Reagan era and more clearly since the Obama era’s rejection of Glass-Steagall protections for honest banking, this principle has been shouldered aside as the chickens of neo-liberalism hatched in Pinochet’s Chile under Kissinger’s Cheshire Cat smirk of approval have recently come home to roost in the U.S. In lock step, as the U.S. corporate elite and its political servants in Washington brought the neo-liberal champion of class war by the rich home to the U.S., they sent the champion’s brother into the Muslim world under the warm glow of Cheney’s own Cheshire Cat smirk. Taken as a group, the 99% in the U.S. possess enough to enrich several billionaires, but, in the end, they don’t own much oil; over the long run, to enrich the billionaire class, it takes a world. Thus, the neo-liberal brother and the neo-conservative brother stride together, trampling under foot at home and abroad both traditional liberal and traditional conservative values.
Neo-liberalism is the crude, heartless concept of economic exploitation; its twin brother is neo-conservatism, the crude, heartless concept of wars of choice to enrich the elite: new terms for outdated forms of behavior. No shadow of real liberalism (respect for liberty and the common good, enforced by democracy) shades the burning sunlight of the former; no shadow of real conservatism (respect for traditional values of morality, the common good, and security, enforced by enlightened elite rule) shades the burning sunlight of the latter.
And this time around–in the post-2008 era of endless recession, Americans are learning the lesson that the historic New Deal attempt to reform the system peacefully, from within, by the rules, has failed: the super-rich have refused to compromise and Washington politicians have sold out. The U.S. has fought a series of wars of choice across the globe, carefully restricted to Muslim lands for temporary convenience, that seem inexplicable when one examines the specifics of U.S. behavior except primarily as efforts to enrich the corporate elite. Whether one looks at financial policy domestically (the post-2008 establishment of a corporate safety net vs. the destruction of the social safety net) or military policy internationally (the post-9/11 replacement of the State Department by the Pentagon/CIA complex as the center of U.S. foreign policy implementation), it is not security, democracy, freedom, or equality but the enrichment of the rich that emerges as the constant theme of Washington’s policies. Neither war crimes for leveling Fallujah nor financial crimes for leveling Detroit are prosecuted. Neither the torture of innocent Iraqis in Abu Ghraib nor the robo-signing of mortgage thefts from innocent homeowners by judges serving corrupt bankers is punished. The defeat of the New Deal compromise by this new policy of domestic neo-liberalism and international neo-conservatism that constitutes the very essence of corporatist repression raises the question:
Can U.S. liberty and democracy still be preserved through political reform from within the system?