I frequently find myself questioning the ability of the United States to serve as a moral authority and a global cop on many grounds, but today, I’ve been thinking about the level of corporate control and influence in US politics. The US loves to position itself as a nation above corruption, greed, and outside influence, but how much of that is true? And why should the rest of the world, particularly nations we’re spanking for corruption and related activities, take us seriously when we get on our high horse made of tobacco money?
US politics are, in theory, democratic. However, it’s clear that some people and organisations have much more of a role in determining the outcomes of elections than others. It’s not just that, though. It’s not just the Washington dealmaking as politicians make slimy inside baseball niceties with individuals and corporations who want to push their own agendas through, their own appointees, their own products. It’s also the corruption rife in government agencies, like the US Minerals Management Service and the Border Patrol, to name just two that have been in the news recently for evidence of employees and policies rotten to the core.
People in the United States are taught from a young age to look down on other countries, to think ‘America is number one!’ Such nationalistic sentiment isn’t limited to US shores, of course — young children in countries around the world are usually indoctrinated with patriotism and national pride, and people may grow up to regard their nationality as an important part of their personal, cultural, and political identity. It’s rare that we see people setting aside national identity in the interest of a greater cause. The Olympics is perhaps the most high profile event where (ostensibly) people gather in the spirit of friendship to forget political conflicts and focus on meeting people from other regions of the world.
One of the things we’re specifically taught is that our government is superior to that of many other nations, with a particularly heavy focus on the nations of the Global South. Unlike governments in ‘Africa’ (always used generically, as though the whole continent is sort of an amorphous blob), for example, our government is not corrupt. We can trust our military and police. You can’t buy off our customs agents and other government officials.
If you travel in ‘those’ countries, adults are warned, you’d better be prepared with baksheesh, you know, bribes, money to smooth the way, or you’ll never get anywhere. If you’re planning a trip somewhere it’s important to have a way for hiding your valuables so corrupt luggage inspectors won’t take them. Don’t be afraid to throw your weight as an American around to get what you want. Be wary of business offers. Remember, those people and their governments aren’t like us, they’re subject to corruption and disorganisation and they can barely keep a whole country together without needing oodles of aid dollars from the US and other benevolent colonial masters.
These kinds of travel warnings and advice aren’t issued to people going to England, or Japan. They’re reserved for nations the US has long targeted and profiled as lesser, as in need of lifting up from poverty, as in need of enlightenment from the United States and other high-powered Western nations. They’re backwards and ridiculous, and everything about them is in need of reform, poor dears, but perhaps if we keep working at it, eventually their people will be free. Maybe someday they won’t need us to hold their hands through even the minor details of running a government.
I can only assume that people in ‘those’ countries must have a hard time breathing for laughter over our revolting moral superiority when they can see the writing on the wall just as well as anyone else. They see the corruption in our government and in our government agencies, they see how major corporations dominate US politics, they see full well how people with money, power, and influence get away with anything while those without are left behind. Tell me, what’s the difference between having to bribe a government official to get a visa and bribing local law enforcement to look the other way on a DUI? What’s the difference between TSA members looting luggage for goodies and luggage inspectors in other nations doing the exact same thing?
What makes us so much better than other countries, especially those we declare allies with one hand while trashing with the other? How can we even begin to act like we have any kind of moral authority when we engage in the very same behaviours we claim our ‘allies’ are so troubled with? Are we really capable of running ourselves? I’m concerned that we might need some intervention — we have a corrupt police force, border guards accepting bribes, employees of government agencies that oversee national resources making a lucrative sideline in payoffs, and more. Are we certain that the US is stable and solvent enough? Should we perhaps suggest an intervention before it topples, dragging Canada and Mexico down with it as refugees flee?
When you live in a nation that patronises the rest of the world, it’s rather difficult to not want to stick your head into a paper bag on a regular basis. Rest assured, rest of the world, lots of us USians are perfectly aware of how ridiculous our country is, and I swear we’re trying to change it. One little bit at a time.