It might seem extreme to talk of totalitarianism in the same breath as America. Totalitarianism belongs to the twentieth century, to Stalin and Mussolini and Hitler. It smacks of despots wielding absolute power through state control. America is nothing of the sort. America is a democracy. Or is it?
When I think of what occurs in the world today, what has gone down since 9/11 2001, that pivotal day that changed America, I begin to wonder. The aftermath of 9/11 saw the formation of the Patriot Act (an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism), and Homeland Security. It was used to justify a war on terror of epic proportions. It justified war in Afghanistan and the preemptive war in Iraq. Consequently it has led to the starvation of the welfare state, funds siphoned into a ballooning defence budget instead (and this prior to the GFC). And now, under the reign of Barack I, sees the foisting of Free Trade Partnerships upon other nations left and right, effectively diminishing their own democratic autonomy.
In the light of these actions, that America is a Superpower seems undeniable. That its power elite regard it as the one and only Superpower sanctified by a right-wing Christian god ought to be of grave concern. That its power elite consists not of a government democratically elected and held in check by a supreme court and a constitution, but of self-appointed corporate leaders managing democracy in order to further their economic interests, the door between politics and the economy perpetually revolving. In Democracy Inc, Sheldon S. Wolin goes further. ”Stated more strongly, the condition for the ascendance of Superpower is the weakening or irrelevance of democracy and constitutionalism – except as mystifications enabling Superpower to fake a lineage that gives it legitimacy.” (Princeton University Press 2010, p101). One example of the corruption of democracy is the manipulation of votes in Florida that brought George II to the Presidency in 2000.
Wolin argues the case for inverted totalitarianism as a way to describe the American Superpower of today. A totalitarianism that, unlike its forbears, functions behind the scenes, exploits authority and resources of the state and ”gains its dynamic by combining with other forms of power [such as evangelical religions], and most notably by encouraging a symbiotic relationship between traditional government and the system of private governance represented by the modern business corporation.” ibid, xxi
America is now under inverted totalitarian rule. Why inverted? Because as Wolin states, inversion is present when a system, such as a democracy, ”produces a number of significant actions ordinarily associated with its antithesis.” (ibid, p 46). In other words, democracy has become its own other, the very system it opposes, totalitarianism. A system where economics, not politics is supreme (ibid, p 58).
As if that were not bad enough – awful for many Americans – the managed democracy template of this newly emerging Superpower form of governance is being imposed on nations around the world in the guise of a neoliberalist (aka neoconservative) ideology. Hence in Australia we now have an utterly arbitrary emasculation of our welfare state. We are busy signing off on free trade agreements. Our governments are enhancing our surveillance laws, restricting the freedoms of our citizenry, instituting change upon change that benefits the corporations alone while making every effort to maintain a acquiescent citizenry through creating a culture of fear (from bikies to homegrown terror suspects radicalised post-Syria) and especially through the demonising of asylum seekers who come to our shores by boat, thus justifying incarcerating them in concentration camps offshore while fostering xenophobia and racial hatred in the rest of us.
Superpower has the whole world in its sights. It is driven by a lust for a fully expanded empire. Hence post-Iraq we now have a thoroughly destabilised Middle East, with absolute chaos in Libya, bloodshed and despair in Syria, in Iraq, in Palestine and now also in Ukraine, anywhere and everywhere that poses a threat to the economic interests of the new Godhead Superpower, or can be construed a source of terrorist threat, this latter set up to scare the citizenry into submission while furthering yet more economic interests.
That a power elite has emerged on the world stage with such overwhelming reach, that can control the workings of its host government of America, is not lost on vast numbers of us. Books are written, banners waived, petitions signed, memes created and facebook pages accrue thousands of Likes. But what will it take to counter such power as exists in the inverted totalitarian state of America? Can it be transformed or must it be destroyed? Will it self-destruct? If so, will it bring the rest of us down with it? Or can those at the helm be swayed before it is all too late?
Perhaps what is needed in America are a thousand Martin Luther Kings, but no doubt they are all locked in jail along with their African-American comrades. What is needed are a million grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, a hundred million Indignados, a billion Occupiers. This is what we need. We do have power. But only if we use it.