Discovering America As It Is
by Valdas Anelauskas
Review by Hans Sherrer
Review published in Prison Legal News, April 2000 issue
Paperback, 1999, 584 pp.
Discovering America is Valdas Anelauskas' challenge to the oft heard claim that America is the greatest country in the world.
As a former Soviet dissident who emigrated to the United States ten years ago with stars in his eyes, Valdas Anelauskas is uniquely qualified to write a book that looks at America from a perspective different from the one promoted by Time magazine and Kathy Lee Gifford.
Two of this country's flaws that Anelauskas focuses on, are that it's not as free as people in Russia are led to believe, and it has a class structure organized by one's economic condition, social standing, and political connections. These observations about defects in American society aren't original, but they have special meaning because of Anelauskas background of experiencing the worst aspects of Soviet society firsthand.
The most ardent supporters of what Anelauskas refers to as American capitalism readily admit there is not and never will be economic, social, or political equality in this country. However, they religiously advance the "rising tide" theory of prosperity and social justice. That theory is based on the notion that everyone in society benefits from the accumulation of wealth by members of the upper economic classes, just like all sizes of boats are raised by an incoming tide.
Discovering America challenges the "rising tide" theory by using examples to show that lower and middle class people don't automatically benefit from the prosperity enjoyed by the upper class of American society. It isn't surprisingly that among those championing the "rising tide" theory are academics cloistered from the real world, and politicians who benefit from the financial favors of well-heeled people and large businesses.
The book's 13 chapters echo variations of chapter one, The Best System the Moneyed Can Buy. An obvious example of the privilege money bestows is the way "justice" has a price tag the poor in this country can't afford. The idea that the justice system is fundamentally unjust is underscored by it being woven into a number of different chapters.
Anelauskas fills the role of the little boy in The Emperor's New Clothes by exposing many unpleasant truths about American society to the light of day. Unfortunately, the people most in need of reading the book will be the least likely to read it. Perhaps recognizing that critics will try and dismiss Discovering America as a rant by a disgruntled emigrant, Anelauskas supports his arguments with over 2,500 footnotes.
Discovering America presents a convincing case that in many important ways, the United States of the 21st century hasn't advanced beyond Anatole France's observation of almost 100 years ago: The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
In looking at where current trends are leading, Anelauskas sees globalization, a buzzword for the world-wide spread of American capitalism, as a threat to establish this country's economic, social, and political injustices in countries around the world. The World Trade Organization is one instrument of globalization, and grassroots opposition to its policies is developing in the United States and countries around the world.
Valdas Anelauskas has written a valuable addition to the growing number of books detailing how the lowly financial position of many tens of millions of Americans effectively disenfranchises them from having a voice in how they are viewed and treated by the political process.