Edited by Gillian Palmer
A 2013 retrospective: Today, the “American dream” is no longer a realistically reachable goal for most people. Despite the official statistics, the quality of life is getting worse for many Americans.
The core of the “American dream” had always been the permeability of American society. Anyone — regardless of social status — could eventually become wealthy and successful through hard work. Ten years ago, American film director Michael Moore suggested that Americans tolerated corrupt politicians and corporations because their credo was, “I don’t criticize the rich because I might be rich someday, too.”
That’s no longer the case. Never before in U.S. history have everyday Americans been so totally fleeced by corporations and the politicians the corporations have bought and paid for as in recent years. And never before has the outlook for so many Americans looked more bleak than today. According to numerous studies, the structures that make up U.S. society are becoming virtually impervious. A good college education isn’t a guarantee of higher pay; it can’t even guarantee a modestly comfortable existence. On the contrary, in most cases, education requires students from the lower socioeconomic strata to become so heavily indebted that they may spend decades repaying creditors; some may even drag their debt around with them for their entire lives.
Simultaneously, census results released this year show a horrifying imbalance in U.S. earnings and income distribution in the “land of unlimited opportunity.” The bottom 50 percent of Americans — that is, more than 180 million people — control just 1.1 percent of U.S. assets. The next group — 50 to 90 percent of the population — is made up of 144 million middle-class people who are becoming increasingly less wealthy and who currently control just 24.3 percent of the nation’s assets. The third group — those in the upper tenth percentile — is comprised of 32 million higher earners who claim 40 percent of all assets and includes the super-rich upper 1 percent, who are sitting on 34.5 percent of the nation’s wealth.
Income distribution in the United States today is more unjust than it is in Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen. Small wonder that 64 percent of Americans declared the “American dream” already dead and buried in a survey carried out at the beginning of December. But when two-thirds of Americans have no hope of a better life, does that also mean they will be more likely to rebel against their corrupt politicians and corporations in the future? The emergence of two anti-establishment grassroots movements opposing the current trend and the large banks — one, the so-called tea party movement, on the conservative side and the other, the socially democratic, liberal Occupy Wall Street movement (or the 99 percent against the 1 percent) — seem to indicate that rumblings at the base have already begun.
At the same time, surveys indicate the people have lost a great deal of trust and credibility in their government agencies and their elected officials. Currently, only 20 percent of Americans have a positive view of Congress. The Los Angeles Times reported on Oct. 8 that 53 percent of Americans would rather suffer with hemorrhoids than have to put up with Congress for one more day. Only 41 percent of those asked expressed a preference for the so-called public servants over the painful medical condition.
The inability of conservative politicians in Congress on the one hand and the Obama administration on the other to come to a budget agreement last fall resulted in a three-week shutdown of many government agencies and offices. That caused a feeling of deep insecurity for many about the prospects for the U.S. economy and American society.
If one follows the official statistics with their accompanying flowery commentaries, the U.S. economy is doing just fine: Unemployment is falling, incomes are on the rise and inflation is not even in the picture. But the reality is that many Americans are experiencing the exact opposite: Wages and paychecks are shrinking because the well-paid full time jobs are drying up. At the same time, the statistician’s rosy numbers reflect newly created but poorly paid part-time jobs. Inflation is actually low due to falling prices for consumer electronics goods, but rents, foodstuffs and energy costs are way up. The bottom 60 percent of the American population spends nearly all its disposable income on those three items. Making matters worse, falling wages have additionally reduced incomes. Anger is directed at the banks and financial institutions for their shady maneuvering. Most of them have gone unpunished; they continue to get nearly free money from the Federal Reserve to fund their operations.
Betrayed and Sold Out
Meanwhile, even the most die-hard Democrats feel that Barack Obama has betrayed them and sold them out. His much-vaunted new direction (“Change!”) turned out to be a bunch of hot air. The only change in Washington was the man himself: America’s first black president. But many are still willing to credit him with introducing America’s first universal health insurance, popularly called “Obamacare,” which will provide health insurance for up to 50 million Americans who could not previously afford such coverage.
However, the program’s rollout in early October proved to be a flop in the media. The principal reason for the disaster is a distinctively American form of corruption. The hopelessly overwhelmed companies tasked with implementing a smooth and successful program launch all shared one feature in common: They had all contributed generously to Obama’s election campaign. The upshot was that Obamacare has been hopelessly compromised with little to no action necessary by Republicans. The sociopolitical event of the century was in danger of suffering sudden infant death syndrome before it could even walk.
Meanwhile, Obama was forced to deal over the summer with the Edward Snowden scandal, involving illegal National Security Agency (NSA) eavesdropping on the telecommunications of private citizens. The public reaction to that news was not notable at first because people assumed the targets of such spying were mainly foreigners. When it became known that the communications of practically all American citizens were involved, Obama was able to calm the waters only by invoking the specter of “terrorism threats.”
Since then, massive criticism of the NSA and Obama has been coming not only from other countries, but from domestic sources such human rights organizations, prominent members of Congress and a federal judge who delivered the groundbreaking decision that Obama’s actions may have been unconstitutional as well. Criticism also came from the NSA’s formerly eager information technology helpers, such as Google, Cisco, IBM and the like.
With the help of software “back doors,” these companies were able to access computers worldwide using their programs. When their activities were finally revealed, their international business slumped markedly. In China, for example, some firms experienced losses of up to one-third during the third quarter of 2013 alone. Now the CEOs of those corporations are pressuring Obama to rein in the NSA in the desperate hope that they might regain the confidence of those foreign countries lost through the NSA’s actions.