The American un-society

The Vegas massacre has exposed that the idea of the existence of an American “society” is becoming pure fiction

Published October 24, 2017 4:00AM (EDT)


This article originally appeared on The Globalist.

TheGlobalistThe key lesson from the Las Vegas inferno extends far beyond the cynical action patterns of the National Rifle Association, the omnipotence of U.S. lobbies, or the campaign finance-induced corruptibility of members of the U.S. Congress.

Upon closer inspection, the really frightening fact is that the very idea of the existence of an American “society” is increasingly becoming pure fiction.

A significant share of the people living in today’s United States lacks the will to live together. In contrast to Europe, the desire to stand apart from one another as much as possible is one of the foundational leitmotifs of the country. From early on, settlers have been on the move when they felt someone came too close to them.

The real tragedy of the West is to acknowledge that today’s United States is increasingly becoming synonymous with grotesque levels of inhumanity.

In that sense, events such as the Las Vegas mass shooting are just sideshows. For a moment, they create an illusion of vowing improvement — until the next morning or the day after, when the defenders of the status quo once again become merciless.

Police brutality

How else would one understand the fact that, half a century after the allegedly fundamental civil liberties reforms, black citizens are now shot down by the police as if they were prey? And essentially without a single policeman having been successfully prosecuted to date? In fact, they often don’t even get indicted.

And how can we in the rest of the world consider a country as a strong civilization that is worth emulation if that country’s preeminent political party, the Republicans, consider it a national sport to deny poorer Americans access to health insurance, with all conceivable and unthinkable means?

The only “good” news in this regard is that this form of discrimination is no longer imposed solely on blacks, but also on the white proletariat. (This term is deliberately chosen; with the lack of social security, lack of paid vacation and the like, any other word would be off the mark).

Whoever wants to admire American-style individualism in the face of such perversions of the political system must also understand how selectively this individualism can be applied. For the most part, it is reserved for the pluto-crats, the uppermost part of the U.S. population’s income pyramid.

The absurd fascination with the “winner takes all” mantra explains why the American dream is increasingly becoming a nightmare. The widespread use of opioids among those who are not well off speaks volumes.

Worse yet, on this frontline of American death, the same absurdity applies as for gun violence: The “civilized” thing to do, proper regulation by the government, could stop many though not all, of the excesses.

Salvaging American society

Having lived in the American capital for thirty years until a year ago, I was recently asked by a prominent European transatlanticist how to save the transatlantic relationship in view of the Trump factor. My reply alarmed my interlocutor: “This is basically impossible. To achieve this, American society would have to be salvageable.”

But this cannot be expected to happen in the foreseeable future. At the core, the Civil War, officially ended in 1865, continues to this day.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the United States is the leading industrial country in which close to half of the population rejects many forms of Western rational thought. The refusal of progress itself is alarming. It bears an eerie resemblance to Germany in the late stage of the Weimar Republic.

As radical as the thesis is, in the rigorous rejection of universally accepted empirical facts of civilized societies — for example, acceptance of evolution and climate change — the Republican half of the American population has more in common with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other fundamentalist Muslim countries than with EU Europeans.

This is the real message that we should be able to hear from the United States, despite the latest pictures.

A tribal United States

For this reason, too, we cannot really be surprised that the United States is more and more characterized by tribal structures, similar to the ones that, with only very brief interludes, have always shaped Afghanistan.

The economic crisis that continues to affect the lower half of the U.S. income bracket intensifies these latent tendencies.

No wonder, then, that it seems impossible to arrive at long overdue compromise. The U.S. Congress is the perfect expression of this collective impotence. Although both houses are extremely well-equipped in terms of staff and the like, and although there is a crying need for common-sense legislation, none has been forthcoming.

This impotence is also reflected in American everyday life, not only among business partners, but even in one’s own neighborhood. People prefer to talk about the latest movies, instead of risking to embark in any way onto the treacherous issue of politics.

Once again, the historical associations that this triggers in the minds of any nation that has lived under totalitarian rule speak for themselves.

There will be no sensible reform

What the Las Vegas incident will once again prove, not just to the American public but to the entire world, is the futility of the belief in sensible reform.

This basically shatters the long-held belief question in much of the world that Americans are dynamic, modern and capable of change. This is also why the people in the rest of the world are well advised to focus more on their own paths.

By Stephan Richter

Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist, the daily online magazine, and a columnist in newspapers around the world. He is also the presenter of the Marketplace Globalist Quiz, which is aired on public radio stations all across the United States. In addition, Mr. Richter is a keynote speaker at international conferences -- and the author of the 1992 book, “Clinton: What Europe and the United States Can Expect.” Follow him on Twitter @theglobalist.

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