A small-scale cultural war has broken out in the feature pages of Europe’s newspapers. The authors are taken aback by the militant way in which America has begun to reorder the world. They are repulsed by the narrow-minded partisanship with which the majority of U.S. citizens support war and vent their hatred at the enemies and opponents of America’s wars. They are delighted by every critical voice emerging from the United States that has something — anything — to criticize about the “stupid white men” in charge.
Pope Benedict XVI has resigned — a surprising step. This announcement seems to have completely clogged up the daily newspapers and talk shows. The retired pontiff has caused reports of bombs and civil wars to be sent to the back burners — and certainly not only in Catholic media or countries.
What is a people? According to what modern legislators have laid down as binding in practice, a people is nothing more than the totality of a country’s inhabitants whom a state power defines as its members. Regardless of the natural and social differences and antagonisms between them, these members form a political collective by virtue of being subordinate to one and the same state authority. Being obligated to the same rule and its agenda is the common cause they stand up for as a people.
If all the leading authorities assert that they at least are not doing anything racist, and everyone agrees that racism is not right: why then is it so persistent?
When experiencing harm, dissatisfied citizens have the well-known custom of complaining about having been treated unjustly, and they blame politicians for having failed to deliver on their original promises. This complaint shows two things: firstly, everybody takes absolutely for granted that in a system of rule humanity is divided into opposites — executors of sovereign power dictate the living conditions and opportunities to which the rest of the population have to subject the conduct of their lives. Secondly, it is noteworthy that those subjected to the sovereign do not simply make fools of themselves when they demand being treated justly by the authorities, but instead count on — and can indeed count on — getting a hearing at least. That may have its particular forms in the bourgeois state, but it is something that in principle the citizens and the modern constitutional state share with their respective historical predecessors. As a political power insists on treating its subjects justly and judges its use of force accordingly, it is willing to listen when this kind of complaint from “below” is directed at it. And when subordinates complain, they always invoke justice vis-à-vis their sovereign because it is first and foremost a maxim of sovereign power. The sovereign doesn’t merely want to suppress the self-interests of those it subjugates and repress their will, but wants to rule justly.
A great president serving a great nation
In the USA at the end of January, a man came to power with an unshakable faith in the greatness of the American people and pure hatred for the country’s ‘political establishment.’
He holds the latter responsible for the disastrous state of the nation, which does not at all match the magnificent achievement Trump believes his countrymen capable of. Unlike his critics and competitors, who like to present good news about the economic dominance of Silicon Valley and Wall Street, the strength of the American military, and the openness, progressiveness, and dynamism of American scientific and cultural life, Trump detects one big disaster when it comes to business, domestic and foreign policy, and, not least, morals. He thinks the US is being beat in world trade by large and small competitors; the once glorious heartland of industrial world dominance has become a shabby Rust Belt; Americans willing to work hard are finding fewer and fewer jobs and making an ever worse living at them because the industrial companies their labor once made great would nowadays rather employ labor elsewhere. And America has not won a war in a long time, or much else either. For Trump, the USA as a world power is unacceptably damaged if it is no longer generally acknowledged in the world to be clearly number one in every way. This simply cannot be, because according to Trump the greatness of Americans means that — whatever they are or do as individuals — they are a collective of winners who outstrip their competitors across the globe in every field. There is no country or people on this earth as beautiful as America and the Americans, which for Trump is the same thing as saying that nothing and nobody can beat them in the fight that he sees in every aspect of the world. So if the American people’s circumstances, their nation’s wealth and their state’s power lag so far behind what this people is basically capable of and predestined for, i.e., being unbeatably superior in every arena that nations compete in, then the American people are obviously being prevented from showing their greatness in their own country; they’re no longer master of the house.
This must be rectified.
For Trump, it is a sure fact that the proud USA and American people are being bled by transnational business that has caused jobs in the country to be lost, whole industrial regions that once flourished to go to rot, American infrastructure to decay, the local population to sink into poverty, trade balances to be negative, and government debt to be gigantic. For him, this goes hand in hand with an alarming decline in American military power, which he sees not only in the curbed expansion of US weapons budgets over the last decades, but also in the USA’s lack of success in its military engagements over the last quarter century.
It’s clear to him that all this is the result of a sell out of American interests that is as huge as it is criminal. An utterly corrupt “establishment,” in his view, has allowed economic dealings by which American jobs have been stolen, thereby depriving his “hard-working” and “beautiful” Americans of their right to the happiness of achieving, by their superior proficiency, the prosperity for themselves and their families, and thus for America as a whole, that befits them and their nation. This picture of America’s deep crisis and its causes shows what Trump’s picture of the world altogether is like.
Opportunities that hinder and prevent success in life: that is a contradiction that takes some coping with. Of course, those concerned could take it as an indication of the prevailing purposes that are inherent in their supposedly so neutral living conditions; and they would be wise to do so. For that would put the conflict of interests organized by the law-enforcing authority right on the agenda, and they would only need to win the class struggle. But that would mean abolishing this strange paradox and not constructively “coping” with it.
Nobody wants to say that prosperity and poverty — free access to the wealth of goods produced in the world and exclusion from them — necessarily belong to our unbeatable economic system; that would be something like critique of capitalism, god forbid. The idea is that there is some match between money earned and job. As if one and the same yardstick showing thousands per month were applied to the different jobs, and one job ended at the second thousand while the other was only just starting at the twentieth or two hundredth. Differences in income aren’t all right just like that, they are all right because they are fair. Just as the double meaning of ‘to earn’ says: receiving income and being entitled to it belong together. The relation being, by common consent, that income depends on what a person deserves, not the other way round.
At least in principle. In the real working world, everybody, when it comes down to it, knows plenty of cases in which the equation between just deserts and financial remuneration doesn’t quite work out.