Posted by: Khepera | Tuesday, 8 July 2008

“The American Way of Life”


This essay was originally posted in 28 August 2004, on another blog of mine, long since consolidated into this one, as well as submitted to Drylongso online journal as part of a series I did for them. Clearly, we face many of the same issues, though the landscape has shifted somewhat. I post this now as a foretaste of an expanded version I will post later this month. Keep in mind that the sources cited here are not the only ones, nor the most exhaustive on the subject. As always, you are encouraged to do your own reading & research. “The journey is the reward.”

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“The American Way of Life,” is a familiar phrase we hear referenced in the USA often — some feel too often, even ad nauseam. Yet, this phrase is anachronistic, variously and ill-defined. Clearly it is a reference which must, of necessity, vary in meaning as a function of region, climate, lifestyle — urban, rural, etc. — not to mention such obvious demographic factors as socio-economic status and cultural contexts. Yet we are repeatedly fed this homily, by politicians and media types, even historians and educators, digesting it largely without question as to meaning or application.

If the plurality of the social continuum of the United States is real and viable, if we engage the classist realities of our society unflinchingly, we are compelled to accept that this phrase cannot be — nor was it ever truly intended to be — all-embracing. This becomes an even greater source of concern when we pay attention to how this phrase is bandied about by corporations and government, particularly in terms of how this is used as a flashpoint phrase for leveraging legislation and actions covering everything from taxes, and resource management to the waging of war.

We must ask ourselves why corporations who cling adamantly to their self-applied multinational status, working assiduously to dodge the payment of legitimate taxes, and governmental regulations which protect people and the environment, which they claim hampers and hamstrings their capacity for business and profit, would ever seek to invoke such a phrase, and its associated psycho-emotional responses. The answer is gallingly simple: anything which can be construed to put “The American Way of Life” at risk, can thus be deemed by chums in Congress and/or the White House as a “threat to national security”. Please note that this is inveiglement is most critical in times when accountability is pressed.

Consider the position of Union Carbide following the Bhopal incident in India(see also). Did the US government come out with offers of economic support of the company to help them meet their responsibilities? No. Rather, they chose to inveigle the Indian government into minimizing the judgement[s] against Union Carbide, in exchange for avoiding various sanctions. Does anyone wonder at the amount of business and commerce India is getting with the wave of out-sourcing in recent years, instead of many other countries which are closer, and could just as easily provide such services? There are many English speaking countries in the Caribbean and elsewhere which could as easily provide similar resources. Even South Africa is closer than India.

What we find is that when US multinational corporations — overlook the contradiction for the moment — find themselves in a pinch, trying to do business, or getting caught breaking the law, contracts and operational agreements in foreign countries, this phrase is invoked. When other nations where our government has been less than fully successful in propping up regimes favorable to multinational corporate activity/piracy, “The American Way of Life” and “national security” are suddenly clamored across the media. The result? The US military becomes the corporate militia, ensuring the uninterrupted business activity of these same *multinational corporations* which cannot seem to find a way to pay even a remotely reasonable percentage of profits in taxes to help sustain the resources they clamor for to protect their interests — which they would have us accept as synonymous with our own.

Such collusion between corporate interests and government is not new in this country, by any stretch of the imagination, for anyone not either asleep, catatonic or numb from the neck up. What is however striking is the extent to which this collusive dynamic is integrally woven into the fabric and foundation stones of the genetic code of our capitalist republic.

This begs the question: “Would you recognize fascism if you saw it?” Asked for a definition, most Americans would grasp for examples like Hitler, Naziism, Mussolini and such as functional definitions, remembering the repressive regimes these examples were. The fact of the matter is that the methods of oppression are simply the tool by which a particular government or ruling elite effects the sustenance of their rule — it does not constitute, or necessarily embody the character and essence of the governmental premise itself.

Many would argue that the practices of Europeans in South Africa, Australia, Tasmania, Israel and the USA are different from those of Hitler’s Germany primarily in terms of degree, and pervasiveness. Whether it is a question of Japanese internment camps, Tasmanian genocide, the stealing of Aboriginal children, Native American reservations, sharecroppers — Black and white — or, apartheid and the pejorative practices of Sharon and others against the Palestinian community, the patterns are largely the same.

Many white Americans, recently ‘enlightened’, look back on their forebears treatment of Native Americans and African Americans with horrified disdain. Yet few of this same group can bring to bear equivalent revulsion when the same behaviors arise in the present, whether it is a dragging death in Jasper, Texas, police murders of unarmed civilians, government largesse like Ruby Ridge, or sanctioned actions against the American Indian Movement in its efforts to get centuries of ratified treaties enforced.

Let’s inquire after a definition of fascism, one Mussolini claimed was penned by him. Actually correctly attributed to the editor of the Encyclopedia Italiana, Giovanni Gentile, the entry reads

“Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”

This definition is relevant as it is apparently the one used in 1944, when Vice President Henry Wallace wrote an article for the NY Times, The Danger of American Fascism, wherein he engaged the question of fascism. The complicity of US business interests in granting succor to Nazi Germany is by no means limited to the likes of IBM, or the Dulles brothers. In this article, he aptly articulates:

“The really dangerous American fascists are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.

American fascist as one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings, then there are undoubtedly several million fascists in the United States. There are probably several hundred thousand if we narrow the definition to include only those who in their search for money and power are ruthless and deceitful. Most American fascists are enthusiastically supporting the war effort. They are doing this even in those cases where they hope to have profitable connections with German chemical firms after the war ends. They are patriotic in time of war because it is to their interest to be so, but in time of peace they follow power and the dollar wherever they may lead American fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information…”

In this context, we must ask ourselves just how this sensibility brings into focus current affairs in the USA. Is this the governmental dynamic our supposedly visionary founding fathers sought to render in the early days of the republic? Either their aims were collectively quite far off, their visions were adulterated over the years, or, maybe, their aim was in fact accurate and precise, and we have now what was originally intended. This is an assessment many will argue is highly subjective. Many others assert that the actual facts speak eloquently for themselves.

What then does this do for us when our ears are next assaulted by the phrase “The American Way of Life?” What should it conjure in our minds and imaginations? How does this understanding adjust the lens of our individual and collective vision as we look around our nation on the eve of another presidential election, wherein already we find the sorts of voter intimidation and disqualification tactics we are familiar with from our Jim Crow past —north & south — and those governments many in the US like to refer to as ‘banana republics’?

Perhaps, as was often argued in the formative stages of this nation, the government we end up with is a function of the exercise of our individual accountability, which naturally accrues into an assertion of collective will. Whatever we do, it is clear that the identity of this country is now more a function of the roles of our major corporations in the world, and the man-handled handmaiden role of our elected government. History teaches us the costs of apathy.

© 28 August 2004

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