The Coming Fury of an Angry America
A tiny part of a tiny part of the population of the earth will set the terms for the future of all humans. That sliver of humanity is the broken, spent out, and increasingly disillusioned American middle class, burdened with the task of spending all America out of catastrophe. When they break under the weight of desperate impossibility, how will the heartlands' good citizens react, and what will they do?
According to the World Bank, there are 6,692,030,277 human beings on the earth. 308,108,741 of them live in the United States, about 4.6% of the total. Of these fortunate Americans, about 231,000,000 are of voting age. In general elections in history's greatest democracy, about half those eligible to vote actually do...115 million people. History's greatest democracy has only two options every election, a choice between two almost similar positions, and the winning option typically enjoys the support of only half of those who choose, approximately 60 million individuals.
For a scant 90 years, America has been the place with the wealthiest, most powerful group of humans in all 20,000 years of recorded civilization. Decisions made by Americans can and do affect the lives of every other human on the planet, often for both present and future, good and bad. By brute force of American economics alone, a single, small 0.9% of the 6.6 billion people who call earth home set the agenda for each and every one of all the rest of us. Not even by force of arms has there ever been a time in glorious history when so few people dominated so many in so complete a way.
Centuries from now, historians will want to know who these few people were, if only to understand how they lived and thought, and better know the cause of global events that shaped the world they live in. As we in our time grapple to understand who the powers were that made a Roman a Roman, future thinkers will want to dissect the condition of the less than one per cent of all humanity who call themselves American, and who alone make America, America... and the earth, American as well.
It cost 1 billion dollars and four years to have .9% of the earth elect the President of the United States in 2008. It took a similar amount of time and money to be the guy that lost. Hundreds of millions more are expended to elect the 435 people who make up the United States Congress. No statistical analysis is required to understand that these are among the wealthiest and most privileged humans in all of history. A tiny fraction of a tiny fraction of a tiny fraction of the population of the planet. This, we are led to believe, is democracy, and so this small sliver is at least nominally responsible to those few who elected them and nobody else.
Like all great empires, America has a well-defined class structure. As a fedora on a table, at one brim is the thin cruel line of poverty and disenfranchisement, at the other brim another thin line of luxury and excess, and a middle where the head goes which has historically been the big, fat, American middle class. The middle class sets the agenda by dearth of weight, the luxury class promoting the agenda where and when it suits them. The lower class don't matter at all.
The great American middle class, then, at least nominally controls the fate of the planet. They do so by electing wealthy folks who pander to their interests, those wealthy folks whose interpretations of the middle class become policy. Future folks will want to understand how representative those interpretations were and will want to see if changes in the middle class over time were responsible for changes in American policy towards the world.
If anything defines the great American middle class, it is the concept of the American Dream. The basic building block of the American Dream is the family - mom, dad, 2.4 kids and a dog. The "dream" part is the very American right to economic freedom, freedom to accumulate stuff. A box on a postage stamp in a sea of urban sprawl called home, a couple of cars, a good education for the kids, and unrestricted ability to consume as much surplus crap as possible. Americans define success completely in economic terms and then attach the flag, religion, and everything else to it. Without this absolute right to consume hordes of junk, there is no American Dream, and no middle class. There is left only a lower class, (whatever that is), and a powerful capitalist class existing as it always has throughout time, changing flags and philosophy depending on how the winds blow. Caesar, Czar, King, or CEO of Goldman Sachs.
The rise of the middle class at the end of the 19th century tracks the rise of wealth and power for most western industrialized nations. Production, trade, and consumption of machine made goods became a near universal indicator of the rise of modern civilization. However, 40 years of crushing war amongst European powers stalled the growth for most, but emerging America remained unscathed, benefiting from the misdemeanours of a now dead age. History will fix the date of the birth of absolute America to the year 1914, the dawn of the American age to 1945, and no doubt, the golden era to the short period that began to erode in 1971. Of the time since, we the generation here and now and in the teeth of it, can only speculate.
In the summer of 1914, America was an outlier in a world of teetering monarchies, festering colonial empires, and rancid landed aristocracies. While the rest of the world fed its gold and its young to the insatiable maw of industrial war, Americans were building a dream from limitless resources and the economic opportunities of a conflict that left America unspoiled and prosperous. By the close of hostilities in 1945, with the capital of the planet spent and exhausted, America burst from the ruins to begin the greatest run of prosperity and innovation of all time. The American middle class exploded, living the dream so thoughtfully given to them over a generation of global war.