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U.S. Politics as “Societal Malware”

Can a poorly operating political system infest a country like a computer can fall prey to a virus?

August 5, 2011

Can a poorly operating political system infest a country like a computer can fall prey to a virus?

“Malware,” short for malicious software, consists of program code, scripts and other software — whether hostile, intrusive or merely annoying — that is intended to disrupt or deny the proper functioning of a computer system or network.

Such malware can easily infect computers all over the world, with little regard for national borders. Surreptitious as it is, dealing with it is very frustrating and time-consuming.

There is a societal equivalent to malware, too, which can turn into a major problem as well. It can can take the form of inefficiency, corruption or similarly detrimental forms of human behavior that infect systems of government.

That is why advanced countries usually see to it that they are based on a clean, smoothly functioning, non-disruptive “operating system,” as far as their economics and politics are concerned.

It is precisely on this front that the United States of America faces a surprising problem. Its political operating system is infested with considerably more malware than is the case for any other developed society.

True, people pretty much everywhere are frustrated these days with the political process in their country. In one form or another, dissatisfaction with politics has been with humanity since antiquity.

But usually, the level of vituperativeness and abrasiveness that manifests itself between political parties inside a given country is in an inverse proportional relationship to the level of economic development and prosperity found in that country.

It is here where the trend of the recent two decades makes the United States such an exception. Its level of prosperity is high, which would indicate that politicians — and society at large — always find a way to deal with one another and overcome their differences.

Instead, its politics is characterized by such a level of dysfunctionality and venom — after all, “a form of toxin secreted by an animal for the purpose of causing harm to another” — is spewed out with such regularity and intensity that political discussions in the United States resemble those that one would expect in the parliament of a poverty-stricken country at the edge of modern civilization.

This virus has become so widespread in the United States that, in computer parlance, it constitutes a classic case of a “denial of service” attack (DoS).

This term refers to a “malicious attempt to make a server or a network resource unavailable to users, usually by temporarily interrupting or suspending the services of a host connected to the Internet.” Replace the word “server” with politician, “user” with citizen and “Internet” with society — et voilà.

This phenomenon is probably best understood as a “denial of compromise” attack (DoC). Under such circumstances, the U.S. political system stymies the very mechanics that enable its functionality, which is to have opposing political camps arrive at an agreement that is binding and bridges ideological differences.

However, there is one crucial difference between what is happening in U.S. politics and such cases in the cyber world: The “DoC” virus affecting the political system is not, as one would expect, maliciously hoisted upon the United States of America from China, Russia or elsewhere. Rather, it is self-imposed.

Cooperation and pragmatism have, in the past, been widely considered the cardinal American virtues. Little wonder then that observers outside the country find it bewildering that these concepts are systematically hollowed out by participants in American politics.

In a political system so intent on claiming uniqueness and exceptionalism, this is a truly perverse way to show one’s distinctiveness.

Editor’s note: This article was revised on August 17, 2015.


The entire US political system negates the very reason for its existence.

This virus is not maliciously hoisted upon America from China, Russia or elsewhere, but it is self-imposed.

The dysfunctional US political system results in a "denial of compromise" attack.

It begs disbelief that the U.S. economy, comparatively speaking, is suffering from over-regulation and over-taxation.