Lockdown has led to pockets of protests across America. Armed protestors went as far as gathering in Michigan’s state capital demanding an end to lockdown measures. The protestors argue lockdown is a violation of their civil rights, but the protests symbolise something far more pernicious than a civil rights violation. They are a symbol of a broken society on the brink of collapse.
Lockdown has had a debilitating impact on the US economy. 36 million people have now filed for unemployment in the last two months, levels unseen since the Great Depression in the 1930s. America isn’t isolated in feeling the economic wrath of the Coronavirus. The Bank of England estimates unemployment could double in the UK, and the economy could shrink by 14%. Globally, we’re entering a period of economic volatility.
The thing that sets America apart is the American government no longer works in the interests of the people it governs, but in the interests of corporations. This betrayal of a government’s responsibilities to its citizens has led to the corrosion of the social foundation. In this climate, the economic meltdown resulting from Covid-19 might be the straw that broke the camels back in tipping America over the edge. Igniting civil unrest that’s been bubbling under the surface for years.
How did America get here? The answer lies in an attempt to ‘make America great again’.
Let’s Make America Great Again
Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory in the 1980 presidential campaign was built on the slogan ‘Let’s Make America Great Again’. His presidency has since changed the face of America.
One of the core tenants of Reagan’s economic plan (known as Reaganomics) was the deregulation of markets. Reagan showed disdain for big government, placing faith in the free market. He argued the less regulation on business the better. With this came the privatisation of many public industries.
Reaganomics built on neoliberal principles. The idea of deregulation is wealth generated from liberating businesses to do what they do best trickles down to society. We all enjoy the fruits of a free market, so the neoliberal mantra goes.
Reagan laid the groundwork for a neoliberal takeover of American politics by corporate interests. Rather than liberating the free market from the ‘shackles’ placed on it by government, the reality is the market has been rigged in favour of corporate interests. Conservative policies establish a structure where the trickle-down effect is more like the trickle-up effect. Making sure the winners always remain the same.
The American nightmare
Another effect of Reaganomics was the idea of the power of the individual over society. Less government gives people more freedom and ability to control their lives and make their fortune. Reagan was upholding the values of the American Dream, a dream at the centre of the American psyche.
The issue with a celebration of the American Dream as an individual pursuit is it encourages a rat race. By design, the majority must work for the minority to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
The celebration of the individual has translated into an income inequality not seen since the Great Depression. The top 0.1% of Americans are worth as much as the bottom 90%. This isn’t an accident. It is the result of a concerted, systematic effort to keep wealth in the hands of a few.
While the rich get richer over half a million people go homeless each night in the US. 38 million Americans live below the poverty line, 27 million Americans have no health insurance. This disparity between gluttonous wealth on one hand and dire poverty on the other reflects a system whose priorities aren’t aligned to society, but those of a powerful corporate elite.
America has become a Corporatocracy, where decisions are centred around corporate interests. Embedded in this structure are greed and the self-interests of a minority.
The foundation of government is to provide for the needs of the society it governs. But in the American Corporatocracy, this relationship has been severed.
Nothing illustrates this more than the phenomenon of the private prison. Privatisation of the prison system began (you guessed it) during Reagan’s administration. It’s in the interests of these private prisons to have prisoners. Lower crime rates, which should be a foundation of success in any society, is the opposite of what they want.
The needs of society were never considered in a decision where these private companies benefit from higher crime rates. What was, is how much profit a company could make from a social failure.
This decision is morally questionable at best. At worst, it represents a corrupt government whose completely lost touch with its people.
An undesired outcome of a government focused on corporate interests is the breakdown of trust between people and government. People don’t trust the institution which, in a healthy democracy, functions as the representative of the people.
Trust is the bedrock of a functioning, healthy society and acts as a social glue. Mistrust, on the other hand, has a corrosive impact and can lead to social breakdown.
The American Corporatocracy has led to an erosion of trust. In this context, individuals are disengaged with the political system. So much so that the largest voting group (at over 100 million people) in the 2016 Presidential election were those who chose not to vote at all.
The brink of collapse
With a disillusioned electorate, rampant inequality and a government corrupted by corporate influence America is a system teetering on the edge. Donald Trump is a symbol of the complete takeover of American politics by corporations. His campaign to ‘Make America Great Again’ is Reaganomics on steroids.
The Resist movement in America is a symbol that enough is enough. It represents a determination to take back the country from the control of corporations. To make politicians accountable, and end the corruption drowning Washington. To bring back a democracy that America is on the verge of losing. Where politicians are once again the representatives of the people who elected them. Not the representatives of the highest bidder.
The outbreak of the Coronavirus could be a watershed moment. An unemployment rate of over 20% is cause for alarm at any time. But in a system gripped by so many social issues, it could prove to be the catalyst in tipping America into civil unrest.
As the social pressure builds it’s creating a melting pot of discontentment, resentment, and frustration that could boil over at any moment.
You reap what you sow. The American government has neglected society in favour of corporate interests. It has reneged on its responsibilities to the people giving it authority and legitimacy. All it will take is a spark and the frustration that’s been building for decades will explode into life.