Is America Number One?

Copyright 2000 by Markar Melkonian


In Fall 1999, a popular network TV magazine featured a segment entitled Is America #1? Having posed the question, of course, it was out of the question that the programmers would conclude with anything but a resounding YES! (Would anyone have expected them to say: “After looking into the matter closely, ladies and gentlemen, guess what? It looks like America is not #1, after all!”) Our telegenic host took up America’s several problems each in its turn, and then he popped them off one-by-one, like video game monsters, demolishing America’s detractors in the process. And all of this in the course of about twenty minutes, including commercial breaks.

Thus, to explode accusations of persisting poverty, his camera crew went to the South Bronx, one of the poorest congressional districts, and interviewed self-described poor people. What they found—surprise!—was that things were not as bad as one might have expected. Not nearly so bad. In fact, things were rather comfy. Even in the South Bronx, the apartments are well appointed with gadgets that middle-class Nigerians would envy. In interviews, the Bronx natives themselves didn’t take their own poverty seriously: “Poverty is a word…” one man standing in line for a free hand-out said, with an ironic smile.

Our investigative reporter then similarly dispatched the other great American problems, namely homelessness, violence, racism, drug abuse, and so on down the list of pre-approved headline topics.

The most interesting thing about this exercise was how the host dodged any mention of the problems that might be most glaring for people not pre-committed to his conclusion: With the exception of vicious and enduring racism, the problems he mentioned are either not terribly important (street violence), or are at best secondary (homelessness), and easily solvable (involuntary homelessness, lack of medical insurance) safely within the framework of continuing corporate domination over the lives of Americans.

Missing were the structural contradictions, the long-term, persisting processes, America’s genuinely serious problems. These include: (a) The enormous and rapidly increasing concentration of capital, and the ownership and control of the means of production, distribution and communicationin fewer and fewer hands; (b) the enormous and growing gap between rich and the relatively poor within the United States; (c) the monolithic and near-total monopolization of political institutions and power by big business, from the local to the Federal level; (d) The impoverishment of much of the globe by U.S.-based transnational corporations, and U.S.-dominated transnational financial institutions. To this list may be added (e) the diminishment of nonrenewable resources--including fossil fuels, rainforests, and arable land--and the control of these and other resources by a tiny minority of the super-rich and by the political, economic and financial institutions that advance their interests.

These are the problems that clever ideas and technological quick-fixes will not solve. These are the problems that TV magazines mask when they conduct cheerleading exercises while pretending to take on America's problems.


Aphorism: To put the point in an avoidably paradoxical way: America is not America. Why? Because America views itself as a land of freedom, justice, and equal opportunity, a land without structural exploitation, class domination or repressive state power. In other words, America views itself as communist in all but name. But the America in which we live—or rather, the America we live, the America we are—is none of these things.


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