The certitude of American daily life shudders under invisible forces of incertitude. The growing insecurity emanates from political and economic changes that have gradually taken place over the past several decades.
This often vaguely felt trepidation rests like a thick cloud over the American landscape, from sea to shiny sea, from the seclusion of the frigid north to the untidy hodgepodge of the hot south.
Times have changed. Periods of drift have always had an unsettling effect on human beings. They perturb the known norms regulating life without giving clear guidelines where things will end up when the process is completed. And, over the recent past, many changes descended on America. They didn’t come down as drizzle. They rained down in a torrent.
The trend to extreme religiosity and religious fundamentalism - especially in the Middle East, the heartland of Islam - combined with the fading of cultural and religious boundaries between regions, has made a startling impression on many Americans.
The tragedy of 9/11 deepened both the American people’s gradually snowballing islamophobia and their subtly rising sense of insecurity.
After 9/11, nothing was ever the same, and an angry America sought vengeance. Since then, it has been constantly involved in one way or another. Endlessly listening to the prideful announcements of how many “bad guys” had been killed and observing on TV the destruction of whole cities has had a devaluing effect on life in general.
The American public’s realization that its government had probably lied to rationalize waging war, as Washington did likely invent a falsehood to justify the war against Iraq, cracked the American people’s trust in its government, a connection that is a vital element in the composition of a democratic construct.
When the startling fact came to light that the American administration was maintaining secret prisons in foreign countries and engaged in torture and unjudicial killings, most Americans were shocked and the minds of overly impressionable young people even injured.
Otherwise, it’s difficult to understand the killings that take place almost daily in the country - not by hardcore criminals, but by otherwise seemingly harmless members of the general population.
Together, these happenings have probably had a corrosive effect on the sense of ethics and security of many Americans. However, the most consequential role in breeding the notion of anxiety among the American middleclass concerns their economic life. They perceive a deeply rooted unpredictability about their future economic wellbeing.
Looking at some economic statistics, the majority of Americans should feel quite blessed and secure. Since the mid-2015, the minimum wage has crept up to $ 7.25. America’s gross domestic product has reached the remarkable figure of $20.19 trillion, continuing, at least for another few years, to add up to the largest economy in the world.
What is perhaps of immediate interest to the average American is that the country’s GDP per capita has been steadily rising and now amounts to about $ 59,500.00. And unemployment, that dreaded curse for the working people, stands at 4.1 percent.
That, however, is merely one side of the story. There is a grim version as well, a narrative much closer to the lives of the American middleclass. The subsequent data highlight the growing spread of poverty in the midst of America’s plenty: Between 2009 and 2015, one percent of the U.S. population collected 52 percent of the country’s income gains, leaving only 48 percent of the country’s income gain for the remaining 99 percent of the American people. Child poverty has risen to 16.7 million. Extreme poverty has doubled in the U.S. since 1996, placing 2.8 million children in such households.
Although, the collapse of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Block was a highpoint of liberal democracy and the capitalist economic model, they also brought about globalization and the concentration of economic power in the hands of large corporations- a post-Cold War development that was to prove disadvantageous to the working middleclass.
Sitting behind their large desks in oversized and elegantly furnished offices, the barons of industry and moneymen at financial institutions observed the death throw of their diabolic adversary. The powerful images of Russian families selling their belongings at roadsides for a week’s groceries, and the multitude of Soviet states abandoning Russia and eagerly seeking the West’s security umbrella tempted Western industrial and financial leaders to let their rightful moment of ecstasy soar to a perilous extreme.
A sense of invincibility and self-glorification seized them. They felt entitled to mega salaries and yearly multimillion-dollar remunerations. To justify their hunger for monetary recompense, they reoriented their business models to maximize their profits at the cost of the consumer. In that way, the higher returns gave not only them the justification for collecting more money but also endeared them to their shareholders whom the corporate leaders’ new managed model rewarded significantly as well.
The trend toward the accumulation of power led to multibillion-dollar mergers and acquisitions.
In the absence of the threat that communism could be, and in numerous instances was, a danger to investment in many regions, the demise of this dark philosophy and its powerful adherent made investments safe virtually on a global scale. Taking production facilities to cheap-labor countries, huge international conglomerates were created which, due to their multi-national locations found easy ways to dodge the taxman.
Banking regulations were relaxed, enabling banks to gamble with depositor’s money. When their highly speculative venture folded, it was public money that saved them from ruin. As a result, the banks that were “too big to fail” grew even bigger.
As the proprietorship of wealth amassed in a small number of hands, the largest part in the growth of income ran off to the few. The accumulation of corporate power, resulted that one percent of the American population came to control 38.6 percent of the country’s wealth.
By the year 2021- in a mere three years - it’s expected that that one percent will own 70 percent of the country’s fortune. Putting it in a more graphic way and assuming there are about 325 million Americans, by 2021, 3,250,000 of them would own 70 percent of the country’s treasure while 321,750,000 of Americans would divide the remaining 30 percent among themselves.
The process has rattled the American people’s expectation of continuity of social peace. They worry about their place within society and fear the loss of economic wellbeing. They suffer from the growing might of corporations and the inordinate large influence of money on the country’s laws and governance.
The uneven distribution of the country’s economic goods is greatly troubling. The lop-sided allocation of economic wealth makes it enormously difficult, if not impossible, for the working middleclass to better their economic lot through gains by the work they do and the wages they receive.
Most significantly, the present economic imbalance is causing the middle class to shrink, a development that is extremely dangerous for the stability of society. The danger seems to be growing and it’s arguably the greatest peril that is active within the social and political fabric of the American people.
The chief reasons for the social peace in the developed world has been its large and economically comfortable middleclass. Conversely, the paramount source for the Third World’s social unrest has been the complete absence of a stabilizing middleclass. In those countries a superrich elite owns most everything, and the bulk of the rest lives in poverty.
But the problem can’t and shouldn’t be solved by a process of redistribution of economic goods. That would smack of socialism. What the American people need to be concerned about is the overwhelming influence of money on the executive, the legislature, and, through the choices of judges, even on the judiciary.
Today’s laws allow not only individuals but also corporations to finance elections. For the purpose of funding political races and candidates, corporations are considered to be persons. When one percent of the population owns about two-thirds of the country’s wealth, it shouldn’t be difficult to imagine which part of the population gets its way by the electoral process.
The government is, or is supposed to be, of the people, by the people, and for the people.
To achieve this indispensable condition in a democracy, the laws of the land must forbit private money to finance elections for any level of the government. The financing of all contestants, including the presidential candidates, must be a part of the federal and state budgets and paid for by the federal and state administrations. This is the norm in most functioning democracies. It has served other democracies quite well. There’s no reason it shouldn’t work in the United States.
The process of introducing a new system of financing elections will be anything but easy. But, as the people are sovereign in a democracy, it’s they who possess the ultimate power for bringing about important changes. And this change is existential. Otherwise, the United States could end up being the first dictatorship of corporations in human history.
Nasir Shansab has maintained homes, business interests and dual citizenship in both the United States and Afghanistan for the past three decades.
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