In the 2015 film Bridge Of Spies set in the 1960s, attorney James Donovan, played by Tom Hanks, rhetorically reminds a CIA agent that the only thing that connects citizens of diverse ethnic and religious origins in the American nation is the common rulebook of the Constitution. He expresses the liberal view that the United States is the creation of a contract, according to English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke’s definition, and not a community of faith and culture, as Samuel Huntington claimed, or a civilisational state like India or China. 

The conventional, almost imaginary character of the US can be seen as a strength and a factor of openness, but also as a weakness insofar as, once the hallowed rulebook is disregarded, not much is left to hold the federation together.

It turns out that, like most man-made laws, the country’s basic principles have been broken or trodden upon on many occasions since independence. The French observer Tocqueville, for one, was much less positive about the condition of the young nation than is generally thought and a few years later, in 1842 Charles Dickens was appalled by the venality, violence, dishonesty and corruption he noticed in the political system, the economy, the press and in every other aspect of public life, as he scathingly reported.

Since then the United States has grown into the world’s greatest power, but it seems that the blots and vices have grown too, like spots on an inflating balloon. A vast library exists about the legal breaches and crimes the State has committed against both foreign nations and its own people, even though a mighty control system has kept many egregious offences from being publicly acknowledged and punished, unlike more mundane scandals such as the Watergate affair. It is enough to recall the USS Maine provocation, which triggered the Spanish-Cuban war, the deception of the American public that led to the false surprise at Pearl Harbor, the contrived “banana wars” in Central America, Washington’s clandestine cooperation with and protection of Nazi officers and scientists following the German defeat in 1945, the “Operation Ajax” CIA coup in Iran, the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, the fraudulent reasons for the Vietnam war (i.e. the Gulf of Tonkin incident), the Iran-Contra conspiracy, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and, more recently the covert support of armed rebellions in Libya, Syria and Ukraine and of Saudi Arabia in the civil war in Yemen. Ditto for the innumerable armed coups, insurrections and military dictatorships brought about or backed by Washington on all continents.

The transformation from a republic into a world spanning empire, as pointed out by Pat Buchanan and Chalmers Johnson among others, has also transmogrified the US governance system, under a pervasive “neo-conservative” influence, into an increasingly opaque and unaccountable regime in which “national security” agencies and the military-intelligence-industrial complex rule the roost. Several reports have shown that the Pentagon, for instance, cannot or will not account for several trillions of dollars it spent in the last decades. The State forged during the Cold War is now a permanent war machine that needs enemies to harness domestic support at home and among its allies and tributaries.

This semi-privatised oligarchic system shows its hand in the condition of the two parties that share power. This year only 9% of all US citizens had a say in the selection of the two “finalist” candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Other parties remain irrelevant distractions and could only be invited in the pre-election debates if they gathered 15% of voting intentions in nationwide polls. Yet, attaining that recognition level requires a minimum of 250 million dollars in funding, while a presidential campaign costs about a billion. It is well established that the number of votes a candidate can garner is directly proportional to the money he or she spends. Thus the two “official” parties have erected insurmountable barriers to prevent outsiders from challenging them on the national turf. That plutocratic state of affairs reflects the structure of an economic system controlled by the Federal Reserve Board, a consortium of banks formed at a secret confabulation held on Jekyll Island in 1913 by leading financiers from the US and Europe, representing mainly Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Warburg and the Rothschilds.

The transnational governance structure gradually installed through the Council on Foreign Relations, the United Nations, NATO, Trilateral Commission, World Bank, IMF and other global institutions and foundations has been opposed from the start by the American nationalistic faction, which equates the globalist project with an oligarchic, monopolistic kind of socialism, leading to the hegemony of a shrinking number of major corporations and banks, and wants to “nationalise” or abolish the Fed. 

While Hillary Clinton is the chosen representative of the financial and political status quo to replace Barack Obama, Donald Trump has come “from Left Field”, channelling the anger and anguish of the white middle and lower classes to take over the Republican Party. He carries the hopes of many of those who want to change the current order in the name of American individualistic, entrepreneurial traditions, including Tea Party businessmen, wildcatters of the Mid-West or small farmers who have been devastated by Wall Street guided policies.

The US political system is showing signs of terminal fatigue. A majority of Americans have a negative opinion of both the “anointed” candidates. Whereas Trump is reviled in the national security establishment, which, in an unprecedented move, signed a letter to warn the public that he is “dangerous” and unfit to lead the country, most people are aware of the Clintons’s murky dealings and questionable associations. 

Hillary Clinton has used her official positions and powers to fundraise for her family foundation and charge seven-figure “lecture fees” at home and abroad, conversely serving the interests of her domestic and foreign donors. That makes her suspect of systematic corruption and she is also accused of repeatedly committing perjury before a Congressional Commission. An even worse charge is that she helped build up terrorist Islamic guerrilla groups, including ISIS by ordering arms to be shipped to them from Libya to Syria.

Against those issues which should at the very least bar her from holding public office, the rambunctious obstreperousness displayed by Trump seems almost innocuous and his political virginity protects him from the disrepute which bedevils most professionals in the field. However, he raises an unacceptable threat to many in positions of power and privilege because he could be driven by his own promises and by a restless electorate to make radical changes in the domestic and foreign policies of the country in a scenario in which US influence and credit abroad are rapidly waning.

If Hillary Clinton is elected, she may be unable to govern effectively because of her personal limitations and flaws, given the widespread opposition and suspicion her track record generates. A Trump victory, on the other hand, will generate more turmoil and conflict in a racially and socially divided and troubled nation. The political system might not resist that stress level and some of Trump’s statements indicate that he would like to make a break from it and even disregard some constitutional provisions, as perhaps the only way to get out of chronic gridlock between the executive and legislative branches.

Jeanne Kirkpatrick, President Reagan’s UN envoy commented that Americans play Monopoly, while Soviets played chess. She wondered whether the former would manage to bankrupt the latter before being checkmated by them. The USSR was indeed bankrupted, but now the US feels checkmated and risks bankruptcy too. The Emperor is being stripped in full view of the world.

Come Carpentier de Gourdon, convenor of the International Board of World Affairs, The Journal of International Issues, is the author of various books—the most recent being Memories Of A Hundred And One Moons: An Indian Odyssey (2015)—and of many published papers about such topics as history of culture and science, geopolitics, exopolitics, philosophy and aspects of Indian civilisation. He has lectured in several universities in India and in other countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas.