BTL Glasbeek leaderboard

Polarization and the Powder Keg

Social MovementsUSA Politics

Photo by Annette Bernhardt

The constitutional order of the US, such as it exists, faces a profound crisis of legitimacy, rooted in the multi polarity of US society. The US is divided among (1) a deeply entrenched police – judicial – presidential state against civil society organized in community based Afro-American, Hispanic and disinherited workers; (2) a corrupt Federal police, Justice, State Department and Presidential Office against a constitutional legal system upheld by the vast majority of citizens; and (3) a rigged Presidential electoral system against the consent and approval of the majority of the electorate.

The divisions in US society go far beyond the ‘opinions’ expressed in polls and surveys.

The polarization has found expression in mass street protests, ‘rejectionist’ votes and violent assaults. Are they heading toward a national uprising? Public officials describe the situation as ‘a powder keg on the verge of exploding’.

The Bazaar of Crooked Faces

The ruling elites feign control of the polarization. President Obama engages in impotent rhetorical appeals that impress nobody.

Corruption, deception and betrayal in high places are so rampant that mutual impunity has become the badge of collegiality. The most active citizens deny the legitimacy of all politicians, dismissing them as ‘all corrupt’.

The electoral system is a gigantic bazaar of crooked smiles, raucous inanities and vacuous promises … broken before they’re spoken.

If the courts, electoral process and police state act as a triumvirate beyond the reach of the vast majority of American citizens, then the people will turn to other methods and voices to challenge and change this tyranny of the elite.

The Power Keg is within the US

The US public has suffered two decades of declining living standard and instability, while the elite accumulated an immense concentration of wealth, privilege and power. The passive wait and patience are ending – promises of a better future fall on stone deaf ears and smiling inanities are met with grim faces.

The first sign of ‘the powder keg’ started with a loud fire-cracker. The young and hopeful had turned to support an in-house ‘democratic socialist’ and out-house ‘nationalist patriot’. The ‘crackers’ snapped, crackled and died! Promising to bring his supporters into the Democratic corral, Sanders melted in the carnal embrace of the ‘queen of chaos’, the candidate of decades of deceit and deception. Meanwhile, Trump’s working class patriots were turning into doormen for the bankers, Bible thumpers and Republican hucksters.

The electoral charade has failed to dampen the powder keg. There are too many fires burning across the land and too many resolute arsonists lighting the fuse.

The False Prophets of Justice: Unmasked

Unlike the electoral ‘explosion’ sputtering amid the voters’ rancor, black and brown communities do not take marching orders from the political con artists, judges and police chiefs. They do not follow the false prophets of electoral politics. Growing numbers are taking to the streets to fight back.

For the past eight years, President Obama has devastated black neighborhoods and schools, unleashing highly militarized police state forces while praising the black political officials (the ‘mis-leaders’) and black police who participate in terrorizing black communities. It is no surprise that the heightened social polarization has spread and deepened in the black neighborhoods. We are taken back to the 1960’s and 70’s when racial violence emanating down from the Office of the President to the courts to the police provoked reciprocal violence from the bottom upward to the elite.

The Lit Fuse

The revolt begins with the Afro-Americans and will spread to the Latino-Americans and beyond among the downwardly mobile white workers. The growing white working class revolt against the kleptocrat Clinton Dynasty has spread to encompass the popular rebellion against ‘the burn’ of renegade fake socialist ‘Bernie’ and the rest of the billionaire owned political system. The political rebellion is taking part throughout the American heartland.

A majority of Americans are polarized because they are denied basic stability in their everyday lives. They look back at their lost living standards and look forward to a grim and unacceptable future – especially for their youth and children.

America’s rebellion has diverse detonators: the plutocratic economy, the kleptocratic electoral system and the dehumanizing militarized police state.

The kleptocratic electoral system has brought together the greatest number of hostile voices reaching across racial lines and penetrating deeply within class divides.

The police-race polarization is most immediate and explosive. It is most likely to result in direct action.

The downwardly mobile white working class is the largest rebellious group, but has been the slowest to develop a class-consciousness and organize. Nevertheless, they have the greatest potential to overturn the system.

The disenchanted electoral rebels (the Bernie-supporters) are numerous and quick to act, but they are also the most easily deceived by political charlatans and con-artists.


The confluence of militant blacks, activist voters and downwardly mobile whites is only at the beginning of the great uprising. As yet, they do not ‘see each other’ in life, work, neighborhood or language, even as they share a profound common hostility to the police state tasked with protecting the political-economic elite.

Under what circumstances can they come together? At present there is no organization capable of unifying these dynamic and critical forces.

Spontaneous groups have emerged but they are transient and ‘single issue’.

Community-based organizations have their limited strategic vision and remain rooted in localities.

Alternative political parties and personalities have promise but are engage in electoral politics divorced from direct action, whether it involves the police, the courts or the economic system.

A ‘charismatic leader’ could emerge and bridge the different constituencies – downwardly mobile workers, militant blacks and politically disenfranchised activists may merge at some point around such a leader. But unless ‘the leader’ is harnessed to a powerful organized movement and directed by activist communities the threat of betrayal remains a real possibility.

We live in a time when the existing system is rotten and collapsing and when mass disaffection is growing. However, this is also a period when the ‘alternatives’ appear remote and intangible.

What is abundantly clear is that mere collapse and decay will not by itself bring about a mass popular rebellion to build a just society.

James Petras is author of The End of the Republic and the Delusion of Empire, Extractive Imperialism in the Americas: Capitalism’s New Frontier (with Henry Veltmeyer), and The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle East.

This article originally appeared on


PSAC leaderboard

Related Reading

Browse the Archive