Regarding our current crisis in U.S. democracy, let’s step back and take a global view.
We set the pace in many or most things political and moral, even when we get it wrong. As motivated students of Western Empire, Japanese nobility and intelligentsia of the late 1800s closely followed art movements of Berlin, Paris and Los Angeles, imported architects, philosophers and professors from the West and studied best practices for infrastructure and public utilities (such as factories, railroads and military occupation).
But, despite every effort to comply, in the end the U.S. rejected the Japanese as “too different from us.” If not for this racist twist of fate, Japan would almost certainly have been our ally instead of Germany’s.
The Cuban constitution came after the U.S. had permanently insinuated itself even as it, technically speaking, allowed Cuba nominal independence. Spain abused Cuba for four centuries, as it had the Philippines, where we also awaited our chance to take advantage. In both cases, we fostered and supported rebellion, then betrayed the revolution, systematically assassinated its leaders and subjugated its people. That says volumes about the depth of our authentic regard for democracy.
When Bautista illegally seized power during Cuba’s 1952 elections, the U.S. already possessed virtually all of Cuba’s resources and treated the island as a weekend get-away to enjoy casinos, celebrity and a cornucopia of products and services from the Mafia. There was discussion about bringing Cuba and Puerto Rico into the umbrella of 48 states, but they were considered too black and brown and, like Japan, “too different from us.”
The Pacific and the Caribbean comprise some of the most strategic parts of U.S. empire, militarily. South America is the colossus of U.S. empire, guaranteeing a whole hemisphere of interference-free real estate, protected by oceans on both sides, and all its resources are not only free, but we make them pay us to take them via predatory banking and financial prizes given to the local bourgeoisie in colonial capital port cities.
The private debt of a few padrones transforms and becomes commonly held national debts of laborers, farmers and Indians, safely buffered far away from the magisterial port cities, quarantined within the interior where infrastructure, public safety and opportunities are minimal. (See the classic ‘Open Veins of Latin America’ by Eduardo Galleano and the recent ‘True Flag’ by Stephen Kinzer regarding empire and it mechanics.)
Colonies need not be external. There are plenty of colonies inside the U.S. homeland, such as ghettoes and reservations. Massive incarceration is a colony, unconstitutional when it’s been given to private hands not accountable to any democratic processes or norms. Public land is a colony for its dependents and victims. You may even say the resources, integrity and sustainability of the planet have been colonized and maimed by profit-hunger and the continuous growth of its capitalization and marketability.
The U.S. launched itself into empire both to compete with and to obstruct the predation of other empires, and doing so required our willful predation on the vulnerability and sovereignty of many lands. Empire’s most vocal opponents were Mark Twain and Booker T. Washington and their message: “Empire and our constitution are profoundly incompatible.”
We bequeathed something irreducibly destructive when we became a world power always at war, and that is the sorrow and tragedy of our own cherished democracy demeaned, stained and ripped. (See “Kellogg-Briand” to learn what a world without war looks like. Google it.)
If we’re going to do this struggle for democracy, let’s step up to a global stage, revitalize internationalism, re-emphasize the vital necessity of allies and a world court whose jurisdiction is above that of nuclear-armed nations, and hone the ability to recognize what an enemy is.
Jesse Cox, West Valley City, is a retired writer and life-long activist currently working with several local Salt Lake City groups such as Warm Springs Alliance and Elders Rising.