The last couple of years have been quite turbulent in terms of public agitation and protests. Apart from the uprisings of the Arab Spring, more recently we have had the massive protests in Turkey over plans to develop a public park that have escalated into larger protests against the governments attempts to chip away at that country’s secular framework. Then we have the huge protests in Brazil that started in opposition to hikes in the cost of public transit but have also escalated into criticisms of corruption and of government policies that seem to emphasize spending on showy projects like hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 while money is needed for basic social services and infrastructure.
In both those countries, the sheer size of the public protests have forced the governments to respond but in different ways. In Turkey the government seems to have decided to crack down while in Brazil the government has already reversed the fare hikes, promised to invest in public infrastructure, and seems to be willing to negotiate on other issues such as increased spending for health services and education.
But compare this with what is happening in the US where there have also been great injustices perpetrated. Apart from the most recent revelations of the government spying on practically everyone on a massive scale, we have revelations of torture, cutting back on basic services and infrastructure while money is spent on the military and defense and private intelligence contractors on wars without end and which have no discernible benefits, we have a huge and growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, we have massive scandals in the financial sector that have ruined many people and yet not a single senior person in the financial world has been threatened with criminal prosecution and in fact continue to pay themselves huge salaries and bonuses, and clear evidence that the executive and the Congress are now entirely in the pockets of the oligarchy. Meanwhile the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with the prisons overcrowded with people who commit petty crimes.
If one expected something in the US in proportion to the response to the provocations on the people in Turkey and Brazil, there should be tens of millions of people in the streets of every major American city demanding changes. But this is not happening.
For a country that prides itself on its fierce individuality and a spirit of belligerent resistance (as exemplified by the popularity of the ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ slogan and flags) it is a remarkable testimony to how much people here have been either beaten down or are passive or have been successfully distracted from seeing the depth of the corruption that is rotting its society.
Stephen Colbert talks about the Brazil situation with a reporter who has covered that country.
(This clip aired on June 25, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)