ON THE MORNING of December 13, 2000, for the first time in their history, American citizens woke up in a Third World nation. How did this happen? Isn't it a contradiction for the richest country in the world to become a Third World nation? Yes, it's a contradiction--if you believe, as most Americans do, that capitalism and its attendant concentration of wealth are born of and sustained by democratic ideals.
However, if you instead see the conflation of capitalism and democracy as a consequence of blind impulses and accidental occurrences--rather than a product of destiny and design--then it is very easy to accept the fact that a country with an eight-trillion-dollar GNP can also be a Third World nation.
Capitalism, in itself, lacks an ideology. It has no justification outside of the bottom line: profit, profit, and more profit. Indeed, the most famous attempt to theorize capitalism produced not a theory but a mystery: Adam Smith's "invisible hand." But the architecture of a nation cannot stand on an invisible mechanism--it needs a coherent concept of society for its foundation. This is why, historically, capitalism has never operated alone, but identified its motives with some existing ideology. In the 15th century, it used the moral lechery of the church; in the 16th century, it used the heady cultural appeal of national monarchy. However, it was not until the late 18th century that the great democratic revolutions in Europe and America provided the ideal ideological cloak in which to dress the naked desires of capitalism.
Now the inversion occurs. With past ideologies (church, monarchy), capitalism always knew its place: It came after the idea, not before. But in this new order, democratic capitalism's gains so quickly outstripped the rhetoric of democratic freedom that it became possible to invert, once and for all, the basic structure. Under the new paradigm, it is not democracy that begets capitalism, but capitalism that begets democracy.
Armed with this realization, the West embarked on what it saw as an almost spiritually mandated course of imperial expansion. In the name of disseminating democratic ideals, the newly galvanized capitalist nations of the West--those nations that would later become the First World--began ruthlessly to penetrate the untapped markets of Africa, Latin America, and Asia in an avowed effort to inculcate social justice in economically undefined nations. Without capitalism, the tautology concluded, you did not have a democratic state.
The Third World
Enter the definition of the Third World. As originated by the radical Marxist Franz Fanon, the Third World described a nation state whose financial institutions, under the control of a defined government, were largely unformed and vague. As such, the Third World was uncomfortably located between the First World (the aforementioned capitalist democracies) and the newly emerging Second World, defined as nations whose government and financial institutions were mandated not by capitalist but by socialist--or, more radically, Communist--ideals.
With the onslaught of the Cold War, the Third World became an unfortunate battleground of economic ideals as put forth by the world's reigning superpowers. The First World, with the U.S.A. leading the charge, escalated its policy of capitalistic vampirism vis-à-vis the Third World. The world was split into two camps: those who basked in the glory of democratic institutions, and the others who struggled to create them.
Enter corruption. In the post-Cold War 1990s, the definition of Third World began to turn away from questions of governmental financial infrastructure and toward analysis of government corruption: a Third World nation became, by default, any nation whose political system was rife with dishonesty. To the democratically enlightened First World, corruption could be located by its by-products: the relative impunity of ruling parties and individuals, and the elevation of clan or tribal interests over national interests.
As defined by Columbia Encyclopedia, political corruption is "fraud connected with elections." To America, as the prime defender of First World moralities, the architecture of the election became the principal locus and proving ground of government corruption--the process by which the Third World nation earned its mark of shame. Our policing of elections worldwide (Peru, Zimbabwe, Indonesia) has only deepened this definitive association in the mind of the average citizen.
Coming Full Circle
There can be no doubt that the recent presidential election in this nation was won by corruption. The underlying political issues at stake in the face-off between Gore and Bush are irrelevant, as are the basic partisan differences between the candidates' approaches to the election debacle. The simple fact is that the person in the White House has seated himself by corrupt practices. From the first inexplicable reversals of the exit-poll results to the bitterly divisive, partisan decisions of the Supreme Court, the first election of the new American millennium is rife with crookedness: lost ballot boxes, voter intimidation, dubious ballots, questionable tabulation machines... all of the hallmarks of a Third World election.
The oligarchic manipulation of the Florida (and federal) government in the aftermath of an initially scandalous election only furthers the resemblance. When newscasters spoke of George W. Bush's brother Jeb (all corrupt people have short names--Al, Jeb, Idi, Bob) failing to "carry the state for his brother" on election night, they thought they were speaking metaphorically--a privilege of the First World. However, the facts of the election--Jeb actually did carry the state for his brother--belie the metaphorical comfort of the First World, and speak blatantly of Republican graft.
But it is utterly wrong to take a partisan look at this flagrant corruption. What makes this election so sublimely Third World is not that one side is corrupt, but that both sides are. Gore is as much a product of an oligarchy as Bush, and if Gore had dubiously carried Illinois and Bush had called for recounts, Gore would have acted in exactly the same manner. Ballots would have been conveniently lost or confused, gilded son Daley would have called in his favors, members of the labor union would have roughed up ballot counters, and both parties would've whined just as loudly.
Herein Lies the Rub
Americans must now face the truth: We live in a Third World country. Bush won the election the same way Mugabe won his in Zimbabwe. The shell may be different-- W. had lawyers, Mugabe had the youth brigade and "war veterans"--but the nut is the same. The only real difference is wealth: The U.S. has far more of it. But then again, it is extreme wealth that turned America into a Third World country. American capitalism has advanced to such dizzying heights that it no longer needs a social or political ideology to explain, justify, obscure its motives, and so, in one sweep, it has returned to its original state--naked, greedy, corrupt.
At the end of the hyper-prosperous Clinton era, confident capitalism now stands alone like a desert sun burning in the sky, brazenly enforcing its impossible moral order (loss is bad, profit is good) on our daily lives and dreams. As for the future of politics and democracy? To hell with democracy! If you want to participate in this new America, we recommend you give up voting and become a shareholder.