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Our America: The Blessing of Liberty

Language is alive. Diachronic linguistics has taught us that words often change meaning over time. In a 2014 piece written for TED[1], language historian Anne Curzan notes how words like “nice” and “silly” actually meant the opposite of what they mean in our current usage. Nice meant “silly, foolish, simple,” while silly meant “worthy or blessed.” One particular combination of words that has evidently changed drastically over time, too, is The United States of America. Initially this nomenclature apparently meant nation, freedom, liberty, as well as many other philosophical and practical concepts which would guide a people to define themselves as members of a democratic nation, THE democratic nation. But somewhere along the way the words have gained a very different meaning. Someone has to say it: today the words The United States of America simply signify a business model—a framework that guides all the missions, decisions, and activities of an enterprise towards the increase of capital. In a business model, profit is the goal and achieving it the only marker of success. The United States of America has become an arena in which all activity must be justified by how much money it can bring in. And the current president is the logical culmination of this morphing of a nation into a business.

In the few months since the election, I have seen various news outlets express their dismay about the results of the past election, confused as to how they could be so wrong in their projections. Similarly, I saw philosophers, historians, academics, and even celebrities reject the outcome, many even called for the Electoral College to break with the results. However, one thing I cannot look past is that, while (as of last count) 65,844,954 USians[2] voted for Clinton, myself included, the fact remains that 62,979,879 USians voted for the current president (I refuse to say or type his name). Listen to the number: wrap your head around the fact that 62,979,879 people, 62,979,879 of We the People, elected to vote for this president. Whether they voted out of anger, fear, racism, sexism, classism, trust, a sheer sense of self-destruction, fascination with celebrity, lack of information, spite, or just a desire to see what happens, 62,979,879 “bought” a product: a product that promised to Make America Great Again, to repeal Obamacare, to build a wall, to create jobs, to not just fire but prosecute Clinton, and countless other empty promises which sounded like things that belong in late night infomercials. The new president sold promises, and 62,979,879 bought it. That is one hell of a market share. Sell soap or, better yet, cheap red hats to 62,979,879 people and your business will be considered very successful.

Once we accept that The United States of America is a business model fully implemented, it’s not that hard to see how it all went so wrong. Take again the press as an example. Forget the surprised looks and dejected body language, all the while they were secretly salivating. Much as they covered the election cycle ad nauseam, they will now cover the new president ad nauseam. Why? Because the ratings dictate they do so. As Brooke Gladstone states in The Influencing Machine (2011), we get the press we want; i.e. the press responds to ratings by giving us more of what brings in the ratings. Therefore, we can no longer talk of the press or journalism as a profession out to get the truth and inform the public, but much as we now must talk about The United States of America as a business model, we must speak of the press as a division or department in that business model. This business model trickles down, coopting other “institutions.” Education, health care, the arts: these and other former “institutions” have become part of the business model that is The United States of America. We push our products on our own people and on other nations, perhaps in the hope of absorbing their nationhood into our business model.

One segment of U.S. citizens knows this business model very well: it resides on the island of Puerto Rico. In the grip of an economic crisis, the island found itself “occupied[3]” by an oversight board appointed by President Obama, one which had been tasked with restructuring the island’s finances. PROMESA—the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act—establishes among many things the primacy of paying off Puerto Rico’s debt to bond holders before any funds may be used towards paying government employees or fixing infrastructure. PROMESA also opens the door to lower minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $4.25 for the next four years. I must add that the majority of the seven members of the PROMESA board reside outside the island. Thus, this board serves as a microcosm of Puerto Rico’s actual status as a U.S. territory. But, again, this is a business model in action. The purpose here is to guarantee that the money flows where it needs to, regardless of the short- and long-term consequences this may have on We the People. I can foresee PROMESA-type boards being implemented soon in the rest of The United States of America. This is the type of intervention most businesses would implement to cut costs and increase profit. And with the new president, this mentality seems a foregone conclusion.

In a climate where the nation ceases to exist and business structures flourish, we get the current situation. It’s the only logical conclusion. If we get the press we want, we also get the government we want. And it seems 62,979,879 wanted this business model. That is a fact journalists, educators, artists, and many others will have to accept if they want to stand their ground, revive their professions, and effect change. Clearly, a business model cannot dictate the way to govern, teach, or inform. One way to combat the model is to return to the basics of what our vocations mean. Teach the 62,979,879. Help inform them. Only then can we regain,  ourselves and our posterity," the nationhood, liberty, and freedom that characterized The United States of America. It’s either that or we give in to the new “silly” and the new “nice,” and we see the 62,979,879 market share soon become a billion.

[1] Curzan, Anne. 20 Words That Once Meant Something Very Different. Published June 18, 2014.

[2] An expression I borrow from Jim Hicks, used to refer to Americans, in recognition that America refers to a hemisphere, one that is comprised by more nations that just the U.S.

[3] Section 4 of the Law, entitled Supremacy (unreal, I know), states that “The provisions of this Act shall prevail over any general or specific provisions of territory law, State law, or regulation that is inconsistent with this Act.”

Born in the Bronx, raised in Puerto Rico, Daniel Nevarez Araujo now survives brutal New England winters as a Ph.D candidate and instructor in Comparative Literature at UMass, Amherst. He holds a BBA in Accounting and an MA in English Literature from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras.


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