A great friend of mine called, on my return from Delhi, and in his inimitable style invited me for coffee. After the chit chat, our conversation meandered to politics. We discussed Kashmir, the region and the world. But, suddenly, out of the blue, my friend asked me: “When will America decline? When will it dissolve in the solvent of history? There was anger, bitterness and a sense of expectation in his voice. It appeared that he wanted me to say that America would end tomorrow and this would accord him some satisfaction. My friend, I may add, is an eminently reasonable and rational man. However, it might not be a stretch to posit that he could be speaking for many or if not most of the Muslim world. Now, this assertion of mine would be music to the far right of America, especially Trump and his cohort. They would smugly say, “See, we knew this. This is what we have been telling you all along. These Muslims hate us. They hate us for our freedoms, our way of life”. But, this would be a patent lie, employed in the service of a self serving instrumentality, all in the continuum of lies that the American elite has told “ordinary” Americans, the world and even itself.
The American elite, over time, has so perfected the art of the lie that it has not only made “ordinary” Americans victims of an illusion but this elite also started believing its own lies. The “original lie” was creating a belief in capitalism as a legitimate economic order and then falsely linking it with democracy. In this schema, it was necessary for the American elite to link capitalism and democracy with individualism. Even religion was employed to serve this myth. The layer(s) of mythology that developed around these false constructs included the so called “American Dream” whose well springs, among other things, were traced to the Protestant ethic. So potent was the marketing behind this layered mythology that many Americans fell for it. What came to be believed was that as long as an individual in America, broke from the fetters of society, as long as production was decentred, as long as the self was worshipped at the expense of society and profit making remained the objective of an individual, and when “greed was good”, an “invisible hand” would take care of society. All this was held to be for the “good” of the individual in a non paternal sense.
But, all along, the “system” or the constructs that the elite created worked for the elite itself. Be it the monopolies or the oligopolies that defined American capitalism, one of whose corollaries was the creation of a semblance of a middle class, it was actually the elite that benefited. (The country’s system of taxation, which is ostensibly said to nurture “free enterprise”, and which Donald Trump is now entrenching, was and is oligarchic capitalism, at best, or plutocracy, at worse). Regardless, ordinary Americans believed in the “system”. What , however, worked, to some extent for America, was the nature of the social contract, or the relationship between the state and the individual, with a clear Lockean ingress. The excesses of capitalism were obscured by this social contract and the elitist construction of what was called “civic nationalism”. Even the immigrant was socialized into these constructs and illusions.
But, as with all flawed systems and constructs, the illusion was not sustainable. As it reached diminishing returns, and as poverty – especially among the working poor (white)- grew and the middle class started vanishing, many Americans had what may amount to a moment of epiphany. This moment was more poignant after Americas foreign policy misadventures, the Wars of Choice in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other allied blunders or even betrayals, made in the name of the American people, came home to roost, so to speak. “Ordinary” Americans appeared to understand that they had been tricked and deceived all along. Their answer to the various betrayals lay in a rebellion of sorts but such is the nature of the false marriage between democracy and capitalism( which has distorted the essence of democracy) that they fell victim to another illusion and charade: the persona and the meretricious promises of the unsavory and ungainly Donald Trump.
While Trump and Trumpism are an aberrant interlude, which will go away, the sad story for Americans might not have a happy denouement. Capitalism unmoored, is like the proverbial genie in the bottle that has been let out. It not only distorted American society but is in the process of a paradigm shattering moment which will displace and perhaps even destroy whatever vestige of prosperity and certainty that is left in America and, by extension, the world. The flag bearers, beneficiaries and managers of capitalism are in the process of creating new avatars and horizons for keeping capitalism safe and sound. The beginning of this paradigm shattering process lies in automation and robotics where machines and Artificial Intelligence will first phase out and then replace humans. This, mind you, is not outsourcing or globalization but a veritable Tsunami that will displace everything that was /is familiar. What could happen is the fraying of the Lockean social contract and the last nails will be hammered into the coffin of American civic nationalism. The legitimacy that this social contract and nationalism gave to capitalism will be over and done with. While capitalism in its “pure” or diluted form may or may not survive, Americans will turn increasingly inward and question their elite with intense ferocity. With no robust alternative in place- either by the Republicans or the Democrats, there will be a crisis of a structural nature in America, whose effects and consequences lie in the domain of the “unknown unknown”. As far as the implications on the rest of the world are concerned, many countries might turn towards other models. All this would have a civilizational impact. World politics could metamorphose along the lines of axes of civilizations and the American scholar- a genius of geniuses- Samuel Huntington, will be remembered for his prescience and perspicacity.
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]