Trade and Globalisation


Crisis in the United States

12 Jul 2016 - 20:06

In 2008 which, if you remember, was right in the middle of the great economic downturn, there was still the hope, the expectation even, that freshly-elected Barack Obama could build bridges between the red and blue sides of American society. Spanning the seemingly insurmountable divide between metropolitan diversity and the conservative hinterland. And the divide between ethnic groups.

Now, in 2016, the tragedy of the Obama presidency is that that endeavour has not borne fruit. The president himself, being 'half black' and 'half white', is first and foremost a black American to his radical conservative opponents, but perhaps also a Muslim and a socialist.

In the last few days we have heard people in positions of responsibility accusing Obama of bias on the issue of the guilt of police officers in shootings. His sympathy lies, apparently, with the Black Lives Matter movement and there are claims that he has too severely criticised the police as a whole. The president weighs his words with the utmost care but he is no longer expected to sail a precise course between the two sides. His critics pounce on each word that gives credence to their arguments.

All of this points to the overheated climate of a country showing symptoms of crisis. The majority of Americans are 'law-abiding citizens', but the same dutiful Americans can see that large-scale shootings are following each other with increasing rapidity, and that police reforms are being introduced too slowly. There are differences of opinion on all important political issues: the inequality between rich and poor, Obama's health-insurance reforms and a moral maze like abortion.

Americans are also having difficulty coming to terms with their role in the world. Bush and Obama both said at the start of their respective terms that their political agendas would prioritise domestic issues, but the attacks of 11 September 2001, and at the present time the rise of IS, changed their political course. Of course the US is still a superpower, but the twenty-first century does not appear set to become a carbon copy of the last 'American Century'. This is making Americans unsettled.

The grave danger is that with such a bleak outlook, the character of the land built on a fundamental belief in progress changes. Strength is being supplanted by a sense of powerlessness. Congress is polarised as never before. Even the firebrand Donald Trump says these days that 'there's too much division' and has retracted some of his 'uncensored outbursts'. It doesn't help that a majority of the population has a certain disdain for the present presidential candidates. It is sad to see that such a diverse society, held together by symbols of national pride like the constitution and the president may now fall apart into a myriad of pressure groups, concerned solely with their own agendas.   

Of course, in a democracy we have to believe that the common sense of the majority of the population will prevail. The crucial factor in times like these is the role of leaders with vision. It could well be that the new president does have the understanding and experience to re-unite American citizens. But let's face it: that may well be a poisoned chalice, as the problems we face today can't be fixed with military victory parades or any other political panacea.