America Now & How We Got Here

I understand and appreciate living in a country where there are so many different cultures and walks of life to observe. In history class as a teenager I learned the term “Melting Pot” in reference to the mix of ‘races’ in the United States. Even before I ever set foot into a third world country, I always knew I was lucky to be born here.

We’ve had the right concept in our hearts the whole time, but we’ve had a difficult time walking the talk.

We had 43 white male presidents in a row, until we elected a president from a minority group who carried out the same politics as the white guys. If we’re the melting pot, we certainly haven’t been very kind to certain ingredients in the stew. None the less, to be a US citizen has always been seen as a privilege, and so we look at what we’ve done with that.

A Privileged America

We’ve had access to just about everything we ever wanted post WWII because our economy started to boom from the steel industry, the auto industry, and our scientific and technological innovations. Right after WWII we began to watch TV. Leave It To Beaver set the standard for the normal American family, and in a booming post war economy Americans started to live it up.

But it wasn’t long before women in America, who worked in the factories while their men were away at war, started to see that June Cleaver’s life felt like a trap. Women wanted to use their skills and minds to join the workforce and earn for the family. And because the economy was growing, and there were jobs to be done, women were already joining the workforce, but in jobs designated for women.

There were some gains for women’s rights during the Vietnam War era, and at the same time, there was shame in “not winning” the war. Americans lost faith in their government and Nixon’s Watergate didn’t help, nor did Kennedy’s assassination before that. America was emotionally all over the place and revolution was only possible in theory, because once the dust settled everyone went back to work.

When the 80s hit, we enjoyed a time of peace, as the Cold War seescreen-shot-2017-03-02-at-8-20-28-pmmed better than another confusing war. The ERA didn’t pass in 1982, but by then activists had burned out. The United States was recovering from the Vietnam War, and facing a recession. Americans complained, but they didn’t participate en mass in politics by making demands on their representatives. At the time, Americans, again, did not trust their federal government.

The 80’s was a quietly devastating time for the progress of America regarding civil liberties. The activism had fizzled. People had to join the rat race and had to pace faster just to get by financially. Yet all people wanted to do was buy, consume, and comfort eat. The quiet of the Cold War was a result of repressed anxiety about being in a nuclear arms race with another country. People simply did not react to much to decisions made by big government. People were focused on home life and finances. By then divorce rates were rising, and the economy was bouncing back and forth. Americans went back and forth on their opinions of Reagan. People worked. They got taxed. The minimum wage remained low. National debt grew.

Consumerism Daze & Oil Craze

When the 90’s hit, the economy had started to recover, as economies do. Once again The United States seemed to be on an upswing and had become very conditioned to numbing out when it came to big government and world politics. When Iraq went after Kuwait, and that was a threat to Saudi Arabia, Bush didn’t want Saddam to have control over 1/5th of the world’s oil. A relatively short war called Desert Storm happened, and a numb society watched it on television.

It wasn’t clear to Americans what was gained from Desert Storm but there were losses and costs to deal with which were largely swept under the proverbial rug. The workforce kept chugging along, people kept up with consumerism, and small businesses began to fade away to corporations and chains appearing in every city. Two out of every three marriages had ended in divorce by the 90’s and that meant more single moms, and more women in the workforce.

Corporate fascism came swiftly, and stunned people into submission. The economic boom and rebound of the 90’s appealed to our materialistic side. Although, there were many positive aspects of the era and Americans seemed to be enjoying our culture, we were also reckless with our spending, superficial and lazy. When we weren’t working, and putting up with the corporate whip at work just to have a job to get that paycheck, we were shopping or watching TV. We had Seinfeld, after all. It seemed normal, sort of.

As 1999 changed over to 2000, the whole world really did change. A new era was born because of the launching of a little thing called the Internet. We were already enjoying cell phones and we’d never conceived of the smart phone. Of course, when they came out, we all had to have ’em. Even if people in China were jumping out of the towers of  iPhone City because they were going nuts from making phones all day for pennies on the hour, repeating the same medial task over and over again for hours on end – we needed that smart phone.

This is probably the time at which we most rewarded greed. Computers and devices help connect the world, and it made Bill Gates the richest man in the world (he’s worth $85 BILLION). Not to say that he doesn’t deserve it, but there’s a point at which lowering prices and paying everyone a lot more, plus keeping all factory jobs in America, and not taking tax cuts, seems more rational and humane than storing billions of unused dollars.

The second wealthiest person in the world is  Amancia Ortega who made his money in fashion. American (and European) women spend billions with the fashion and cosmetic industries. The fourth richest person in the world, Jeff Bezos, is the largest shareholder of online shopping center Amazon.

The 8th richest person in the world is the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, who developed the social media site in 2004. Zuckerberg found a niche in America’s narcissism. Not only are we the largest consumers of just about every resource on the planet, we are a country that idolizes celebrities and esteems image. Zuckerberg gave Americans, and everyone else in the world with Internet access, the ability to have an online, worldwide social identity whereby any person in the world could market themselves and impress their image out into the universe.

Seeds of Greed Grow Wealth Inequality

Greed was rewarded more so by tax breaks to the top 1% of the wealthiest individuals, bail outs to Wall Street and big business when the bubble started to burst, and a nation of citizens who became nothing more than consumers to government, big business, and to themselves. During the 2000’s corporations merged, bought up small businesses and places like WalMart made it a regular practice to pay low wages while only hiring part time so they would not have to pay benefits. Corporations regularly outsourced labor to third world countries, taking jobs out of America. Big business became embedded with the Federal government to influence law makers and representatives to set up a system which favored profits over people. Commercials for prescription medication were served up. And the American public took it.

By this time American’s were doing 4 or 5 jobs for the wage of one. The Generation Xers were the ones that got hit the most with this expectation, and even even though their parents, The Baby Boomers, were complaining about everything and anything, there was no fight left in our society other than the fight to get by and make a life while living in debt. It became normal to have tons of debt. College tuition went up, but it was an expectation that in order to make a decent living you needed a college degree or a trade. Yet, as Corporate America took over, college degrees did not translate into well paying jobs within the field of choice.

America was also experiencing the George W. Bush era and the confusion of the 9/11 attacks. Perhaps this seemed more prevalent than worrying about the injustices of corporate fascism. It certainly provided a perfect excuse for another Bush oil war. Again, America was wary of the federal government, but that was now the norm. Malice toward the Middle East had been a trend Americans were used to. Americans took to blaming their ‘enemies’ for the problems at home. It was easier than being accountable.

Looking back at 9/11, it seems rather impossible that an hour after the attacks we had the pictures of 20 middle easterners on our televisions to blame. Our intelligence agencies solved something so complex in one hour, and when questions surfaced, logical questions, the administration closed the books and allowed no further investigation into the situation. At that time, Americans appeared to come out of their slumber for a brief moment to question that action, but as is often the case, time passed and the focus shifted to the capture of Saddam Hussain and the weapons of mass destruction fabrication.

The US went to war in the Middle East again, this time with a bunch of false excuses to back the agenda. Yet there was no uproar in the American public, even after we were informed there were no weapons of mass destruction to begin with. We didn’t see a massive peace movement like in the 60’s. People weren’t necessarily happy about it, but in truth, the public had become numb, complacent and divided. As long as folks had jobs and things were ok at home, they were happy to watch world events on the evening news and debate about whether or not we were fighting terrorism in the Middle East or just trying to gain position for oil. Instead of questioning the federal government it became very commonplace to question the patriotic nature of your neighbor.

In September 2008 the stock market crashed, the housing market collapsed and Americans had to take a good look at how wanting the big house with the white picket fence, and having eyes bigger than wallets really worked against them. Again, the focus was on the state of the US economy and people were feeling the strain of the growing wealth gap and the result of bad business practices by banks and large corporations. A government bailout seemed the only way to help the economy rebound, and most Americans just wanted a quick fix, without questioning unpatriotic capitalism.

By 2011, the American people started to acknowledge wealth inequality and the growing wealth gap. In September 2011, a movement called Occupy Wall Street had started and its momentum grew across the nation. The most profound aspect of the corporate resistance to the movement was that the mainstream media refused to cover it. This should have been a huge red flag to Americans, and it should have caused complete outrage as well as awareness about the fact that Corporate America (and only 5 corporations) had bought up 90% of American mass media and were controlling our information.

Americans understood in some sense that it was The New York Times who released the front page article stating that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which started the Iraq War; but they blamed the Bush administration instead of taking a good look at the intentions of major news outlets. During the Occupy Wall Street movement, it was obvious that mainstream media was refusing to cover it, and folks talked about it on social media. (This noticeably happened again in 2016 with the protests at Standing Rock.) Yet, instead of Americans boycotting large media outlets who were not covering it, and who by then seemed to be working for the benefit of Corporate America, they simply birthed the trend of every Internet user becoming his own journalist by way of blogs and social media.

Murdering The Media

During the Obama Administration, the economy rebounded somewhat, yet nothing had changed with wealth inequality and the growing wealth gap. The United States continued to bomb the middle east in a supposed fight against terrorism, while the battles seem to be more or less concentrated on areas rich in oil and natural gas. ISIS appeared all over the news, and during the Obama administration, two very important events happened which completely screwed over independent journalism and journalists in general.

First, in 2013, the release of information from Edward Snowden through The Guardian made Americans aware that their government was spying on them. Americans did not react with outrage. Although there were some quiet protests, most Americans never batted an eyelash. It was a huge uncovering of an imposition on the rights of every American, and a huge signal to our fed that we were complacent, apathetic and indifferent to having our privacy breached and our rights infringed on.

Second, in 2014, terrorist group called ISIS hit the news repeatedly due to their momentum with gaining position in Syria. ISIS was a regular part of the news that year and when independent free lance journalists went abroad to get a closer look at what was really happening, they were kidnapped. One American journalist, James Foley, was captured by the terrorist regime in 2012. During the time Foley was being held hostage, ISIS demanded the Obama administration remove US forces from Iraq in return for Foley’s release. It was said that ISIS had released other journalists from other countries whose governments paid ransom. The Obama administration stuck with US policy of not paying ransom to terrorist groups, and even after many pleas by Foley’s family and friends, Obama did next to nothing to help. Foley was beheaded, as was another American journalist (a month after Foley), Steven Sotloff, on video by a man speaking English with a British accent.

These events sent a clear message to the American public that journalists, who were once watchdogs of government activity, were to stay out of foreign affairs and they were expendable members of American society. 2014 was a fear based year for media because not only were news organizations sensationalizing ISIS, they were also sensationalizing the outbreak of Ebola and blowing it out of proportion. People weren’t questioning the details of the ISIS regime, especially after seeing the consequences on YouTube.

Yet, people should have questioned how this group of terrorists were funded, why they were so effective with their own marketing and recruiting, how we knew anything about what was really happening without having journalists on site to report back to us, and why the people who beheaded our journalists were Brits instead of Middle Easterners. Testimonies by captured journalists reported they were held by people who spoke English with British accents and people who spoke French. It seems almost unfathomable that detail could have snuck by unnoticed by the American public.

From the NYT article Oct 2014:

“Mr. Bontinck said Mr. Foley and Mr. Cantlie had first been held by the Nusra Front, a Qaeda affiliate. Their guards, an English-speaking trio whom they nicknamed “the Beatles,” seemed to take pleasure in brutalizing them.

Later, they were handed over to a group called the Mujahedeen Shura Council, led by French speakers.

Mr. Foley and Mr. Cantlie were moved at least three times before being transferred to a prison underneath the Children’s Hospital of Aleppo.”

Back to the Oil

In October 2015, The Guardian put out an article explaining the US interest in Syria and our interest in pipelines there. As the Obama administration continued to work on behalf of big oil, the American public was too distracted by fear of terrorism, the reputation of ISIS, and the memory of the 9/11 attacks, to place much attention on the continual bombing of seven countries in the Middle East by the US in effort to preserve our position on oil.

From The Guardian article:

…years before the 2011 uprisings, US defense officials were alive to the region’s growing instabilities, and concerned by the potential consequences for stability of Gulf oil.

These strategic concerns, motivated by fear of expanding Iranian influence, impacted Syria primarily in relation to pipeline geopolitics. In 2009 – the same year former French foreign minister Dumas alleges the British began planning operations in Syria – Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter’s North field, contiguous with Iran’s South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, with a view to supply European markets – albeit crucially bypassing Russia. An Agence France-Presse report claimed Assad’s rationale was “to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas”.

Instead, the following year, Assad pursued negotiations for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with Iran, across Iraq to Syria, that would also potentially allow Iran to supply gas to Europe from its South Pars field shared with Qatar. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the project was signed in July 2012 – just as Syria’s civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo – and earlier this year Iraq signed a framework agreement for construction of the gas pipelines.

The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan was a “direct slap in the face” to Qatar’s plans. No wonder Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in a failed attempt to bribe Russia to switch sides, told President Vladmir Putin that “whatever regime comes after” Assad, it will be “completely” in Saudi Arabia’s hands and will “not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports”, according to diplomatic sources. When Putin refused, the Prince vowed military action.

It’s also important to note that during the Obama Administration’s time in The White House, our relationship with Russia started to change.

All of this brings us to the 2016 presidential election whereby it’s likely that none of us could have predicted not only the outcome, but the alleged involvement of Russia in the US election, and the subsequent ties of the new Trump Administration to the Russian government.

US Now

What happens next remains to be seen but one thing is clear: The American public is now getting heavily involved in politics, and is more than ever before in recent history, challenging its federal government. If we’re wondering how the USA got to the point of electing a billionaire celebrity with no government experience to the most important position in the US government, POTUS, we need look no further than our own priorities as a society and a culture.

 

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