The United States as it looks to a German writer
Writing for Der Spiegel, Jakob Augstein paints a dismal but accurate picture of the United States today:
The word “West” used to have a meaning. It described common goals and values, the dignity of democracy and justice over tyranny and despotism. Now it seems to be a thing of the past. There is no longer a West, and those who would like to use the word — along with Europe and the United States in the same sentence — should just hold their breath. By any definition, America is no longer a Western nation.
The US is a country where the system of government has fallen firmly into the hands of the elite. An unruly and aggressive militarism set in motion two costly wars in the past 10 years. Society is not only divided socially and politically — in its ideological blindness the nation is moving even farther away from the core of democracy. It is losing its ability to compromise.
America has changed. It has drifted away from the West.
America’s national disintegration sits aside the disintegration of the west.
The country’s social disintegration is breathtaking. Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz recently described the phenomenon. The richest 1 percent of Americans claim one-quarter of the country’s total income for themselves — 25 years ago that figure was 12 percent. It also possesses 40 percent of total wealth, up from 33 percent 25 years ago. Stiglitz claims that in many countries in the so-called Third World, the income gap between the poor and rich has been reduced. In the United States, it has grown.
Economist Paul Krugman, also a Nobel laureate, has written that America’s path is leading it down the road to “banana-republic status.” The social cynicism and societal indifference once associated primarily with the Third World has now become an American hallmark. This accelerates social decay because the greater the disparity grows, the less likely the rich will be willing to contribute to the common good. When a company like Apple, which with €76 billion in the bank has greater reserves at its disposal than the government in Washington, a European can only shake his head over the Republican resistance to tax increases. We see it as self-destructive.
Political disintegration sits aside social disintegration.
The same applies to America’s broken political culture. The name “United States” seems increasingly less appropriate. Something has become routine in American political culture that has been absent in Germany since Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik policies of rapprochement with East Germany and the Soviet Bloc (in the 1960s and ‘70s): hate. At the same time, reason has been replaced by delusion. The notion of tax cuts has taken on a cult-like status, and the limited role of the state a leading ideology. In this new American civil war, respect for the country’s highest office was sacrificed long ago. The fexact that Barack Obama is the country’s first African-American president may have played a role there, too.
Augstein concludes his article with a call for Germans and Europeans to avoid America’s fate, a sentiment that would shock many Americans were they to know of it but which is all too appropriate given the circumstances of the day. America, we need to remind ourselves, is now a low-growth, high-unemployment economy. Its economic and political elite prey on the “lesser people,” and the lessers have nary a jot of political clout within America’s rigid and unresponsive polity. This powerlessness exist by design. Indeed, the Constitution was written to secure this outcome. Moreover, every level of government in the United States today is committed to participating in a security-surveillance system that is utterly lacking in external and internal military threats. This system exists as a tool to be used by the government for political and social control. Because of these facts, that is, because of America’s elitism, militarism, economic decline, etc., one may rightly fear the direction in which the United States now travels. I would not find it surprising if the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave” were to end with the creation of a novel form of authoritarian government. I believe this kind of government is the telos present within current political and economic trends. The many will be economically, socially and politically disenfranchised.
It is ironic that the “greater people” in the United States may have learned one lesson from the support they long gave to dictators like the Samozas, Pinochet and Shah, namely, they learned that they do not need the support of their subjects. The irony, I believe, issues from the fact that so many of these dictators were ruined by their unruly subjects. They just would not tolerate tyranny forever.