When I moved to the U.S. almost 20 years ago it was a place where work was abundant, fairly well-compensated, and where I felt at home.
Over the years, though, I realized that at least half of the country:
- has an insufferable and unjustified sense of superiority over the rest of the world, mostly driven by ignorance of how the rest of the world works.
- values freedom as long as it consists of the following:
- The freedom to call itself a Christian nation without actually following Christ's teachings (wasn't it Christ who said "If someone slaps you on your right cheek, waste him with a semi-automatic rifle and a hundred bullets?")
- The freedom to tell those who disagree with them that they are terrorists, communists, socialists, that they are little fucking stupid robots who jump to the orders of the liberal elites.
- The freedom to tell the sick and dying that they are sick and dying because they are irresponsible leeches who expect the government to take care of them (and why didn't they just go spend a thousand dollars a month on private health insurance and pay 20% or 50% of all medical expenses after they also paid their monthly premium.), and the freedom of the insurance company to tell them that their coverage is denied because the failed to check a box on their insurance application.
- The freedom to be shot and killed at dinner by a civilian armed like a Navy Seal.
- The freedom to tell everybody else that it's all Obama's and the liberals' fault.
I think I know what happened: Globalization has made Americans feel less safe about their jobs, and with reason. Globalization is a race to the bottom, at least in the relatively short term, and one that disadvantages those who had everything before globalization started spreading. Consequently, Americans have reacted as people react all over the world when things are taken away from them: Deceived by the oligarchs and plutocrats of globalization, they have taken to blaming all the wrong people (mostly immigrants, unions, and liberals) for what they've had to endure.
This would explain why many Americans hate new immigrants, mostly from Mexico and poor countries: They feel that had immigrants not shown up and taken their jobs, they'd still be fine. But that is not true. Well paid jobs have been offshored, and the people who lost those jobs have less money in their pockets. Had immigrants arrived to take farm jobs, cleaning jobs, and many of the lowlier and humbler jobs, those who have seen a reduction in pay in better-paid fields (like IT, manufacturing, and others that have suffered comparably with the advent of globalization) their reduction in pay would have felt even worse. Had Americans continued to do the jobs that are now done by lowly-paid immigrants, the price of life's basics necessities would have risen, and life would have gotten even more unaffordable than it already is for a lot of people.
I am not saying that we should all be happy about all the immigrant labor that has arrived to the USA in the last 30 years. Immigrant labor is good to have when the economy is booming, but when the economy is in a recessionary cycle the immediate effect of more immigration is to further depress wages (it's the law of supply and demand.) This is not a time to have more immigration. But, as usual, the ire is misdirected: it should go against employers who knowingly hire workers illegally, not against the workers themselves, who are desperate and who are only doing anything they can to improve their situation, as anyone in their place would.
Even then, we should understand that a war against illegal employment would have inflationary effects on the rest of us, because prices of the things we can't do without in life would almost certainly rise as a result of a tougher stance against immigration, unless offshoring is also curbed and criminal prosecutions of foreign tax havens become the norm.
As far as unions go, membership has dropped to the lowest level in decades. The problem with this trend is that weaker unions result in fewer rights and safeguards in the workplace and in lower wages, for everybody--not just for union workers. But again, it's another example of people directing their anger at the wrong target. Why wouldn't most Americans understand this simple truth: While it's true that unions have caused at least some of their problems themselves, it is a fact that many of the largest U.S. companies have reaped some of the largest booties in their history at the expense of workers. An example that may seem extreme at first, but which has become quite common, is how Caterpillar is handling an ongoing labor dispute with the workers of a unionized plant in Illinois. The company is asking workers to accept a freeze in pay and benefits for the next 6 years (which actually would result in a net loss of pay, measured against rising inflation) even has it has just announced the largest profits in its history and an 60% increase in the pay of its CEO (to $17 million annually).
Now some have seen what is happening all along, and many have started to take notice. Most vocal among public voices to decry the wrongs that the middle-class and poor have suffered in recent years have been Bill Moyers, Robert Reich, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schulz, and Paul Krugman, to name but a few. The Occupy Wall Street movement has risen to unusual numbers of participants for American political life, and "99 percent" has now become a common term in political discourse.
The third target of popular anger is liberalism. This is honestly an absurdity that only ignorant people would tolerate. Aside from the fact that the Republican policies of the last 30 years (think Reaganism and what followed, and continued even under centrist Democrats like Bill Clinton) have wreaked more havoc on the health of the American economy, and on the middle-class and the poor of America, than anything liberals have done (or not done), this country has not followed truly liberal, progressive policies since the days of the Great Society and, before that, the New Deal.
Conservatives in this country, aided by the deceitful megaphones of Fox News and by the predominance of their ideas on talk radio and in think tanks, are intent on destroying or undoing every progressive conquest of the 20th century and on returning us to the era of robber barons. They have apparently done a fantastic job at it, as the USA remains the only supposedly-civilized country without a universal and affordable health-care system, with an ever weakening safety net, and with more widespread contempt for liberal policies that any other country.
It is a country on the way to ruin, not just financial but moral ruin; not because of the increasing popularity of gay marriages or legal pot, as the Right would have you believe, but because it treats everything and everyone, including its own citizens, as expendable and replaceable resources. It has devised policies which, in effect, result in a new type of slavery, based not on the forceful exploitation and ownership of human beings, but on their enchainment to the lords of financial globalization.
Even with all of this, you can be sure that Americans will keep chanting as they have always done, even as the ship goes down: USA: Number One! That, more than anything, is proof of the failure of the great American experiment in democracy.