How does the US sustain hegemony through fake theories
Published: Jan 11, 2023 12:07 AM
A woman wears a sweater with an image of Patrick Lyoya as protesters march for Lyoya, a Black man who was fatally shot by a police officer, in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, the US on April 16, 2022. Photo: VCG

A woman wears a sweater with an image of Patrick Lyoya as protesters march for Lyoya, a Black man who was fatally shot by a police officer, in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, the US on April 16, 2022. Photo: VCG

Editor's Note:  
How have theories of "American exceptionalism" and "American innocence" influenced US culture? Why is the problem of racism deeply rooted in the US? Global Times (GT) reporter Yu Jincui organized a dialogue between Wei Leijie (Wei), associate professor at the School of Law, Xiamen University, and Danny Haiphong (Haiphong), an independent journalist and researcher in the US, over these issues. Wei is among the translators of the book American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People's History of Fake News - From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror, coauthored by Roberto Sirvent and Haiphong.

Wei: At the invitation of GT, I am glad to have this opportunity to communicate with Mr. Haiphong. Let's start with the World Cup in Qatar. Some Western countries, especially European countries, on the eve of the World Cup, launched criticism over the so-called human rights record in Qatar, which FIFA chief Gianni Infantino said double standards are behind the critics. He also said "For what we Europeans have been doing around the world in the last 3,000 years we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people." Mr. Haiphong, what do you think of Infantino's comments? 

Haiphong: Infantino is simply pointing out that Western countries have no right to lecture others given that they have yet to rectify their own human rights abuses. On this point, I cannot disagree. History demonstrates that Western countries have participated in the most brutal crimes against humanity. These crimes include colonialism, economic exploitation, and endless militarism. In the current period, Western countries rely upon spreading ideological narratives about "exceptionalism" to conceal the many shortcomings of their corporate-dominated system. Economic inequality, rampant racism, and military expansionism have caused immense suffering for the vast majority of humanity, and Western countries share the bulk of responsibility for all of it.
Wei: Compared with Europe's 3,000-year history, the US has only a history of less than 300 years, but its history of war and exploitation has lasted for centuries. Just as your book said, American culture emerged from the political economy of a nation-state founded on imperial theft, slavery, and genocide. Many Chinese readers said they learn the disgraceful side of the US through reading your book, for instance, some founding leaders of the nation were slave owners but described as "liberators" and the US government used the War on Terror as an excuse to justify military expansion. I wonder, are there many narratives like this in the education that the American people receive?

Haiphong: Absolutely. The US education system has a very specific purpose: to aid in the reproduction of the US's unipolar system of imperial and corporate domination. This requires fables, stories, and distortions of history to be disseminated as fact. 

Children at an early age learn in school that George Washington was a liberator rather than a slave owner and that Thanksgiving was a pleasant meal between the indigenous people and their colonial counterparts. The truth, of course, is much less favorable to the US's origins story and points to a system of exploitation that remains in dire need of transformation to rectify a myriad of ills, historic and current.

Wei: You mentioned the subprime mortgage crisis in your book, saying it was middle-class black families who were deliberately deceived by American financial capitalists, who segregated black neighborhoods and devalued black houses... I also noticed that in the early days of COVID-19 epidemic, more black, Latino and Native Americans died, and death rates were significantly higher for low-income groups than for high-income groups. Why is the problem of racism deeply rooted in the US, leading ethnic minorities to become more and more disadvantaged groups?

Haiphong: Racism is first and foremost a profitable arrangement. Historically, slavery and colonialism brought enormous riches to industrial and planter capitalists alike and were justified by intense racism. The legacy of this history lives on through racial discrimination in healthcare, employment, policing and every social indicator of society. Racial discrimination allows corporations to extract super profits through disparities in wages and services. Furthermore, racism is a system of social control that confers privileges to those deemed "human" and strips political power from those deemed "subhuman." This has riddled the US with fundamental divisions that make unity among the lower classes difficult to obtain, an ideal condition for a ruling class dependent upon exploitation and repression to maintain its rule. 

Wei: Book reviews in China say that the book is a revolutionary work, which tells readers a completely different story about the US and reveals the deep logic behind many seemingly contradictory phenomena in the US society. Why did you unflinchingly write such a book that exposes America's current social, political, economic, and ideological crisis?
Haiphong: My co-author Roberto Sirvent reached out to me during the 2016 election period after having read my work in the Black Agenda Report. He convinced me that writing an analysis that synthesizes my work with his academic research would be a good way to dissect American exceptionalism.

At the time, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were causing a rupture in the established political order in the United States. Black Lives Matter protests had challenged the racist character of the police and prison systems. Decades of endless war around the world had caused war fatigue in the US and a multipolar world led by nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America was challenging US hegemony. The US was in a state of upheaval, leading elites to intensify their campaign of miseducation and misinformation to shape the political landscape.

For all these reasons, both Roberto and I found it important to create a primer for activists, educators, and people from all walks of life to understand how ideologies such as American exceptionalism work to reproduce oppressive conditions. This has become all the more important as US elites continue to scapegoat with greater intensity nations such as China for the mounting social problems that they've created. American exceptionalism and American innocence comprise of a series of myths that have been disseminated as reality. Their influence on American political, economic, and military policy makes them incredibly dangerous tools for war and oppression. Our book is meant to counter these tools by developing a collective consciousness of how they work and their significance in the development of the US's social system from past to present.

Wei: American Exceptionalism and American Innocence have served as habitual excuses by the US to shirk its international responsibilities and cover domestic conflicts and are ultimately where US double standards lie. To what extent do you think ordinary Americans are influenced by these "American values"? After the book came out, what kind of response have you received in the US? What is the general opinion of ordinary Americans on this book?

Haiphong: Ordinary Americans are currently experiencing a growing contradiction. On the one hand, so-called American values such as "freedom" and "liberty" remain primary markers of what it means to identify with the United States. On the other, escalating poverty, police violence, and political instability has led many Americans to question the legitimacy of the US's social system. This has led to an unprecedented level of distrust in the US governance system amongst the general public. It has also produced several protest movements seeking political and social change.

The reception that the book has received in the United States has reflected the polarized political situation in the country. A good number of people have appreciated the book for its searing critique of the American system. Some have criticized the book for the very same reasons. However, the major issue for the book has been censorship. Mainstream US media and major reviewers have largely ignored the book for its lack of conformity to established narratives on US foreign policy, race relations, and political economy.

Wei: American Exceptionalism and American Innocence have brought many "dividends" to the US and American Dream. Now and in the future, what risks and crises may American Exceptionalism and American Innocence bring to the US? 

Haiphong: Because American exceptionalism and American innocence rely on mythology, they bring many risks to the future of the United States. The biggest is that the American public, especially working people, remain ideologically unprepared for the inevitable crises happening now and those to come.

For example, the US is leading a dangerous New Cold War against China and Russia simultaneously. US aggression toward these rising powers to the East has led to massive increases in the US military budget and the threat of direct military confrontation. But because American exceptionalism and innocence have framed China and Russia as the "enemy" of so-called US national interests, most people in the US have forsaken the cause of peace. This includes a large section of the most politically active Americans, even those that identify with leftwing political principles and social justice.

Beyond the risk of war, American exceptionalism and innocence disempowers the poor and working people. American exceptionalism extols the US governance system, preventing people from envisioning transformational policy beyond the confines of the US's two-party political system. Major political change is needed in the US to solve its growing social, political, and economic decay. But American exceptionalism and innocence directs the energy and vision of the people toward establishment politicians that claim to represent them but then enact policy that serves elites at the expense of the general population.

The US was arguably never a "democracy" if the definition of the word is a society that is governed by, for, and of the people. The US has always been a democracy for the few, for a minority, and a dictatorship of capital over the many. 

US foreign policy is strictly a reproduction of this form of democracy in the international arena. The term "authoritarian" more accurately describes US foreign policy than it does nations like China and Russia. Cold War tropes like authoritarianism serve two main functions: to justify US imperial aggression and to deflect from the shortcomings of its own system. 

Wei: There is one chapter "Is American 'Aid' Assistance or Theft? The Case of Africa" in your book which impressed me greatly. There is a view that China's Belt and Road Initiative has been implemented to benefit Africa while the US simply puts forward slogans like Build Back Better World. Why does the US not do enough in relation to Africa? What are the underlying causes? 

Haiphong: The US has followed Western countries in treating Africa as a profitable opportunity for itself rather than a mutual partner in development. Europe was politically ejected from the African continent due to the pressure of World War II-era damage and independence movements which emerged in African countries. The US exploited its newfound global hegemony to dominate the African continent through uneven debt arrangements facilitated by Western financial institutions.

But by the 1980s, the United States was beginning to experience economic contraction and instituted brutal privatization and austerity to enrich its elites and stabilize the system. Many African countries became the targets of brutal poverty and debt imposed by US-dominated financial institutions. China's rise has provided an alternative to US-led financial arrangements, many of which have decreased in recent years. US trade volume with African nations is less than $40 billion, or five times smaller than China-Africa trade. China has invested at least 2.5 times more in infrastructure development than all the West combined.

The US and its allies in the West have become overextended in their imperial reach, and have thus become dependent on military power and political interference to maintain hegemony. Infrastructure and social development are viewed as little more than external costs that hinder unipolar domination. In other words, US militarism has become a drag on progress and its growing instability has only intensified its pursuit of war.

Wei: To us, you called for social justice movements in the last few chapters of the book which this seems to suggest a certain communist stance. If this is correct, how do you see the future of the American communist movement?  

Haiphong: Indeed, the book approaches American development both historic and contemporary from a communist analytical frame. While communism has long become a taboo subject in the United States due to the influence of Cold War McCarthyism. But it holds important lessons for understanding development. One of them is recognizing the unity of opposites, or contradictions, and how their constant motion leads to revolutionary transformation. This is also known as dialectical materialism, and Marx applied its principles to economic development to explain the role of classes in shaping history.

The American communist movement has dealt with numerous internal and external contradictions that have hindered its own development. They are too numerous to explain here. But at this moment, the future of the American communist movement is difficult to discern. On the one hand, conditions in the United State are ripe for the growth of communist ideas and formations. Inequality is worse now in the US than 200 years ago. Race relations are at a similarly low level. Abundant wealth is concentrated in a few hands while life expectancy plummets. So-called political rights like free speech have been eviscerated by an increasingly heavy-handed policing and incarceration systems.

These conditions have helped generate a renewed interest in socialism among the younger population. They have also created a difficult environment to spread new ideas, and the fact that the US mainstream media is owned by a few corporations has not helped matters. Struggling workers find themselves exhausted by declining living standards and awash in pro-capitalist and American exceptionalist propaganda from the media and the U.S. political class. It is unclear whether these contradictions can be overcome actualize a more just system in the US, but our book attempts to provide a tool that will hopefully inspire such a development.

Wei: The "double standards" of the US in the fields of economy, trade and science and technology are becoming more and more obvious, which means only I can develop, you cannot. The "Chips and Science Act" and "Inflation Reduction Act" introduced by the United States this year shocked all European allies. More and more countries are unsatisfied with the US double standards and are unwilling to cooperate. What do you think is the cure for American double standards? Who can supervise the US? What can the international community do?

Haiphong: The cure for American double standards is multifaceted. Indeed, people in the US will need to chart a new course of development. This will undoubtedly require mass social movements that unite oppressed and exploited people toward a common vision more amenable to the principles of peaceful development. These movements will need to confront US hegemony and American exceptionalism, and promote the principles of international law.

The international community must continue to develop toward multipolarity and respect for the UN Charter. At the moment, China is the most stable leader of this development, but there are many nations which also follow the correct path of mutual respect and peaceful development. The Group of Friends in Defense of the UN Charter is but one formation which represents a positive global movement for peace.

It will ultimately be Global South nations in Asia, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere that create a world order where US double standards no longer predominate. This doesn't mean they wage war on the US, but rather keep developing together as a positive influence. History has demonstrated that the US will not allow this without confrontation, so unity in the cause of peace will likely require staunch self-defense to maintain. 

Wei: In the future, the US will still be the No.1 power in the world, and the decline of the US is actually a relative decline. Taking these factors into consideration, the international community must unite and "vote with their feet" to express their dissatisfaction with US hegemony and show their unwillingness to continue to cooperate. On November 3, 2022, the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for an end to the US-led embargo on Cuba 核对 with as many as 185 countries voting in favor of the resolution. There is an old saying in China, "A just cause enjoys abundant support while an unjust cause finds little support." 

I believe that this highlights the overall trend for the future, namely that more and more countries will see the US for what it is and stand up to its hegemony, which is always expressed in the form of "double standards".

Haiphong: Yes. As the US becomes more isolated, the defense of sovereignty will depend on global integration. The strengthening of the China-led Belt and Road Initiative, the Eurasian Economic Union, and other multilateral arrangements is thus of utmost importance to break the chains of unipolar domination in all of its forms.