United States of America (21st century definition)

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Overview of the United States

The United States of America (USA) is the most populous nation in the western hemisphere as well as the leading economic and military power in the world. It was created on July 4, 1776 when the 13 original American Colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and won the subsequent Revolutionary War. The United States was officially recognized as sovereign on September 3, 1783 by the Treat of Paris, and was formalized as a federal republic on September 17, 1787 with its adoption of a democratic constitution.

For most of its history, the United States was governed by the rule of law through the functions of representative democracy. That changed decisively on December 12, 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bush v. Gore to stop the recount of a highly contested and controversial election result in the state of Florida which effectively awarded the U.S. presidency to the candidate having the fewer number of popular votes. Afterwards, the United States completed a thirty-year period of political transition which reshaped its power structure in alignment with the interests of global capitalism, and which – for all practical purposes – ended the facility of democracy and circumvented the consent of the people.

For a definition and description of the U.S. through the 20th century, see United States of America.

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Summary of the United States

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Government of the United States

The federal, regional, and local governments which comprise the sovereign authority of the United States form a constitutionally based plutocratic republic having only a veneer of democracy (plutocracy is rule by the rich, a republic is the rule of law, and democracy is rule by the people). The shift from democracy to plutocracy culminated with the key U.S. Supreme Court decisions Citizens United v. FEC in 2010 and McCutcheon v. FEC in 2014 (see The Pro-Money Court: How the Roberts Supreme Court Dismantled Campaign Finance Law). Functionally, candidates are elected or appointed to public office by soliciting direct funding from, and receiving advocacy resources from, wealthy benefactors who expect alignment with their particular interests. This pay-to-play system, which promulgates institutional quid pro quo corruption, was enabled by low voter turnout rates worsened by a deliberate campaign to undermine public trust in democratic governance (see Money in Politics) and to restrict the size of the electorate (see Voter Suppression).

The method of governance in the United States is effectually based on corporatism, the close coordination or merger between state and corporate power. The mutual relationship between Wall Street and the federal government agencies ostensibly responsible for regulating it, is the most obvious example (see All the Presidents’ Bankers: Nomi Prins on the Secret History of Washington-Wall Street Collusion), but this interplay is evident all the way down to the local jurisdictional level. Judges, for instance, are often beholden to the business concerns and power brokers operating within their districts (see Justice at Stake: State Court Issues/Election vs Appointment). This distributive imbalance in political power is so stark that it was scientifically quantified in a 2014 university study which stated:

The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

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Economy of the United States

Beginning with the application of supply-side economics in the 1980’s which facilitated corporate consolidation of key industries, deregulation, and a systematic elimination of collective bargaining, continuing with the free trade agreements of the 1990’s which triggered rapid economic globalization characterized by the off-shoring of manufacturing and the outsourcing of middle class jobs, and culminating with the unrestraint of capital-driven financial speculation in the 2000’s which caused the calamitous Great Recession, the U.S. has transitioned into an unstable three-tiered economic structure where its separate facets are intrinsically at odds with each other.

The domestic (lowest) tier of the U.S. economy is defined as service-based consumerism, where the general population’s occupational productivity is largely dependent upon low-paying, low-skilled jobs in the service sector such as the restaurant and hospitality industries. The shift from manufacturing to services is widely seen as the impetus behind the demise of the American middle class (see Here’s where middle class jobs are vanishing the fastest).

The foreign (middle) tier of the U.S. economy is defined as product-based manufacturing ,where multi-national and transnational corporations produce consumer products overseas – to reduce costs and impediments – and sell them via retail markets in America and other developed nations.

The global (highest) tier of the U.S. economy is defined as finance-based speculation, where the big banks on Wall Street – and elsewhere in the world – are using their great resources to leverage the system to their advantage in a manner unprecedented in human history, and which has almost a sociopathic disregard for its consequences. The notable financial journalist Matt Taibbi once described one of these institutions as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

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Culture of the United States

Since its inception, U.S. culture has been an amalgamation of diverse ethnic and religious groups. Those processes continue in earnest to this day with the latest migratory influxes from Latin American and Asia. Despite the remarkable economic assimilation exhibited in this history, social integration in other areas has been far less evident. Psychological factors which promulgate segregation along racial, ethnic, and religious lines remain as stubborn barriers to a uniquely American cultural identity. Consequently, U.S. culture has fluctuated between various levels of polarization which have reached heights in the early 21st century not seen since the Civil War era. The MIT Press’ review of a study by Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal – titled Polarized America – illustrates this point:

Using NOMINATE (a quantitative procedure that, like interest group ratings, scores politicians on the basis of their roll call voting records) to measure polarization in Congress and public opinion, census data and Federal Election Commission finance records to measure polarization among the public, the authors find that polarization and income inequality fell in tandem from 1913 to 1957 and rose together dramatically from 1977 on; they trace a parallel rise in immigration beginning in the 1970s. They show that Republicans have moved right, away from redistributive policies that would reduce income inequality. Immigration, meanwhile, has facilitated the move to the right: non-citizens, a larger share of the population and disproportionately poor, cannot vote; thus there is less political pressure from the bottom for redistribution than there is from the top against it. In “the choreography of American politics” inequality feeds directly into political polarization, and polarization in turn creates policies that further increase inequality.

In addition to the reciprocal feedback dynamics between economic inequality and political polarization, geographical segregation has become more pronounced in the 21st century. Although North-South and Urban-Rural cultural distinctions have always existed, the rebirth of insurrectionist and secessionist sentiment in the American South, Great Plains, and Intermountain West have been radicalized into a sub-cultural ideology based on laissez-faire capitalism, Christian fundamentalism, and White privilege. Slate‘s Jamelle Bouie posited that demographic trends in the U.S. could increase political polarization to a dangerous degree:

But even if there’s no minority-majority it’s still true that the United States is becoming browner, with whites making up a declining share of the population. And if this Northwestern study is any indication, that could lead to a stronger, deeper conservatism among white Americans. The racial polarization of the 2012 election—where the large majority of whites voted for Republicans, while the overwhelming majority of minorities voted for Democrats—could continue for decades.

Another significant aspect of American society is the commercialization of pop culture. Grassroots arts & entertainment trends are both cultivated and exploited through a highly consolidated media industry that covers a wide range of genres including music, television, films, advertising, news, and issue advocacy. Such concentrated control of the media is widely seen as detrimental to the public interest as well as being vulnerable to abusive manipulation by political interests (see Concentration of Media Ownership).

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Policies of the United States

In the 21st century, the former delineation between domestic and foreign policy has become blurred. The pervasion of corporatism has focused the U.S. on a single-minded pursuit of an agenda prescribed by big business. Virtually every aspect of official U.S. policy can be seen through this lens. If Saudi Arabia – whose economy is almost entirely dependent upon oil and gas production – can be accurately described as a petro-state, then the United States can appropriately be labeled as a capital-state.

Large corporate entities have either seized control of the major economic sectors in the U.S., or are in the process of doing so (see How Corporatist-Conservative Policy Destroyed The American Economy). Public and non-profit institutions which formerly administered vital social services such as education and healthcare are undergoing various stages of privatization. Contractual outsourcing has transformed the U.S. military so completely, that President Eisenhower’s warning of a dangerous “military-industrial complex” has indeed become reality.

The blatantly disingenuous invasion of Iraq in 2003 provides the ultimate illustration of American imperialism. The public backlash to this war, and other similar controversies such as the NSA surveillance revelations, has resulted in the highest levels of institutional distrust since the inception of that measurement (see Gallup poll: Confidence in Institutions). Public perception of a corrupt, elitist American establishment amidst a condition of worsening economic inequality – which rivals that of the Gilded Age – is so widespread that it can no longer be discerned along traditional political lines. Although this populist angst is most profound at the extremes of the left/right spectrum, it has nevertheless moved into the mainstream of political thought (see Poll shows broad opposition to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal).

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Politics in the United States

[work in progress]

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Education in the United States

[work in progress]

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Healthcare in the United States

[work in progress]

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Energy Production and Usage in the United States

[work in progress]

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Crime and Law Enforcement in the United States

[work in progress]

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Last update on May 18, 2014. This page is open to contributions for new content sections. Use the comment area to contact this blog regarding submissions. Additions should be supported by links to credible sources, and text formatting should comply with the previously established style. The Secular Jurist retains all editorial rights and privileges.

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