The recent UN report on American poverty goes much further, indicting the political system as well, citing hidden efforts that have allowed dictatorial control of elections and “rule by the rich.”
“There is covert disenfranchisement, which includes the dramatic gerrymandering of electoral districts to privilege particular groups of voters, the imposition of artificial and unnecessary voter identification requirements, the blatant manipulation of polling station locations, the relocation of Departments of Motor Vehicles offices to make it more difficult for certain groups to obtain identification, and the general ramping up of obstacles to voting, especially for those without resources. The net result is that people living in poverty, minorities and other disfavoured groups are being systematically deprived of their right to vote. It is thus unsurprising that the United States has one of the lowest turnout rates in elections among developed countries, with only 55.7 per cent of the voting-age population casting ballots in the 2016 presidential election.”
This is how we begin, the real backdrop as to why America is now cited as a cesspool of poverty and why the Trump administration has been singled out as a “worst case” of all nations in the developing world, for abuse of its poor.
The Trump Administration is reeling at the release of UN Poverty in the US Report. It was only last week that the United States withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council, citing that standards applicable for other nations are no longer considered applicable for the United States.
This report, however, is far more damning, far more serious, and hits at the total dissolution of whatever social and economic cohesion that still holds America together. It has long been cited that the US may well have chosen the long-used road to dictatorship and police state governance in response to a crumbling national identity.
America has long been rife with racism and regionalism but, as the UN report cites, the onset of extreme divides between rich and poor or recent years has exacerbated issues to where America may well be hanging on as “United States” only under duress. From the report:
“The United States is a land of stark contrasts. It is one of the world’s wealthiest societies, a global leader in many areas, and a land of unsurpassed technological and other forms of innovation. Its corporations are global trendsetters, its civil society is vibrant and sophisticated, and its higher education system leads the world. But its immense wealth and expertise stand in shocking contrast with the conditions in which vast numbers of its citizens live. About 40 million live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and 5.3million live in Third World conditions of absolute poverty.
It has the highest youth poverty rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the highest infant mortality rates among comparable OECD States. Its citizens live shorter and sicker lives compared to those living in all other rich democracies, eradicable tropical diseases are increasingly prevalent, and it has the world’s highest incarceration rate, one of the lowest levels of voter registrations in among OECD countries and the highest obesity levels in the developed world.
The United States has the highest rate of income inequality among Western countries.
The $1.5 trillion in tax cuts in December 2017 overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality. The consequences of neglecting poverty and promoting inequality are clear. The United States has one of the highest poverty and inequality levels among the OECD countries, and the Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty ranks it 18th out of 21 wealthy countries in terms of labour markets, poverty rates, safety nets, wealth inequality and economic mobility. But in 2018 the United States had over 25 percent of the world’s 2,208 billionaires.
There is thus a dramatic contrast between the immense wealth of the few and the squalor and deprivation in which vast numbers of Americans exist. For almost five decades the overall policy response has been neglectful at best, but the policies pursued over the past year seem deliberately designed to remove basic protections from the poorest, punish those who are not in employment and make even basic health care into a privilege to be earned rather than a right of citizenship.”
This is the real indictment of Trump, but it wasn’t Trump alone that created the system Trump inherited and is, according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur, making worse than any of his predecessors.
Few Americans, due to inherent laziness and a thoroughly controlled media, are aware of the Reagan policies and how they set things on the direction noted in the report. If 40 million Americans are living in poverty, it didn’t happen in the last year though the report cites an expectation of a rapidly decreasing standard of living for the lowest third of America’s social rung.
Terms like “trickle down,” cited as a solution for economic disparity, originated from Reagan and his advisors David Stockman and Paul Craig Roberts. Their theory was to cut taxes for the wealthy, for corporations, remove all workplace and environmental protections, all oversight of banks and financial institutions and allow the runaway profiteering to magically enrich the lower classes.
Of course, the exact opposite occurred, sending entire industries offshore, health care costs increased tenfold while America’s manufacturing base, along with America’s trade unions, simply disappeared.
America became a nation of what Reagan’s elites termed “bean counters” but, more accurately, the real result was homelessness, unemployment and “burger flipper” jobs for those willing to work for rapidly declining wages in a nation of runaway inflation.
The corporate stranglehold on America’s political life began there, a marriage of war rhetoric, “cowboy” aphorisms and hokey backwoods religion. From the report:
“The visit of the Special Rapporteur coincided with the dramatic change of direction in relevant United States policies. The new policies: (a) provide unprecedentedly high tax breaks and financial windfalls to the very wealthy and the largest corporations; (b) pay for these partly by reducing welfare benefits for the poor; (c) undertake a radical programme of financial, environmental, health and safety deregulation that eliminates protections mainly benefiting the middle classes and the poor; (d) seek to add over 20 million poor and middle class persons to the ranks of those without health insurance; (e) restrict eligibility for many welfare benefits while increasing the obstacles required to be overcome by those eligible; (f) dramatically increase spending on defence, while rejecting requested improvements in key veterans benefits; (g) do not provide adequate additional funding to address an opioid crisis that is decimating parts of the country; and (h) make no effort to tackle the structural racism that keeps a large percentage of non-Whites in poverty and near poverty.
In a 2017 report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) captured the situation even before the impact of these aggressively regressive redistributive policies had been felt, stating that the United States economy is delivering better living standards for only the few, and that household incomes are stagnating for a large share of the population, job opportunities are deteriorating, prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy.
The share of the top 1 per cent of the population in the United States has grown steadily in recent years. In 2016 they owned 38.6 per cent of total wealth. In relation to both wealth and income the share of the bottom 90 per cent has fallen in most of the past 25 years.
The tax reform will worsen this situation and ensure that the United States remains the most unequal society in the developed world. The planned dramatic cuts in welfare will essentially shred crucial dimensions of a safety net that is already full of holes. Since economic and political power reinforce one another, the political system will be even more vulnerable to capture by wealthy elites.
This situation bodes ill not only for the poor and middle class in America, but for society as a whole, with high poverty levels creating disparities in the education system, hampering human capital formation and eating into future productivity.
There are also global consequences. The tax cuts will fuel a global race to the bottom, thus further reducing the revenues needed by Governments to ensure basic social protection and meet their human rights obligations. And the United States remains a model whose policies other countries seek to emulate.
Defenders of the status quo point to the United States as the land of opportunity and the place where the American dream can come true because the poorest can aspire to the ranks of the richest. But today’s reality is very different. The United States now has one of the lowest rates of intergenerational social mobility of any of the rich countries.
Zipcodes, which are usually reliable proxies for race and wealth, are tragically reliable predictors of a child’s future employment and income prospects. High child and youth poverty rates perpetuate the intergenerational transmission of poverty very effectively, and ensure that the American dream is rapidly becoming the American illusion. The equality of opportunity, which is so prized in theory, is in practice a myth, especially for minorities and women, but also for many middle-class White workers.”
The UN report went much further, in particular criticizing the US for their recent rejection of all previous human rights initiatives including the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Trump administration has, in fact, removed the US from all international conventions that had heretofore applied to American citizens living in America as protected citizens of the United Nations.
Making it all worse is the orchestrated propaganda perpetuating stereotypes. From the report:
“In thinking about poverty, it is striking how much weight is given to caricatured narratives about the purported innate differences between rich and poor that are consistently peddled by some politicians and media. The rich are industrious, entrepreneurial, patriotic and the drivers of economic success. The poor are wasters, losers and scammers. As a result, money spent on welfare is money down the drain. If the poor really want to make it in the United States, they can easily do so: they really can achieve the American dream if only they work hard enough. The reality, however, is very different. Many of the wealthiest citizens do not pay taxes at the rates that others do, hoard much of their wealth offshore and often make their profits purely from speculation rather than contributing to the overall wealth of the American community.
In imagining the poor, racist stereotypes are usually not far beneath the surface. The poor are overwhelmingly assumed to be people of colour, whether African Americans or Hispanic immigrants.
The reality is that there are 8 million more poor Whites than there are poor Blacks.
The face of poverty in America is not only Black or Hispanic, but also White, Asian and many other backgrounds. Similarly, large numbers of welfare recipients are assumed to be living high on
Some politicians and political appointees with whom the Special Rapporteur spoke were completely sold on the narrative of such scammers sitting on comfortable sofas, watching cable television or spending their days on their smartphones, all paid for by welfare. The Special Rapporteur wonders how many of those politicians have ever visited poor areas, let alone spoken to those who dwell there. There are anecdotes aplenty, but little evidence. In every society, there are those who abuse the system, as much in the upper income levels as in the lower. But in reality, the poor are overwhelmingly those born into poverty, or those thrust there by circumstances largely beyond their control, such as physical or mental disabilities, divorce, family breakdown, illness, old age, unliveable wages or discrimination in the job market.”
When speaking of global implications of America’s situation as given by the UN report, political disenfranchisement, rule by the rich, a government dedicated to corruption, ignorance and abuse of human rights, it isn’t hard to understand why America is now warring on the rest of the world.
That war, currently on four continents, involves the use of both overt and covert military operations, all unilateral, some war crimes, including assassinations, economic warfare and random bombing of civilians.
It is quite obvious that Trump’s “war on the world” has brought about a careful examination of why America has slid so far down the moral scale, were such a scale to exist, into exceptionalism, unilateralism and brutality.
Gordon Duff is a Marine combat veteran of the Vietnam War that has worked on veterans and POW issues for decades and consulted with governments challenged by security issues. He’s a senior editor and chairman of the board of Veterans Today, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”