Press "Enter" to skip to content

US election 2012: Reconstituting a plutocracy

For the first time in more than three decades – since at least the election of Ronald Reagan – I have absolutely no interest in the outcome of the US presidential elections. This decline in interest has to do more with the fact that there is little difference, today, between Republican and Democrat candidates. The contest between the two parties represents little more than a battle to reconstitute the plutocracy the country has become. For the rest of the world, it will be business as usual.

My interests in the US elections have always coalesced around that country’s foreign policies, as implemented through the Pentagon, the State Department and the Bretton Woods organisations. For most of the past three decades these policies have by and large been disastrous for poor people and beneficial for the US. Going back to the 1960s, the US has carpet bombed Laos, invaded countries in east and southeast Asia, directly funded conflict in countries like Angola, propped up military dictatorships in the former Zaire and Chile and has been involved, directly or indirectly, in the assassination of popular leaders from Patrice Lumumba and Salvador Allende.

Through the World Bank and IMF the US has imposed its own vision of liberal capitalism on the world. Whether one agrees with these policies or not, they’ve been helicoptered into countries and forced onto states by various means of coercion and consent. That “American model” of political economy – from structural adjustment, to minimalist democracy, “good governance” (which Rita Abrahamsen most eloquently explained in Disciplining Democracy) and democracy promotion through the barrel of a gun – policies now lies in tatters, and that country is, itself, reeling under the pressures of its own fixation with the low-hanging fruit of capitalist excess.

Four years ago, on this blog, I wrote that people should not expect Barack Obama to be any different from George W Bush. I received a lot of hate mail after writing that. Two years into Obama’s reign, I receive apologies. Under Obama the US has continued its war against the Iraqis, the Afghan people and dropped bombs on innocent people in Pakistan. Targeted assassinations have increased and civil liberties in the US have been eroded. The fixation with Obama continues.

A colleague recently told me that I was not an African, that Obama was “and a Kenyan to boot” and that we should support whatever he does. I said we were outraged when the apartheid state attacked villages and killed innocent people in neighbouring states, and should be outraged by Obama’s slaughter of innocents in Pakistan. The response was curt: he is an African.

Again, I want to suggest that we should not expect the next president of the US to change that country significantly. The strict monetarism that was introduced under Reagan, the Republican, was reproduced under Bill Clinton, the Democrat. The violence and conflict sowed abroad by Bush was continued by Obama. Collectively the Democrats and Republicans represent the plutocracy the US has become.

The US economy will rebound … these things happen in cycles. The US will continue to play a role in global governance, not all of it will be benevolent. My biggest concern is that the US seems to have a scorched-earth foreign policy approach: if we can’t control and dominate the world – ain’t nobody else gonna do it!

Watch out for the next conflict in the South China Sea, and listen carefully, when they tell us they are doing it for humanity, or some narrow notion of freedom.

As for who the people of the US elect to lead them. This time I don’t care. When Clinton took over from the Republicans in the early 1990s, we thought things would be different. He ended up dropping bombs on innocent people in Africa. The people of that country elected Bush. When The New Yorker endorsed Obama for the presidency, this is what the editors wrote about Bush:

“Obama succeeded George W Bush, a two-term president whose misbegotten legacy, measured in the money it squandered and the misery it inflicted, has become only more evident with time. Bush left behind an America in dire condition and with a degraded reputation. On Inauguration Day, the United States was in a downward financial spiral brought on by predatory lending, legally sanctioned greed and pyramid schemes, an economic policy geared to the priorities and the comforts of what soon came to be called “the one per cent” and deregulation that began before the Bush presidency. In 2008 alone, more than two and a half million jobs were lost — up to three-quarters of a million jobs a month. The gross domestic product was shrinking at a rate of 9%. Housing prices collapsed. Credit markets collapsed. The stock market collapsed — and, with it, the retirement prospects of millions. Foreclosures and evictions were ubiquitous; whole neighbourhoods and towns emptied. The automobile industry appeared to be headed for bankruptcy. Banks as large as Lehman Brothers were dead, and other banks were foundering. It was a crisis of historic dimensions and global ramifications. However skilful the management in Washington, the slump was bound to last longer than any since the Great Depression.”

Yes Obama had a hard act to follow and he was, for some, a good president, but for those in the killing fields of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and who knows where else, this is no comfort.