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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

The U.S. can still be saved

The recent spate of mass shootings and wanton violence in the United States has resurrected a famous pronouncement from the Martinican thinker Aimé Césaire. In his essay “Discourse on Colonialism” (1950) Césaire says: 

A civilization that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is adecadent civilization. A civilization that chooses to close its eyes to its mostcrucial problems is a stricken civilization. A civilization that uses its principles fortrickery and deceit is a dying civilization. 

The lip service that follows every mass shooting in the U.S., particularly fromthose with the power to effect change, is sickening. Every unfortunate episodenormally gives the president the opportunity for a photo op with the aggrieved asthe unapologetic gun lobby points out once again that it is not the gun, but theindividual in question. The tweets, videos and news in the three presidencies I haveactively observed bear a scary semblance. 

Needless to say, the U.S. is currently grappling with a political class that isbeholden to monopoly capital. Most of the country’s major sociopolitical challengesstem from this premise. The mass shootings, failure in global leadership on theecological crisis and deepening income inequality are all indicative of where theallegiances of the nation’s ruling class lie. Those who might see allusions to a rulingclass in America as far-fetched need not look further than a study by political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page on the influence of the country’s plutocrats. The political class has subordinated the aspirations of the country to corporate interests and forced their narrow and self-serving imagination of the country upon the masses. Politicians have proven incapable of executing their only assignment — providing leadership. They have proven unable to help their constituents on whose support they have been high for a while. It is clearly a leadership deficit.

When preaching liberal democracy to the world, the U.S. normally touts the value of a strong state with capable institutions and the sanctity of the Constitution. On the most pressing issues, however, the country has witnessed the inability of the nation’s leadership to act decisively. The highest decision-making bodies in the land suffer from paralysis even in enacting seemingly obvious reforms. America leads the world by a distance in military spending. With such a huge defense budget, it is shocking that 30% of the population owns over 400 million guns. Much as the right to bear arms is as old as America itself, simple dialectics would inform the fact that slave-owning colonial America in 1776 is not America today. The justifications for large-scale gun ownership over 200 years ago cannot be unquestioningly applied today – not after the damage that has been witnessed. A sane civilization should be able to discern that an 18-year-old with their identity crises and a 25-year-old with their midlife crises cannot be trusted with an automatic weapon, let alone a civilian with an existential crisis. A weapon capable of wiping out people like its Grand Theft Auto (recall Buffalo) should not fall into these hands. The insistence of the citizenry on bearing arms as a safeguard against an erring state is justified if the past leadership of people like Donald Trump is anything to go by. This is the gist of the matter — a failure in leadership and the loss of trust in the state and its capability to represent the very interest of the wananchi (East African English for “the public”). 

But America has a track record of thought and innovation. There is a pervasive narrative that its founding fathers dared to think and imagine. The process of the country’s putrefaction can thus be reversed. There’s hope if a generation — one that will commit itself to diagnosing the country’s challenges and making a break with the current policy of business-as-usual — will emerge and assume its place in history. Americans have long stood on the sidelines and watched revolutions — successful and unsuccessful alike in the rest of the world. Now their civilization is at stake. A generation is being called upon to be conscious actors in this story. This generation must discover its mission and fulfill it, this time not in relative opacity since the tasks are clear. Young Americans have been comfortable for too long. They have been hoodwinked into believing they have a country to inherit, but the country is stricken.

It is high time they join young cadres worldwide in seriously thinking about social change. Like doctors preparing for a complex operation, they have to go back to basics. This generation needs to be ready to oppose Constitution worship and make a break with laws that do not favor the perpetration of life and humanity. No more drowning in obscurantist history. America, the most reactionary of countries, must produce a breed of revolutionaries. These make themselves. Not by slavishly toeing the line of education systems looking to churn out more pedestrian reformists and supporters of the status quo, not by attending classes every day at Notre Dame and hoping to get a job to reinforce the same systems. The vanguard will emerge — it must emerge because there is work to be done. There is a civilization to rescue. The U.S. can still be saved.

Olemo Gordon Brian is a junior from Apac, Uganda, studying economics and political science. In his free time, he enjoys reading political economy, playing badminton and watching Manchester United play. He can be reached at or @oneolemo on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.