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OK, party’s over. Joe Biden is officially the President. And it’s time to talk about what his challenge is. The Big One, if you will.
Let me put it as simply and bluntly as possible. Joe Biden’s challenge is transforming America. From a failing fascist empire. To a functioning modern society.
Let me begin with the first part. America’s a fascist empire. Americans won’t like to hear that — especially white Americans, even the liberal ones— but it’s a fact. Most of the rest of the world hates Americans for a very simple and very good reason. America turned their countries fascist. If you think I’m kidding, consider any of the following examples. The CIA installing Pinochet in Chile. The CIA creating the Taliban and Saddam both. America trading guns for drugs with Latin America’s hard right wing extremists.
Around the world, America built a fascist empire. I’m not kidding about that. It helped set up death squads in Chile. It helped create the monstrous Taliban that bombs schools and parliaments. It helped put monsters like Saddam — who tortured and maimed with impunity — into power.
That is why Trumpism was inevitable. All this hatred, all this bloodshed — it was always going to come home. America developed an elite class of technocrats who were really only good at one thing: administering the fascist empire. As ruthlessly and efficiently as possible. Hey, Steve, should we bomb some poor villagers today? Or should we keep that “war on drugs” going by invading yet another desperate country? Gee, Bob, I don’t know. Let’s do both — and let’s fund a coup in an even poorer country while we’re at it!
The only thing — let me repeat — the only thing that America’s elites got any good at was administering America’s global fascist empire. America’s institutions, values, and norms grew to reflect its fascist empire. It developed norms of insane cruelty, legendary the world over. Who let their kids be shot at schools? Why, Americans — the same way, maybe, Spartans threw weak kids into the sea. Who voted down healthcare for all? Why, Americans — because weakness became the one thing nobody was allowed to be in a society whose only purpose anymore was a global fascist empire.
White liberals are going to think I’m being hyperbolic, so let me spell out what “fascist empire” means even further. It means that most of the rest of the world didn’t want to have a polity like America’s. Every single nation that America invaded or bombed, which is a list so long it’d fill up most of this screen, wanted to be a social democracy.
But America couldn’t allow that. Why not? Because it needed cheap access to what the world had to offer — to feed its own insatiable maw. Ever wonder why Americans think it’s OK to pay some poor person in China or Vietnam the least they can get away with, instead of something, say, fair, just, noble, decent? That’s an example of a fascist empire — and one corroding basic values, too.
Why did America create a global fascist empire? The more towards social democracy a country leaned, the more expensive its resources would get for America — and especially all those nice middle class white Americans who needed to live a certain kind of dream of plenty and power, of supremacy and exceptionalism. If all those poor countries became social democracies, then labour standards might arise, and prices would go up — The CIA shuddered. People now cognisant of their own political possibilities might imagine they could sell what they had made at fair prices! Quelle horreur, gasped American elites! A nation in solidarity might not have to sell out all its resources to American corporations, just because they were divided and desperate! My God, cried the gilded halls of Congress. America could not allow the world to be free, because it was hell-bent on acquiring the most stuff it could as cheap as possible, which is a pretty good definition of what an empire is.
And if you think not letting a world choose to be what it wants to be — socially democratic, not fascist — isn’t “not letting it be free,” then my friend, perhaps you need a reality check about what freedom is.
Let me say it again. America launched all these coups and invasions for one reason. Cheap access to resources. Whether labour or oil, sugar or coffee, or money itself. So that Americans could grow fat and imagine that they were rich. And that is how the world runs today. Poor Chinese people live in military style barracks making Americans iPhones, not because of some magic economic reality, but because that is the best and only deal they could get from of America’s global empire of violence and brutality. How far away is that from slavery, really? Is it any surprise the Chinese hardly trust Americans, when they are exploited like America’s peasants?
America built a global fascist empire to create a fiction called the American Dream, where pretty white housewives and handsome square jawed white husbands would live in tranquility in a suburbia cleansed of any kind of racial threat, all-powerful, the entire world at their feet, happy to be exploited, because the other option was violence.
But having the rest of the world shudder in fear of you, and choose to be exploited for pennies by you just so that you don’t bomb them mercilessly, or send the death squads after them, is not being rich. It is just being feared. There is a very big difference.
Americans paid no attention to any of this ugly, squalid truth over the years and decades. By now, they thought of themselves as invincible, and had little idea, at least the white ones, just how fascist, supremacist, violent, and abusive the global empire they’d built really was. They had little notion that nations of modern day slaves living in bondage toiled away for them, just so they could drive big cars to dumb places and do mindless things, and wonder why their own lives felt so empty. The idea was to chase away the unhappiness by buying even more stuff — voila, the global fascist empire kept on going that way. And so Americans, though they grew disquieted over the years, a tiny few wondering if any of this was really fair, generally stayed blissfully ignorant of this grotesque state of affairs — willfully so, some said. Who cared about a world of slaves when there was shopping to do? Let’s party!!
And so of course having a global fascist empire was corroding and warping America in profoundly grotesque ways by the 2000s. Americans carried guns, openly hated each other, scorned any kind of human vulnerability, denied every kind of reason and intelligence over brutality and force and violence. Americans had become dumb, brutish bullies, infamous the world over for being quicker to declare war on the wrong nation than read a book. Worst of all, in this doomed endeavour of having a global fascist empire, the old original sin of America’s — hate — never moved an inch.
And all that is really how Trumpism happened. There’s one more strand to the story, that’s important to tell. America’s elites had become good at only one thing: administering a global fascist empire, meaning, figuring out how best to abuse and exploit and dominate nations the world over that were already abused and dominated and exploited. What weren’t they becoming good at? Giving Americans decent lives.
You see, the problem with the illusion of being rich — but really just being violent — is that you tend to self-destruct. And that is exactly what American elites taught Americans to do. America’s thinkers, incredibly, taught Americans never to invest in one another. America’s leading social and cultural figures taught them greed was good and cruelty and indifference were better. America’s intellectuals taught society to prize traits like “resilience” and “grit” instead of kindness and gentleness and beauty and truth and simple human goodness.
America wasn’t just administering a global fascist empire anymore. It was becoming a fascist society. But what other kind of society could really have a fascist empire? Bang! That is what Trumpism really was. Americans don’t really know it, but it was the culmination of half a century or more of trying to build a global fascist empire. (Yes, yes, white liberals believe American pundits when they use words like “liberation” and “freedom” and so on for “global fascist empire” — but you’re not as gullible as that, are you? Remember: nobody wanted to be ruled by America, to have to live according to America’s rules. And yet they did, and are.)
This fatal exercise of having a global fascist empire was to cause America to self-destruct in three ways. First, the endless violence necessary to maintain grew incredibly costly, to the point, right now, that literally nobody has any idea how much America really spends on bombing poor villagers with laser-guided death machines. Second, the values of cruelty and aggression and violence were to leach away at the foundations of democracy. And third, growing poor, not genuinely rich, but only violent, Americans were beginning to live genuinely impoverished lives — fascist empires don’t end up with good healthcare and education and retirement for all, because, well, those things are not the point of fascist empires: conquest and domination and profit are.
Bang! By 2016, on the eve of Trump’s election, you could see what was happening. America was collapsing as a society. People were poor, the fascists were in the White House, and amusingly, pundits were baffled by it all. But, again, where else was a fascist empire going to end, if not with mass poverty, everyday hate, and a Nazi in the White House?
Fast forward to 2020. Joe Biden is elected — in a narrow, narrow victory. Not just in terms of margins — a few thousand votes in key states deciding it for him. But also in harder terms: in a minor miracle that a massacre at Congress didn’t happen just two short weeks before the election, allowing Trump to declare martial law.
And now that Biden’s inaugurated, the question, if you understand all the above, is pretty simple. Can he turn a global fascist empire into a functioning modern society?
What does “functioning modern society” mean? Well, it means three things, which should be eminently obvious by now.
America’s the only rich country in the world, and one of a shrinking number of countries, period, which has no functioning social systems or public goods. No real healthcare system, no real retirement system, a broken down and decrepit education, a nonexistent transport system. I could go on. The first thing a functioning modern society means is: systems that people need to live decent lives, whether food, air, transport, healthcare, or finance, none of which exist in America at anywhere near a level that they should.
America has the values and norms of something much else, much less, than a functioning modern society, too. About half of Republicans still believe the election was stolen. 70% of Americans say, famously, they want good public healthcare — but then turn right around and less than 25% of them vote for it. That’s how many people voted for Liz and Bernie — a relative pittance. The second task for America in this age is to develop the norms and values of a truly modern society.
That doesn’t just mean letting the hate go, and rejecting the mindset of supremacy — it means something way beyond that: Americans genuinely wanting the best for each other, as human beings, instead of living in resentment and rage, denying each other the basics of life as a way of life, which is an attitude that extends all the way down to well-meaning liberals. It means Americans understanding much much more sophisticated concepts than the backwards ones they are used to. Not just the freedom to carry guns and the first amendment and so on, but notions like dignity, a constitutional principle in France, like basic human rights, realities in Europe, like decency, a disposition prized by gentle Canadians. America now has to make a social and political quantum leap. Joe Biden says healthcare should be a human right. It is, in Canada and Europe: a constitutional one. See the difference?
To do all that, America’s economy has to undergo profound transformation. All the above doesn’t just mean something naive like “the military takes too much money!” The reality is even more sinister and grotesque. America’s economy was the point of its fascist empire. It was built to extract maximum profits by undervaluing labour globally — and that reality eventually came home to America, in the 90s and 2000s, as it was always going to. America’s economy is still based on the principles of exploitation, abusiveness, and greed — in order to maximise already sociopathically insane profits for a tiny, tiny number of billionaires, while what was once the middle and working class become one giant underclass. Again — what else did you expect to happen in a fascist empire?
Such an economy can’t support a modern society. For a very simple and very hard reason. It doesn’t invest enough, and so people never really grow any richer. They only grow more violent. You can see the reality of that in American wages stagnating since the 70s — half a century now — while American society has gone off the deep end in terms of brutality, gun nuts carrying nine millimetres to Starbucks, proudly displaying assault rifles at every turn. Those are symptoms of an economy that prizes violence and exploitation and dominance over life, in which the quest for profit has taken on psychopathic proportions, and now supersedes any other goal of human life, whether knowledge, love, truth, beauty, goodness, or just plain human decency.
America’s economy needs almost total reconstruction. Americans need entirely new kinds of institutions to invest in them — People’s Investment Banks, local investment funds — and they need entirely new categories and sectors of jobs, whether local reconstruction manager or social impact development manager. The changes are endless, the opportunities profound. The task is to change an economy that was built to be the point of a global fascist empire — exploit people, acquire stuff cheap, dole it out the pure and true — which degenerated, as it always going to, into exploiting its own. America now needs a positive economy that plays a constructive role in the world — not just one that’s built on a proto-fascist series of “trade deals” that rip everyone, from the poor labourers in starving countries, right down to average Americans themselves, off, and only leave a handful of mega-billionaires pointlessly richer.
You begin to see, perhaps, how serious and vast this task is. I’m not kidding when I say that America’s challenge is becoming a modern, functioning society, instead of a failing fascist empire. It has four short years to begin to meet that challenge. Do you know what happens if it doesn’t? It goes right back to being a failing fascist empire. America just had five years of the reality of being such a country. Enjoy it? I didn’t think so.
Joe Biden has to lead that charge. He is the person who has to engage with the three transformations, revolutions, reformations, above. No, it won’t be easy work. Yes, the odds are against it all happening. Pity poor Joe Biden. He’s got his work cut out for him. The first question, though, is whether he and his administration are going to accept the challenge before them — or pretend the elephant in the room of a fascist, fading fascist empire isn’t there at all. Americans are good at pretending, ignoring, forgetting. Let’s hope, then, that Joe Biden isn’t.