Politics is the new religion in America but unlike other religions it is not about right and wrong, it is about right and left—and that makes it highly destructive
There is no power on earth that can overcome America neither economically nor militarily—not al Qaeda, not China nor any other adversary. Like any great power the greatest threat to the US lies within—from its politicians and its people. Given that people deserve the politicians they get I see no reason to make any distinction between the two.
The fact is that the nation is being ill-served by both. The main source of the problem is that Americans are singularly insular in thoughts, actions and beliefs in respect of what America can or cannot do. That insularity has also made them blind to the realities of a changing world.
For example, America has a constitution which is over 200 years old and which virtually guarantees political gridlock as the Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary compete for control. That gridlock was most evident in last year’s budget negotiations when rather than arriving at a reasonable agreement, the deadlock eventually resulted in a credit downgrade of American debt.
Such is the rigidity of the current political system brought on by the constitution that the only thing that the President can do on his own is declare war and/or bomb another nation. One could be forgiven for thinking that that these must indeed be the nation’s top priorities.
Nevertheless, to many Americans, theirs is the greatest constitution ever devised—despite the fact that it originally enshrined slavery—and that any attempts to change it is tantamount to high treason.
Healthcare is another example of American insularity gone mad. As pointed out by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria amongst others, the US spends twice as much per person on healthcare as almost any other nation but has far inferior outcomes. The main reason for this is that every other nation on earth recognizes that healthcare for all is so important that it cannot be left to the mercy of market forces alone.
In order to counter this logic, American politicians and in particular those on the right, rail against socialist healthcare and how bad it must be for Europeans to have to live under such a heavy burden. Sadly, their supporters believe them. That is notwithstanding the fact that none of these supporters have any idea of what life in France or Germany is like given that they are fed a daily diet of Fox News.
It is important to understand the role Fox News plays in engendering American insularity. Apart from its paltry foreign news content, a 2011 study by Farleigh Dickinson University showed that viewers of Fox News were less well informed than people who watched no news at all.
Fox has thus redefined the term “no news is good news”.
Consequently, as far as healthcare is concerned, insularity still holds sway and many Americans still believe that they have the best healthcare system in the world—an observation which completely disregards the obvious facts. We should let them in on a little secret; the Germans, the French and yes, even the British, love their health service and they would never even consider the American option.
Healthcare is not the only area in which Americans are suffering from their insularity. Americans believe in their justice system. As a matter of fact they believe their justice system is the best in the world. The question is; do their beliefs match the facts?
According to www.publiceye.org the facts are that America has an incarceration rate of 726 people per 100,000. The corresponding rates for Germany and France are 96 and 91 with Britain somewhat higher at 142—all far lower than that of America.
Does this higher incarceration rate then mean that because America is keeping more of its criminals off the streets that it therefore benefits from a lower crime rate? The answer is an emphatic no. The same source, www.publiceye.org states that American murder rates are approximately four times higher than their European counterparts.
Why don’t Americans realize that compared to at least some other nations they are being badly shortchanged?
That is in no small part due to the insularity with which Americans view the world. We have already noted that much of Europe is viewed as some backward socialist wasteland because everyone gets “government healthcare”. However, American attitudes to the rest of the world are not much better.
The BRIC countries, Brazil, India, China and South Africa are changing the geopolitical and geoeconomic future of the planet. Yet, listening to the current American political debates, and the outright hostility to Russia and China, one gets the distinct impression that we are back in the middle of the 20th century at the time of the Cold War.
Some political commentators even suggest that the more an American leader is liked by the rest of the world, the less his chances of winning an election. Then there is the case of the former Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry who was criticized in some quarters for being a French speaker.
What causes such insularity?
There is no question that being a great power for so long does give Americans a sense of omnipotence and invulnerability. That is only natural. Other great powers behaved exactly the same way in their day and many were much worse. Another factor might be the sheer amount of money which corrupts the American body politic such that it becomes impossible to make rational and objective decisions or learn from the example set by others.
There is some truth in both of these arguments but the reality is actually far more serious and far more consequential.
We are in an age where the amount of knowledge available to people is vast—unimaginably vast. The Internet and online tools such as Google and Wikipedia have given all of us unlimited access to knowledge on subjects ranging from personal health to the history of insects. Further, the ability to communicate and learn global best practices is now greater than ever before.
Thus, we can safely suggest that people in the industrialized world no longer have an excuse to let their insularity get the better of them—especially when the cost of ignorance is so well known and understood.
Logically therefore, this would indicate that if people are consistently being seduced and persuaded by the same politicians, lobbyists and media, including Fox News, then this can only happen because they are either too lazy or even in some cases too ignorant to analyze and verify the facts for themselves.
I will leave individual Americans to determine if, or whether or not, any of the above two categories, if not both, is relevant to their particular circumstance. What is clear however is that Americans are awash in knowledge and yet they remain unable to immerse themselves in it.
More to the point however is the fact that politics has become a religion in America and as Marx once fatefully declared; “religion is the opium of the masses”.
While not particularly religious myself, even I would admit that religion can serve a useful purpose when one argues about right and wrong. Sadly, the problem with the religion that is American politics is that it does not argue right and wrong—it argues right and left. For saints and sinners we have Democrats and Republicans, for angels and demons we have conservatives and progressives (or liberals)—depending, of course, on which side of the political divide you have placed your faith.
If Americans fail to arrest the decline of their nation in both absolute and relative terms, it will be because of their worshipful adherence to politics, as well as their failure to seek enlightenment.
In the middle of the 19th century, after Commodore Perry and his gunboats had ended Japan’s centuries-old and self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world, the Japanese did a very smart thing. They realized that in comparison to the western world they were quite backwards. So, they sent out emissaries to various countries around the globe in order to acquire knowledge and gain access to best practices. The result, which was part of what became known as the Meiji Restoration, catapulted Japan into 20th century industrialization.
Now, here we are at the beginning of the 21st century, and all Americans have to do is stay exactly where they are and type a few words into a computer. Easily done of course—that is if Americans do not remain wedded to and blinded by their political religion.
Jonathan Ledwidge is the author of the books Clearing The Bull: The Financial Crisis and Why Banks Need a Human Transformation and A Mannequin for President