The United States Army is developing a weapon that can reach — and destroy — any location on Earth within an hour. At the same time, power lines held up by wooden poles dangle over the streets of Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey. Hurricane Sandy ripped them apart there and in communities across the East Coast last week, and many places remain without electricity. That's America, where high-tech options are available only to the elite, and the rest live under conditions comparable to a those of a developing nation. No country has produced more Nobel Prize winners, yet in New York City hospitals had to be evacuated during the storm because their emergency generators didn't work properly.
Anyone who sees this as a contradiction has failed to grasp the fact that America is a country of total capitalism. Its functionaries have no need of public hospitals or of a reliable power supply to private homes. The elite have their own infrastructure. Total capitalism, however, has left American society in ruins and crippled the government. America's fate is not just an accident produced by the system. It is a consequence of that system.
Obama couldn't change this, and Romney wouldn't be able to either. Europe is mistaken if it views the election as a choice between the forces of good and evil. And it certainly doesn't amount to a potential change in political direction as some newspapers on the Continent would have us believe.
A Powerless President
Romney, the exceedingly wealthy business man, and Obama, the cultivated civil rights lawyer, are two faces of a political system that no longer has much to do with democracy as we understand it. Democracy is about choice, but Americans don't really have much of a choice. Obama proved this. Nearly four years ago, it seemed like a new beginning for America when he took office. But this was a misunderstanding. Obama didn't close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, nor did he lift immunity for alleged war criminals from the Bush-era, or regulate the financial markets, and climate change was hardly discussed during the current election campaign. The military, the banks, industry — the people are helpless in the face of their power, as is the president.
Not even credit default swaps, the kind of investment that brought down Lehman Brothers and took Western economies to the brink, has been banned or even better regulated. It is likely the case that Obama wanted to do more, but couldn't. But what role does that play in the bigger picture?
We want to believe that Obama failed because of the conservatives inside his own country. Indeed, the fanatics that Mitt Romney depends on have jettisoned everything that distinguishes the West: science and logic, reason and moderation, even simple decency. They hate homosexuals, the weak and the state. They oppress women and persecute immigrants. Their moralizing about abortion doesn't even spare the victims of rape. They are the Taliban of the West.
The Winner Makes No Difference to Europe
Still, they are only the symptom of America's failure, not the cause. In reality, neither the idealists and Democrats, nor the useful idiots of the Tea Party have any power over the circumstances.
From a European perspective, it doesn't matter who wins this election. Only U.S. foreign policy is important to us — and Obama is no dove and Romney no hawk. The incumbent president prefers to wage his wars with drones instead of troops, though the victims probably don't care if they're killed by man or machine. Meanwhile, despite all the criticism, his challenger says he wouldn't join Israel were the country to go to war with Iran because the US can now no longer afford such a thing.
In any case, it is wrong to characterize Republicans as the party of warmongers and Democrats as the party of peace — or even to call the latter a left-wing party at all. After all, it was Democratic presidents Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson who started the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Republican presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon ended these wars. And Ronald Reagan, who Europeans see as the embodiment of both the evil and absurd aspects of American politics, was a peaceful man compared to the standards we have since become accustomed to. He only ever invaded Grenada.
The truth is that we simply no longer understand America. Looking at the country from Germany and Europe, we see a foreign culture. The political system is in the hands of big business and its lobbyists. The checks and balances have failed. And a perverse mix of irresponsibility, greed and religious zealotry dominate public opinion.
The downfall of the American empire has begun. It could be that the country's citizens wouldn't be able to stop it no matter how hard they tried. But they aren't even trying.