Short Thoughts

The American Experiment

Somebody made the following comment on Facebook: "I'm hugely surprised at how fundamentally fragile the US is proving itself to be if it spends trillions of dollars defending its values while so-easily admitting that a second 4-year presidential term of an uncouth loud mouth can threaten everything it has boasted for hundreds of years. Really?"
I would like to share some short thoughts about that, and they are probably obvious observations.
First; Very shortly, the theory of complexity states that complex adaptive systems live on the edge between chaos and order. And that transitions between evolving states of the system occurs sporadically, but suddenly. But those transitions are the result of tensions that have built up in the system over a much longer period. Studying complex adaptive systems forces us to focus on the process more than on the events. Events, which is what everybody notices, are only the results of the processes that lead up to them.
Second; social institutions are dependent on the members of society to function properly. Everything works better if it is well led, and has the trust of the people it interacts with. We can clearly see that in the protests and riots in the USA at the moment. Some Police departments are badly managed, and have lost the trust of the citizens that they are supposed to serve. On a much bigger scale, the USA as an institution is undergoing a re-assessment. America, and any other social institution, is the sum-total of the people that make it up, but those people self-organise into groups. There are political parties, there are NGO's, there are various business groups. There are whites, blacks and other population groups, there are rich, middle class, and poor. There's Democrat and Republican voters, and Democrat and Republican leaders.
Each with their own interests.
And there are various overlaps, to a larger and smaller degree. For the last 40 years, the economic benefits of the country accrued only to a smaller and smaller portion of the population. Since inception, blacks have never really shared in American wealth or most of the other benefits of being an American. And in recent years, the power of the wealthy, and their ability to influence the laws of the country have increased at an accelerating pace. Taxes are structured to benefit the wealthy, labour laws, consumer, health care and social support laws are all structured against the poor and middle class, consumers have very little power. Corporations, owned by the rich, are operating in non-sustainable ways, and outsource their environmental costs onto the lower rungs of society.
15 years ago, a politician became president on a message of hope and change. When he won, the non-racial society was proclaimed. Unfortunately it was only a veneer, and the powerful vested interests of the rich, the racist whites, and the "evangelicals" played an obstructionist game for 8 years. All the ills of society, were blamed on blacks and the black president. Four years ago, Trump came on the scene, and very correctly identified the things that less rich, white people were unhappy about, promising to shake things up, to drain the swamp. Some rich people saw in him a tool they could exploit, so did Russia, without whom he would not have been elected. His surprising election has cowed the Republican representatives into increasing submission over time.
Trump delivered for the rich, in many, many different ways. He has convinced a large number of his less-rich white supporters that he has delivered for them too, using a combination of lies, window dressing and ongoing campaign rallies to keep them energised.
He has empowered racist and reactionary people in all ranks of society - Customs and Border Patrol, Police, the judicial system, EPA, even Health and Education to pursue far right wing policies. This usually happens to the detriment of society as a whole - global warming, the pandemic, income and wealth distribution, etc.
Third, he has set in motion powerful reactionary forces, as well as counter forces, as we have seen in the streets during the BLM protests. If he should win another election, God forbid, he will further embolden the white right wing, allow his functionaries in the executive branch to continue their disastrous policies on education, immigration, taxation, the economy, the environment, in fact, the whole of society. And worse, it will enable him to appoint at least one more Supreme court justice, most probably more. And we have just seen in the California religious freedom decision just what a disaster the appointment of Kavanaugh has been - to the extent that the Chief Justice gave his opinion a stunning rebuke.
Conclusion - The collapse that people are warning about, while if it happens it will be very quick, it is by no means sudden - it has been building for decades, and some of the processes around blacks for centuries.
And yes, society is fragile, subject to the whims and moods of the people.

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