Politics and interests/The US vote and the end of the “American Dream”

The american election and the intrinsic problems of a system that need to change to survive.

Article by Francesco Grillo for Il Messaggero 

Jefferson Springsteen

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

The American dream that has populated the collective imagination with great films is in the preamble of the Constitution of the United States.

The contradiction that next week's election cannot undo is that the “dream” has stopped. The obscure disease of American democracy precedes Donald Trump and will hardly be cured by Joe Biden. Indeed, it is precisely the presidential elections that have become the clearest example - Barack Obama was the classic exception to the rule - of a system in which the privilege is becoming hereditary.

In these circumstances, Thomas Jefferson warned that the people have the right to "abolish that form of government that no longer guarantees those rights and to establish another". This is probably the sense of the story that we are currently living and that could mark the definitive end of the American century that began in 1918.

Age, the concentration of the power to control information (which has, paradoxically, grown thanks to technology that has made everyone able to publish what passes through their minds) and the electoral mechanisms: these are the symptoms and causes of a process that is transforming what used to be a Republican aristocracy based on merit, into a plutocracy that is drying up.

It was Donald Trump who became - at the age of 70 - the oldest elected President in the history of the United States in 2016. The record will, of course, be shattered because his contender - Biden - will be 83 at the end of his mandate, if he wins tomorrow. Even more impressive, however, is the data on the campaigns to nominate candidates in the two parties: six of the ten eldest politicians who participated in the primaries in 224 years of history, ran in those of 2020 (the oldest, in absolute, was Bernie Sanders, but in the ranking there are also Michael Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren). The losers of the last four elections (in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016) - John Kerry, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton - would all have been - in case of victory - President beyond the maximum age (67) in which, in any country in the world, you are supposed to retire. Certainly old age is not necessarily an indicator of conservatism (Sanders is the politician who has had the most consensus among young Americans) and, nevertheless, a policy that - at its highest level - is made only of "old" people, loses part of the energy that is absolutely necessary to renew itself. Two exception to the dominion of the gerontocracy are Obama and George Bush Junior, who ended his double mandate at the age of 58. The latter, however, embodies the second constant that has dominated American politics in recent decades: to compete you must be a billionaire and be part of one of what The Economist calls “dynasties”.

A week before the vote, each one of the candidates, Trump and Biden, have raised about one and a half billion dollars for the campaign, and it's a flood of money that is growing non-stop: according to the National Public Radio, this year both Republicans and Democrats spent more than double the amount used just four years ago. Enormous are the barriers to the participation and social media raise the bar even higher, casting a leftist shadow over the very idea of fair competition.

Even without getting to the cancellation of a message (complained by Trump) and the suspicion of foreign conspiracies (hypothesized by Democrats), it would be enough to adjust the algorithm that - every day - Facebook or Twitter have to modulate, to filter the news that arrive to users and alter the final result.

A result that, - and this is the third limit of what is American democracy - depends on a fragile link between the will of the voters and the results of the electionsWith the system that assigns all the big voters to the candidate who has had the most support in a certain state, it becomes almost pointless for those who are Democrats and live in Utah or Wisconsin to go to the polls; or those who, on the other hand, are affiliated with the Republicans and live in Washington or Boston. For similar reasons, the reality is that the Democrats have had more votes in five of the last six elections and, however, six of the new judges of the Supreme Court have been chosen by the Republican President.

It is enough, in short, to point a few hundred million in the right direction to win it all.

In these conditions, the link between politics and private interests reaches a level that we have not yet known in Europe and this produces sclerosis in what was - and still is in Silicon Valley - the land where the future is made. After all, it is only the power of corporations that can explain how it is possible that the United States has not even managed to carry out reforms whose urgency would have been defined "evident" by the scientists and scholars who became constituents in 1776. What other arguments - besides the dramatic ones of COVID - are needed to convince oneself that the American health care system is the most expensive and one of the least efficient in the world? How is it possible that not even Obama has managed to put at the center of the country's agenda the need to rebuild universities into the social elevator they were before tuition increased - since 1980 - 17 times more than the median income?

Data inequality

Source: Vision on WHO data

It is evident, in fact, that the American society is experiencing inequalities that are not only greater than in other countries (as evident by the graph in this article), but inefficient. The system is more and more determined by the family of origin (according to the OECD only in Italy and the United Kingdom the income of parents is so strongly able, as in the United States, to determine that of their children) and unable to reward those who deserve it. Inequalities less and less acceptable, therefore, and it is this loss of dream that crumbles the social consensus in a system, beyond the fluctuations of the GDP. It is from this deep disappointment that the discomfort arises that is the broth of populism.

"I have spent my life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream" says Bruce Springsteen in a song that is the soundtrack of a film. Jefferson himself would recognize that the time has come to profoundly change a system that he himself had conceived, that has dominated the centuries of industrial revolutions, to finally end up stranded in the quicksand that inexorably awaits all great ideas. This is the challenge for the generation that will really want to save values for which we need much more energy, than we have seen in the last tired and expensive election campaigns.

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