The dismal demise of the American Dream (if it ever really existed), the dream not of what we believe it was but of what we wanted to believe it was.
"It seems to me that the nature of the ultimate revolution with which we are now faced is precisely this: That we are in process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarchy who have always existed and presumably will always exist to get people to love their servitude." ( Aldous Huxley in a 1962 speech at Berkeley)
By Gaither Stewart
(Rome) It’s undeniable that the American social model is a paradox in the world. All you have to do is look around at other nations and the difference is clear as the Rome sky in July. Even though today at the nadir of its profound social crisis because of its flagrant, outright failure, America continues unabashedly to hammer away at its people how fortunate they are, while simultaneously proposing itself to the world as the paradigm, the quintessence, the very epitome of western civilization. But is history not carrying America into a faded American Dream?
Ah, the American Dream! To the degree the model appears to the rest of the world as honeycombed and as full of holes as Swiss cheese, the more America’s ideological operation morphs into a contest between good (the US model) and evil (the rest). America’s private struggle between good and evil becomes in turn the ideological platform and the inspiration-justification of puritanical, individualistic and greedy America’s age-old universal crusade against the rest of the world. Moreover, lest one forgets or believes the crap, the American social system is all the more insidious for human society today because it has become the social model for the world of capitalist globalization.
How did it come about that the ballyhooed “American Dream” is based on nothing less than social injustice? The self-righteous social trajectory described in the glowing terms of “freedoms” in the Bill of Rights (e.g. the right to have arms) is undermined by a social philosophy of niggardly, tight-fisted individualism implying the right to individualistically shoot down fellow students or foreigners called terrorists who resist. Thus the poisonous combination of that individualism and the glaring absence of an incisive workers’ movement is the original sin that has led the nation and the world at large under its sway into the blind alley of entire unprotected social classes, irrational environmental hostility, and pre-emptive, perpetual war.
The great paradox is that the list of declared, claimed and proclaimed—but not guaranteed—fictitious rights for Americans have deflated and become non-rights for others.
We see it all around us. In places the world shrinks. In others it expands. Things change and shift around. But America Land of the Free, part of the shrunken world, tries not to see its shattered dream. Dazzle their minds with impossible dreams. Implant in their mindsets visions of triumph. Then, mask the inevitable loss of hope by the masses. Feebly old dreams try to resurface and again vanish. The glamorous glitter of once-upon-a-time has been reduced to a tacky faint flicker of the lonely used car lot or the mottled colors of empty Burger Kings blinking in the night. Begrudgingly, cars get smaller. Houses run down. Legions of Walmarts experience a sense of abandonment while beautiful celebrities look out of TV screens soothingly and travel around the world and buy villas on Lake Como.
Meanwhile, Europe’s one hundred year old social state based on a spirit of solidarity is weakening and ceding ground to the selfish American capitalist-individualistic-everyman-for-himself society and its neo-liberal allies of the European Union. Yet the European Idea of the social state hangs on and resists. There is still a veritable abyss between the American market model based on individualism (that is the hosanna-ed American Dream), with a high rate of mobility at the cost of a low level of protection of its people, and the European system based on the social state, which is the European Idea.
The absence of a solid and stable workers movement in the USA which should be this nation’s third party is responsible for America’s anti-social answer to what is in essence a social issue. Once-upon-a-time workers movements and trade unions in America chalked up some important achievements. That was a long time ago. On the east side of the ocean the workers movements had a close relationship with the rise of the nation states and the effects of the industrial revolution and the eventual emergence of the social state.
America ’s dissonant voice is instead the anti-social divergence of the model projected by the USA. Therefore the pernicious halo surrounding propagandistic Americanism. Therefore, the transformation of the American Dream into nightmare. That impossible dream, that at the very most dream-gone-wrong, that incubus, has in turn provided the foundations for an enduring Corporatism-Fascism, in America stubbornly referred to as individualism.
It should be clear that at the root of America’s social evil lies the truancy of an organized, stable workingman’s movement that would provide the framework for a workingman’s political party and a representative trade union to serve as a genuine balance of power in a one-sided, non-representative, criminal political system. Who for example represents working people today? Who? Millionaire congressmen? Billionaire presidents? Or perhaps the political parties-fundraisers necessary to elect non-representatives?
The workers’ movement in the USA never matured. It was never powerful enough to mark a permanent direction of the social organization of civil society. It never succeeded in creating permanent low cost cooperatives and mutualities, social clubs and educational societies and other forms of political-social expression to confront the Corporatist system of a nation that today hardly “makes” anything.
In fact, the word “social” in the title of this essay is misleading and illusory. It is a travesty to use the word “social” in reference to the form of American society under a government that as Gore Vidal once said does nothing for its people. We should label this individualistic, lift-yourself-up-by- your-bootstraps society “anti-social” and rebel against it.
UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE - One Aspect of a Just Society
Recently I went to my local Universal Health Plan doctor in Rome for a health problem. I called the nearby office for an appointment, fixed for the next afternoon. When I arrived there was one patient ahead of me already in the doctor’s office. I was admitted after a five-minute wait. My wife and I had chosen this doctor rather than another as our primary doctor because she is young, dynamic and scrupulous and besides will also make home visits. I keep home visits by doctors in mind because when my father in North Carolina was paralyzed for years after a stroke, each time he had some new problem such as influenza he had to hire an ambulance to carry him the few blocks of the one-half mile to the office of this “good Christian man” who had been his doctor for many years. The Rome universal health care doctor examined me, asked the right questions about my medical history and sent me to a nearby radiological center for x-rays. Two days later I picked up the analysis, took them back to my primary doctor, who after looking over the x-rays, prescribed the appropriate medication which I picked up at the pharmacy. Within a period of four days, including two medical visits, the x-rays and analysis and medicine, my problem was resolved: Total costs to me: ZERO.
That is Italy’s universal health care at work, which despite cuts by today’s extreme rightwing, neo-liberal government still offers its people (both citizens and residents) universal health care. The Italian social state—by far not the best in Europe—guarantees most workers one-month vacations, retirement at between 57 and 60 years, months-long maternity leave for both mother and father, unemployment pay, national category contracts, pensions, housing, food and other “social” benefits. That is a social system!
In Europe, no political party, no candidate for public office, no politician at any level, would even dare run on an anti-social program. Budgetary cuts, savings, reforms, yes, but never the adoption of the American anti-social system. The American system is not even imaginable to most other peoples. Not in Europe. Not in Latin America or Canada or Iran or in any industrialized nation of the world. ONLY in the United States of America. That lack is reason for revolution. That is just reason to refuse one’s vote for anyone less than a defender of social justice.
A universal health service for the USA would cost only a minimal part of conducting perpetual wars or building a space shield against Russia or financing vassal states around the world or a fraction of the advertising costs for junk foods and products that make us obese and ignorant. In any case the point is not the cost. It is not an economic problem of the nation. We have to keep that in mind. The problem is the power of the greedy vested interests of medical associations, the pharmaceutical industry, hospitals and related medical care organizations. The problem is the power of money!
Above all it is a problem of the a priori negation of anything smacking of a social state in opposition to the concept of the capitalistic market economy of America which does less for its people than do Canada in the north or Mexico to the south, or France or Italy or Russia or Bulgaria. The creation of a receptive atmosphere for the “social idea” should/would be the major role of a nationwide, organized workers movement. That lack is methodically destroying the health of our nation.
The USA with its individualistic everyman-for-himself society today ranks poorly to other industrialized countries in health care, 23rd in infant mortality, 20th and 21st in life expectancy for women and men respectively. Yet the USA spends more per capita for health care than other countries. Where does that money go? We all know the answer: it goes to a greedy health care system of doctors, hospitals, private health insurance and pharmaceutical giants and to their related inflated and inefficient bureaucracies, to their powerful respective lobbyists and into the hands of our “democratically” elected representatives.
So deeply engrained is the anti-social nature in the “American republic” that the brainwashed people themselves have been conditioned to believe that universal health care is contrary to their best interests. It doesn’t make sense.
It doesn’t make sense to continue whacking our way through this jungle of the world’s most bizarre and costly medical care system. Some twenty years ago I covered the American presidential elections for a European newspaper in the state of North Carolina where I grew up. The first question I posed to a cross-section of the population of that one state concerned universal health care. Not one single person came out strong in favor of it. Most did not even know what universal health care meant.
Health costs continue to soar, care is compromised and quality is in free fall as obese Americans die of coronary disease. Health care for profit cannot work. It is not a solution. Profit and greed stand in the way. Health care will always be a right and a necessity, not merchandise like a Blackberry or an i-phone. It is estimated that a universal health care system would save 100-200 billion dollars a year, it would cover everyone and it would guarantee more medical visits and hospital days to all. Today polls show that 75% of Americans favor universal health care.
Many of our representatives say health care is not the domain of the state. HEALTH CARE IS NOT THE DOMAIN OF THE STATE! What can they mean? If health care is not the domain of the state, in what domain should health fall? It makes you wonder? Why can’t the USA treat its citizens at least as well as other countries do?
Part of the answer: a nation led by terrorists is not likely to care for its people, either.
Health care is just one of the great mysteries. But what about the other social issues our government holds prisoner in the shadows? What about month-long paid vacations? What about more job security and a tiny bit less mobility? What about more taxes for the super rich? What about a little less individualism and more social solidarity? What about a third and a fourth political party? What about a workingman’s movement?
The headlines in a recent edition of Italy’s major daily newspaper, La Repubblica, reflect the mood of the moment in one of Europe’s social states:
“Precarious workers (workers without contracts) in revolt”
“Trade Unions in revolt against raising the pension age to 62!”
“Create conditions for a general strike!” (an exhortation)
“Fear is an invention.” (to keep the Left under control)
“Farewell to the future” (of our children if capitalism continues unimpeded)
“The Left failed, we need a new start from a workers position”
“The Left has nothing to lose but its chains” (sic!)
Gaither Stewart, Senior Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal/tantmieux, is a novelist and journalist based in Italy, now on a three-month stay in Paris. His stories, essays and dispatches are read widely throughout the Internet on many leading venues. His recent novel, Asheville, is published by Wastelandrunes, www.wastelandrunes.com