When Hurricane Katrina blew into New Orleans in the end of August, it blew away a lot more than just the lives and livelihoods of a city full of people. It should also have destroyed, for once and all, any illusions anyone still had about the true nature of American society and politics.
America's dominant position in the world is sustained by a number of underpinnings, one of which is its image as a glamorous land of opportunity and prosperity. This is an image carefully cultivated by such media as Hollywood movies, television series and other products of the "entertainment" industry that are marketed around the world and eagerly swallowed hook, line and sinker by impressionable youth and gullible adults around the world. The reality, of course, is very different, and easily accessible through news programs and other such source, although these are a lot less seductive than the polished image. After the shocking scenes beamed around the world from Louisiana after Katrina, the harsh reality of American society should be plain for all to see.
As the hurricane approached the city's authorities did absolutely nothing to help its 1.5 million poor people – predominantly black – to escape. Advising people to use public transport, and calling on religious organizations to help, is not a rational plan of action for a major city in the world's richest country. The result was that while the city's elites and middle classes fled, hundreds of thousands of the city's poor were left to fend for themselves. The results were the scenes of despair and criminality that shocked the world, and the police orders to shoot looters who were only trying to feed themselves. Revealingly, the instincts of the authorities were to save and protect property rather than lives.
The disaster has been blamed on the incompetence of some officials, but its roots go far deeper than that. It lies in the attitude of America's elites towards its poor, and the fact that those who rise to positions of authority in America are those who serve the interests of elites rather than of its people. The simple fact is that, as the disaster loomed, there was no-one in government in New Orleans whose instinct was to protect the interests and lives of the city's masses.
The same attitude has been seen in subsequent developments, with the city authorities planning to restore its wealthy and tourist areas, while abandoning the far larger areas that had been homes to hundreds of thousands of poor people, now scattered in trailer parks around the country. Congressman Richard Baker, a Republican from Baton Rouge, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal on September 9 as saying that "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."
Brent Warr, the mayor of Gulfport, Mississippi, was quoted in the New York Times as saying: "Property values are going to skyrocket here. All the unattractive stuff has been blown away... We have an opportunity here to make this an absolutely unique place. God has come in and wiped the slate clean for us."
Such attitudes towards ordinary American people, and the public values guiding its leaders and statesmen reflected in such statements, are a damning indictment of the true nature of American society and government. Surely no one can still remain under any illusions about the US.