The USA has the largest GDP in the world: 23 trillion dollars. Of the 10 largest financial capital companies, three are headquartered in the USA. The technology that has transformed our lives emerged in Silicon Valley. The global entertainment and media industry are predominantly North-American. Scientific production in this country has brought extraordinary advances in multiple domains, particularly in the area of health. In contrast to all this, the level of social inequalities in the USA surpasses that of any developed European country; life expectancy (77 years) is lower than in Portugal (81 years); 11.4 % of the population, i.e. 37 million people, live below the poverty level; 6 million children live in food insecure households; students accumulate unpayable debts (1.7 trillion dollars); the USA has neither high-speed trains nor universal health care; it had one of the most mediocre performances in protecting health and life during the pandemic crisis; its infrastructure is in dire need of repair; several Midwestern cities are experiencing rotating power cuts typical of cities in less developed countries; the general level of wages has been virtually stagnant for four decades and, due to the price increase of energy and food, the Americans lost 6 percent of purchasing power; about 100. 000 people die annually from drug overdoses; the country has the highest incarceration/institutionalization rate in the world: almost 2 billion people, with the incarceration rate for black youths being five times higher than that of white youths; in the first six months of 2022 alone 277 people have already died in shootings with weapons of war. The USA is trapped in an uncontrollable military spending spiral.
To the extent that Europe identifies with American designs, something similar is likely to happen in Europe. Since budgets are finite, what is spent on arms will not be spent on schools or hospitals. Besides the socio-economic dimension, the increasing integration of Europe into the US ideological universe has many other cultural and political dimensions that must be taken into account. I focus on ideologies, well aware that the practice of the countries that profess them is often quite different.
The metamorphoses of civil society
In social democratic Europe a strong civil society is the precondition for a strong welfare state, whereas in the US a strong civil society is considered incompatible with a strong welfare state. The difference is that while in Europe civil society is understood as a broad spectrum of social organizations (the so-called third sector), in the USA, especially since the 1980s, the interests of civil society have metamorphosed into the interests of the market, i.e. the private economy. The global growth of the far right has contributed to the advance of this metamorphosis in Europe. How far it can go is an unknown.
From liberalism to neoconservatism
The 1960s was the golden decade of liberalism in the USA. Here are some characteristics of its ideology: human nature is not fixed and has the potential to build a more just society; human beings are essentially rational; the obstacles to progress are ignorance and defective institutions; there are no essential hierarchies among human beings; negotiation and compromise should prevail over conflict and war; the state should be secular and based on democratic government and social reformism. These ideas, which seem like common sense to any European, are now a minority in the USA. Starting in the 1980s, conservative thought began a radical attack on liberalism and gradually inculcated symmetrically opposed ideas. With the arrival of the second generation of conservatives at the end of the 1990s, neoconservatives emerged. If, on the one hand, they radicalized conservative ideas, on the other, neocons modified them on an essential issue: while conservatives were isolationists, neocons are imperialists. The white supremacy of the conservatives at home has become the supremacy of the USA over all other countries, and whatever is necessary to maintain it is legitimate. The neocons have dominated USA foreign policy since the Clinton administration. The arrogance of the ongoing talks in Brussels about the need to continue the war, wipe out Russia and neutralize China is consistent with the neocon agenda and sounds like imperial nostalgia.
Democratic or pro-Western allies?
During the short life of liberalism, it was generally assumed that democratic governments were natural allies of the USA. Self-determination of peoples was defended with some credibility. With the conservative turn, however, the natural allies of the USA became those who defended Western Judeo-Christian values and USA geostrategic interests, whatever their political regime. For conservatives in the 1960s, dictators Francisco Franco in Spain and Antonio Salazar in Portugal were allies because they were pro-Western, and European colonialism was meant to be defended as the struggle of Western civilization against barbarism. The same was said of pro-Western dictators, although it was recognized that some were particularly cruel, like Fulgencio Batista in Cuba. On the other hand, unlike liberals, who advocated peaceful coexistence with communism, conservatives argued that it was the USA’s obligation to free the people from the “communist yoke” and drive back the Soviet bloc. They criticized the USA inaction during the 1956 Hungarian uprising and even believed that, in the Suez Canal crisis of that year, the USA had betrayed its Western allies, Britain and France, by opening the door to the expansion of communism. The neoconservative agenda now dominates US foreign policy, and if it comes to dominate in Europe, a paradigm shift will occur. For example, Viktor Orbán will not be criticized for being authoritarian, but for being pro-Russian, that is, anti-Western. And Belarus or Georgia will be countries to be destabilized to free them from the Russian yoke.
Anti-communism without communism
The fear of the communist danger, which had emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, was transformed, after World War II, into an ideology that crossed the entire spectrum of US politics. With the McCarthyism of the 1950s, the hunt for phylo-communists reached unprecedented levels. Top writers, academics, journalists, or film directors were accused of phylo-communism with sometimes tragic consequences for their lives and careers. This ideology was shared by liberals and conservatives, albeit with the differences I mentioned above. But while in the 1960s liberals considered that the danger of internal communism had been neutralized, conservatives continued to see manifestations of communism in any social reform agenda, however moderate, including policies for racial equality or women’s reproductive rights. For conservatives, communism became an empty signifier that now functions as a weapon to demonize political opponents, justify their cancellation on social media, and promote hate speech. The European tradition of communist parties (despite the crisis they are going through and many having ceased to exist) can be a brake against this avalanche emerging in Europe via the extreme right. For how long? For now, the anti-Russian hatred subliminally contains the intensity of the anti-Communist hatred, even if we know that the Communist party is very much a minority in Russia and that Putin is a right-wing politician and a friend of the European far right.
Nazism is deemed a lesser threat than communism
Nazism has a long tradition in the USA with roots in the American Nazi Party founded in 1960, and is now widespread in the country through many extremist organizations, all of which are supporters of white supremacy and prepared for “race warfare,” sometimes involving military training. Violence and terrorism are the favored means of “white power accelerationism.” Their presence at the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 was notorious. Perhaps more important than noting this sinister move is to keep in mind that Nazism was always more tolerated in the USA than communism. Even after World War II, the USA adopted a policy of pragmatic cooperation with some sectors of defeated Nazism. One of the most significant cases was the protection and hosting in the country of Nazi German scientists. This was the “Operation Clip” described by Annie Jacobsen in Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America (New York, Little Brown, 2014). The book is disturbing in showing the extent to which public policy can be hidden from the public in the name of national security. After the surrender of Germany, 1600 German scientists and technicians came to the USA and quickly became US citizens. These were the scientists who helped Hitler produce armaments (missiles, chemical and biological weapons, space medicine to increase pilot performance, etc.) that killed the soldiers and the populations of the allied countries. The book focuses on 21 scientists who were in Hitler’s service, most of them awarded prizes by the Führer, the best known being Wernher von Braun, and among them being the Surgeon General of the Third Reich. Some were even tried at the Nuremberg Tribunal, but were shortly afterwards hired by the US government. A section was set up in the Pentagon – the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency – specifically dedicated to recruiting and hiring Nazi scientists. A year before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Pentagon was discussing the need for the USA to prepare for a “total war” against the communists, an atomic, chemical, and biological war, and all means to make it possible were legitimate. The extreme pragmatism of this policy meant that although many of these scientists could be considered war criminals, their usefulness made their crimes forgotten, when not rewarded. Operation Paperclip is the symptom of something more general: the aversion to Nazism was always much less intense than the aversion to communism. After all, the Nazis only radicalize some of the dominant conservative ideas and have always been faithful supporters of capitalism.
This conservative ideological complex does not advance without resistance even within the USA, as demonstrated by the “Our Revolution” movement, animated by democratic socialist senator Bernie Sanders, which for a while inspired young Americans, just as years earlier they had engaged in the Occupy Wall Street movement on behalf of the 99%. Be it as it may, European democrats should take note of what will be at stake if Europe loses what distinguishes it from the USA and uncritically welcomes what it has in common with that country.