Neo-liberalism began as an economic ideology, a theory that concentrating wealth by deregulating the private sector’s affluent businesses will lead to the economic growth of the whole society. Paradoxically, this practice decreases government spending on social programs for the needy and poor while increasing aid—i.e. fiscal bailouts and tax alleviation—for private financial institutions. Neo-liberalism inherently, and arguably purposefully, leads to perpetual socioeconomic inequality and the corrosion of democracy through bolstering the cost of political elections, thereby demanding that the bipartisan system be funded by corporate interests and shaped by policy lobbyists.
The ideology infiltrated the American political arena first in the 1970s—popularized in the ‘80s by the Reagan Administration as “trickle-down economics”—fostering the lowest minimum wages since the 1950’s. [See study above] Since then, the ideology has evolved, tumbled, and developed beyond prescribed economic inequalities into a doctrine disguised, emboldened, and proliferated by the expansive influence of overarching American foreign policy and military imperialism. Neo-liberalism, an ideology political elites have embraced and forced upon their constituents, is the root cause of copious aggression both at home and abroad.
First, the economic inequalities for the vast majority of Americans has led to polarization both on the political and social spectrum. While the contemporary American Left is taught to ignore the Democratic Party’s atrocious foreign policy, favoritism of financial institutions, and bailouts of Wall Street behind a veil of social progress; the American Right is indoctrinated to have faith in cutting taxes for corporate interests and that the ‘cultural values’ of the Republican Party do not lend themselves to the very social progress distracting the left from neo-liberal tendencies.
The people of this country are angry, but they don’t know who they’re angry at. The public has taken their rage and focused it on each other with hateful speech, unproductive mockery, and tangible physical violence. The fury of polarization within the political conversation is the result of the disparities in the concentration of wealth and a sense of total powerlessness to change things in the world for the better.
For example, the influence of white nationalism is as present in American politics as it has been in many years. Typically, one would think the violence in question would be incited by the innately racist, aggressive, and odiously disparaging demographic. Last June in Sacramento, however, a group of leftists took it to a neo-nazi demonstration before the fascists threw a punch. Not only is this detrimental to the absolute, unbending law of free speech, it does not accomplish the goal of eradicating and de-legitimizing racist extremist groups. Peaceful, self-defensive counter-demonstrations are the correct form of action in response to these political threats. Inciting violence at a lawful and permitted, albeit nazi, demonstration merely empowers the fascists and allocates sympathy to their deplorable cause and agenda.
Another example of a violent manifestation of neo-liberalism against peers in society was at an event for the Presidency of Donald Trump. First, it bears mentioning that none of the following suggests that Trump’s campaign wasn’t violent and built upon sectarian xenophobia, bigotry, and racism. It has merely been well-documented and therefore represents the opposing side of this distasteful political contention. Protesters at the rally in Costa Mesa, California took their vehemence out on the spectators. Many of the attendees, though extremely misguided by their willingness for a Trump Presidency, did not deserve to be mocked, or for objects to be hurled at them. This is not to say that there are not countless examples of the contrary both at this rally and others. Besides the numerous examples of blatant racism and xenophobia from Trump voters, their anger reflects a similar discontent for neo-liberal policies that transcend party lines and send their jobs overseas. The point is this: The deliberate bipartisan brain-washing is corrupting America’s judgement. Just like violent Trump supporters, these left-wing assailants were taking their feelings of powerlessness out on the powerless.
A call to violence such as this is shaped by the broader message of the state and the socialization masked as political rhetoric. For the majority of his Presidency, Barack Obama did a poor job of uniting political parties. Again, this is not to say that he wasn’t faced with unprecedented racism and bigotry; an undeniable result of which being the thriving white nationalist movement. However tough the road was, Obama did not unite the country, and the arrogant patronizing of leftist political commentators did not help the situation.
Besides the bigoted inclinations in the margins of the American Right, one reason others couldn’t get behind Obama was his hawkish and imperialistic foreign policy, which many also thought was too soft. In a Pew Research Poll, six in ten Republicans said Obama takes into account other countries’ interests too much concerning foreign policy. Both Obama and Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s policies are reminiscent of the broader, developed definition of neo-liberalism while the current trend of the Right has abandoned similar Bush era policy, favoring ‘America first’ isolationism.
As the definition of liberalism has been stretched, the meaning of neo-liberalism has broadened as well. While liberalism is supposed to represent anti-war diplomacy, it takes form in neo-liberalism by forcing the Western way of life and the façade of democracy onto other countries with different cultures, values, and governments. Essentially, this perspective assumes the world is lawless, and that democratic law should be enforced upon others, seeking undisclosed benefits.
While killing civilians and establishing a bloated military presence around the world, the United States acts as if we are its peace-keepers. During the year 2016 alone, the Obama Administration dropped more than 26,000 bombs on seven different countries including Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan in the interests of assassinating terrorists with imprecise drone strikes while using fabricated criteria to kill thousands of civilians in the process.
Shaped largely by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the former half of his Presidency, the idiosyncrasies of the Obama cabinet’s foreign policy were destroy and conquer. Establishing troops in Libya after NATO supported rebels in the overthrow of the Qaddafi dictatorship, using the threat of ISIS to keep troops in the toppled state of Iraq after the Bush Administration failed to set up a stable government, and deploying troops to fight in the tragic Syrian and Yemeni civil wars are all examples of neo-liberal intervention.
Though the cause of facilitating Libyan freedom was indeed admirable, the lack of aid given to the Libyan people to set up a democratic government reveals our unwillingness to provide the assistance neo-liberal rhetoric claims to deliver while using the conflicts to benefit our military presence and influence. Meanwhile, Libya descended into a haven of terror. This is due, in part, to the precarious nature of post-insurgent Libya that culminated in augmented terrorism and the proliferation of violence even after the civil war had ended.
Another example is the similar campaign in Iraq. The coup of Saddam Hussein’s regime was an attempt to instill the American values of democracy after the intelligence community incorrectly reported that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. After killing thousands of civilians and enriching Dick Cheney’s former company Halliburton wealthy business benefiting from neo-liberal economic policies—American troops began departing from the country in 2011. Leaving it in shambles, Iraq became a hotbed for terrorist extremists such as DAESH, or the Islamic State. While revamping the battle in Iraq to fight ISIS, we deployed more troops to aid the civil war in Syria, without adequately assisting the rebels or the deeply inhumane bloodshed in Aleppo carried out by Russian, Iranian, and Syrian forces.
In a Reuters’ analysis of Obama’s announcement to deploy troops there, he was paraphrased in saying that the “American intervention would be limited and aimed neither at ending Syria’s cataclysmic civil war nor forcing Assad from power.” Clearly the intervention wasn’t planned with the possibility of liberating the Syrian people and establishing a democracy. Therefore, the intervention and establishment of troops bolstering American influence in the region and combating the threat of ISIS, is another example of interventionist tactics behind the curtain of neo-liberal foreign policy.
Essentially, our country is killing both innocent and guilty people alike to remain dominate across the world and spread “democratic values” while never truly empowering Libya, Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan to institute secure democratic governments of their own. Defending against terrorism doesn’t mean taking offense to innocent civilians in an unbearably troubled region of the world. It does not create the peace we claim to be after. On the contrary, it continues to leave vacuums for violent extremists who perpetuate the violence neo-liberalism has produced. And all of it, including violence at home, is done on the premise of forcing our values onto other people. Far removed from the ideology of imbalanced economics, this is what the definition of neo-liberalism has become.
Except that we, the citizens of America, cannot see the chains this destructive it has on us, or the massive global consequences. The ideology has us acquiescing to the demands and goals of a hostile foreign policy by both promoting and facilitating the immense differences in American culture to keep us occupied. To effectively end needless violence and divergence, Americans should do our best to unite against our oppressors and promote a peaceful message for the people who live here, and around the world.
Ryan Beitler is a journalist, fiction writer, musician, and travel blogger. He has contributed to PASTE Magazine, OC Weekly, Addiction Now, and his travel blog Our Little Blue Rock