Is the Amer­i­can dream be­com­ing a night­mare? (Pt 1)

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Arnold Ber­tram

IN WHAT must be the most mo­men­tous US pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, ru­ral Amer­ica led a path-break­ing, work­ing-class re­volt against the neo-lib­eral poli­cies in­tro­duced by Ron­ald Rea­gan and main­tained, not only by both Ge­orge H. and Ge­orge W. Bush, but sur­pris­ingly by Bill Clin­ton as well. It was a re­volt that put an end to the dy­nas­tic am­bi­tions of both the Bush and Clin­ton fam­i­lies and opened the doors of the White House to Don­ald Trump, a brash, racist dem­a­gogic bil­lion­aire who the ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans con­sid­ered a “most un­fit can­di­date for of­fice”.

The more per­cep­tive Democrats quickly sensed that the elec­tion of Trump rep­re­sented a clear and present danger, and took to the streets in wide­spread protests in Bos­ton, New York, At­lanta, Austin, Chicago, Den­ver, Philadel­phia, Port­land, San Fran­cisco, Seat­tle, Los An­ge­les and Washington.

Trump’s sup­port­ers, led by the white su­prem­a­cists, were quick to re­spond. The Ku Klux Klan planned a day of cel­e­bra­tion, while vig­i­lante groups in Texas threat­ened to “go ar­rest and tor­ture those de­viant univer­sity lead­ers spout­ing off all this di­ver­sity garbage”, and im­mi­grants be­gan re­ceiv­ing let­ters un­der their doors threat­en­ing them with evic­tion.

For the first time, Amer­ica will be led by a pres­i­dent whose cam­paign rhetoric has given li­cence to the racial violence, which is al­ready putting Amer­i­cans at each other’s throats. The Amer­i­can dream could quickly be­come a night­mare.


The view that Amer­ica should be a na­tion of ‘north­ern Euro­pean im­mi­grants’ only did not be­gin with Trump sup­port­ers. The Pu­ri­tans, who ar­rived on the Mayflower in 1620 and set­tled in New Eng­land, also shared this view and lost no time in wag­ing a war of geno­cide against the in­dige­nous North Amer­i­can In­di­ans.

In 1637, this de­voutly re­li­gious group in­vaded an In­dian set­tle­ment and demon­strated just how cruel and in­hu­mane they could be.

“The two en­trances to the stock­ade were guarded to pre­vent any escape and then a torch was ap­plied. Five hun­dred men, women and chil­dren were

burnt to death. The Pu­ri­tan leader merely re­marked that by the prov­i­dence of God, there were 150 (In­di­ans) more than usual at home that aw­ful night.” (Ber­trand Rus­sell).

Racial violence against African-Amer­i­cans was not only a way of life in the South, but over time spread even to the in­dus­trial North. In July 1917, in East St Louis, “Mobs of heav­ily armed white men lug­ging cans of petrol de­scended on the black district and started fir­ing at will at any black per­son in sight and set­ting fire to the district.” Those who tried to out­run the white mobs were “shot down like rab­bits and strung up to tele­graph poles”. “The most sick­en­ing in­ci­dent of the even­ing came when they put a rope around the Ne­gro’s neck ... . One of the lynch­ers stuck his

fin­gers inside the gap­ing scalp and lifted the Ne­gro by it.” (Colin Grant).

Iron­i­cally, nei­ther the Mex­i­cans nor the AfricanAmer­i­cans against whom the present wave of racial violence is di­rected first came to Amer­ica as im­mi­grants. Africans were bound hand and foot and forcibly trans­ported across the At­lantic to pro­vide en­slaved labour on US plan­ta­tions. Texas was orig­i­nally part of Mex­ico, and when the Mex­i­cans abol­ished slav­ery, the Amer­i­cans en­cour­aged Texas to de­clare its in­de­pen­dence of Mex­ico and rein­tro­duce slav­ery. When Mex­ico protested, the US de­clared war in 1846, which ended with Mex­ico of­fi­cially recog­nis­ing Texas as part of the United States and ced­ing the ter­ri­tory – which to­day in­cludes Cal­i­for­nia, Ne­vada, Utah, New Mex­ico,

and Ari­zona, as well as parts of Wy­oming and Colorado – for $15 mil­lion.


The de­scent of the work­ing­class into poverty and the phys­i­cal degra­da­tion of ru­ral Amer­ica, which drove mil­lions of vot­ers to Trump in the re­cent US elec­tions, be­gan dur­ing the Ron­ald Rea­gan pres­i­dency (1980-1988). It was in this pe­riod that the neo-lib­eral poli­cies were in­tro­duced to max­imise the role of the mar­ket, not only in the econ­omy, but in so­cial pol­icy as well, and min­imise the role of the State and reign in the power of the trade unions.

When Rea­gan took of­fice, real wages in the United States were the high­est in the in­dus­trial world. Since then, the pur­chas­ing power of the Amer­i­can

work­ing class has largely stag­nated or de­clined while in­equal­ity soared, and Amer­i­can jobs were ex­ported to China to take ad­van­tage of low wages.

By the end of Rea­gan’s term of of­fice, his neo-lib­eral poli­cies had re­sulted in an un­prece­dented con­cen­tra­tion of wealth at the top, crip­pling in­debt­ed­ness among fixed-in­come earn­ers, and the re­duc­tion of ex­pen­di­ture on so­cial pro­grammes. In­creas­ing un­em­ploy­ment and high, ab­so­lute and rel­a­tive poverty be­came the re­al­ity for mil­lions of Amer­i­can work­ers, both white and black, as well as in­creased rates of in­car­cer­a­tion.

Yet, for many Amer­i­cans, the apex of US pros­per­ity and power was built dur­ing Rea­gan’s pres­i­dency with the success of Star Wars, the

big­gest and most omi­nous es­ca­la­tion of arms spend­ing in Amer­i­can history. The Sovi­ets were in­duced into an arms race which their econ­omy could not sus­tain, and by the end of Rea­gan’s term of of­fice, the coun­try was on the road to bank­ruptcy. The dis­in­te­gra­tion of world com­mu­nism fol­lowed. How­ever, Star Wars was fi­nanced by rais­ing the national debt from US$700 bil­lion to US$2 tril­lion, im­pos­ing in­creased bur­dens on the backs of the work­ing class.

In­ter­est­ingly, in the 1984 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the only real chal­lenge to Ron­ald Rea­gan’s poli­cies came from Jessie Jack­son, the can­di­date of the Rain­bow Coali­tion, who sought to unite pro­gres­sives both inside and out­side the Demo­cratic Party around a pro­gramme to de­mand “a 25 per cent re­duc­tion in the defence bud­get and a bi­lat­eral nuclear weapons freeze, and the bil­lions of dol­lars saved ... to be re­al­lo­cated to hu­man needs.”

Ge­orge W. Bush suc­ceeded Rea­gan and pre­dictably main­tained his poli­cies and in­creased so­cial and economic dis­par­i­ties. While Bush was in of­fice, when the for­mal dis­so­lu­tion of the USSR took place in 1992, leav­ing the United States as the world’s only su­per­power, it was Rea­gan who was recog­nised as the win­ner of the Cold War, and the Amer­i­cans re­warded him with an un­prece­dented ap­proval rate of more than 80 per cent.


What­ever hopes the Amer­i­can work­ing class had that Bill Clin­ton’s pres­i­dency (1992-2000) would roll back Rea­gan’s ne­olib­er­al­ism were quickly dashed.

“From 1983 to 1998, av­er­age wealth of the top one per cent rose 42 per cent, while the poor­est 40 per cent lost 76 per cent of their wealth.” (Chom­sky). How­ever, Clin­ton’s land­mark con­tri­bu­tion to the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of wealth at the top was the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which per­mit­ted the merger of com­mer­cial banks with in­vest­ment banks, bro­ker­ages and in­sur­ance com­pa­nies.

Ge­orge W. Bush, who suc­ceeded Clin­ton, lost no time in ex­pand­ing neo-lib­eral poli­cies that led to a surge in cor­po­rate prof­its, pro­fes­sion­als’ in­comes, gains from in­vest­ments, and ex­ec­u­tive com­pen­sa­tion, even as the Labour De­part­ment re­ported a de­cline in real wages for most work­ers in 2004.

By Oc­to­ber 2005, the econ­omy had been through its long­est pe­riod of job loss since the Great De­pres­sion. Fi­nally, on Oc­to­ber 19, 2008, the US stock mar­ket crashed by 508 points – the big­gest one-day loss in history. “The de­struc­tion of ap­prox­i­mately US$50 tril­lion in as­sets in the global econ­omy, the largest bank­ruptcy in history (Lehman Brothers) and the worst global economic slow­down” fol­lowed (Fa­reed Zakaria). For many, the Amer­i­can dream was be­com­ing a night­mare. It was in these cir­cum­stances that Barack Obama de­feated Hil­lary Clin­ton to be­come the Demo­cratic can­di­date for the pres­i­dency of the United States.


Stu­dents from sev­eral high schools rally af­ter walk­ing out of classes to protest the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump at City Hall in down­town Los An­ge­les on Novem­ber 14.

Hil­lary Clin­ton could not shake the ghosts of her hus­band’s past.

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