How Can We Ever Hope To Bring Americans Together?

Regardless of which candidate wins this year’s presidential election, it’s all but certain that Americans will be more divided than ever. We’re divided by far more than politics. We’re divided by ideology; by media choices; by attitudes toward guns and violence; by attitudes toward the environment; by a woman’s right to decide what is right for her own body; by energy policy; by foreign policy and military intervention; by acceptance and tolerance for those who are different than ourselves; by faith.

As the US, like many other nations, lurches farther to the right, it seems that we cannot agree on anything. One side accepts science while the other relies almost exclusively on faith. One side believes in evolution while the other side believes in creationism. One side works to abate climate change while the other side calls it a hoax. One side embraces other cultures and ethnic groups while the other side chooses to discriminate against them. One side accepts authority and bullying while the other fights against it. One side supports corporatism (aka fascism) while the other supports individuals. One side celebrates wealth and power while the other side celebrates the working class. One side worships individualism while the other side worships community and collectivism. One side demands status quo while the other side demands expanded civil rights.

No matter which candidate wins in November, roughly half of the population will vehemently oppose the winner’s policies.

It would seem that the only thing that can possibly pull our nation together is a disaster – a military or terrorist strike against our nation or a financial calamity on the order of the Great Depression. Ironically, the burst of the housing bubble and the ensuing Great Recession were not enough to create unanimity. Ignoring the facts, each side simply blamed the other for their hardships.

In order to seek more palatable solutions, we must first look at how we arrived at this point. It began with the Nixon-Agnew strategy of divide and conquer. It continued with the GOP’s embrace of southern bigots and evangelicals along with Paul Wyerich’s strategy of voter suppression. It accelerated with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine which allowed electronic media to choose up sides and lie at will. And it was cemented by Newt Gingrich’s embrace of parliamentary-style politics which disdained any form of compromise.

So what can we do?

1. To begin, we should all demand more of our media by reinstating a Fairness Doctrine that would require all media, both electronic and print, to operate in the public interest. That means to tell the truth and hold politicians accountable.
2. We should overturn voter suppression laws and make voting easy, maybe even mandatory, for all American citizens.
3. We should bring transparency to campaign finance and overturn Citizens United.
4. We should, once again, make it illegal for corporations to contribute to political campaigns.
5. We should break the lobbyists’ hold on Congress by passing laws to end the revolving door from Congress to lobbying groups, and to limit lobbyist access to Congress.
6. We should end all forms of gerrymandering by passing laws to put control of congressional redistricting into the hands of independent commissions.
7. We should demand that the IRS reinstate restrictions that prevent non-profits from disguising their political focus, thus doing away with PACs and Super PACs.
8. We should institute term limits on all Senators and Congressional Representatives. If it makes sense to limit the president to two terms, it should make sense to do the same for Congress.
9. We should hold the individuals who manage political campaigns liable for lies and disinformation. That would prevent them from avoiding election fraud by simply dissolving the campaign entities following an election,
10. We should demand more of ourselves. We should each seek to inform ourselves about the candidates and the issues in order to meet the expectations of our Founding Fathers by becoming an enlightened and informed voting public.

Even if you don’t agree with these proposals, we must do something. And we must do it now. It may be our only hope for unifying our nation and moving it forward. Indeed, at the risk of being seen as hyperbolic, it may be the only way to avoid another Civil War.

The Planned Dysfunction Of Our Government.

As has been repeatedly demonstrated, Republicans and conservatives have mastered the art of telling lies. And, on the rare occasions when the corporate-owned media challenge those lies, they seldom bother to correct their falsehoods, choosing instead to double-down. Why wouldn’t they? After all, there are rarely any consequences for lying. For example, Politifact.com has ruled that more than 90 percent of Donald Trump’s statements are false. Yet his supporters don’t seem to care.

For many, facts no longer matter. They’d rather rely on their guts than their heads – a phenomenon that, if Trump becomes president, is likely to result in a severe case of national indigestion.

How did we reach the point where candidates can lie with impunity? How could a candidate like Trump become the presumptive presidential nominee while spreading falsehoods and fomenting hate? He is only taking advantage of a political climate created by the Republican Party – a culture of fear and a deep-seated hatred of the federal government.

This didn’t happen overnight. It began in the 1970s with the party’s “southern strategy” which was designed to capitalize on white anger with the Civil Rights Act. It was furthered by Paul Weyrich, who famously said, “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our [Republican] leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Of course, the GOP embraced Weyrich’s beliefs. Through obstruction and their refusal to compromise, Congressional Republicans have created voter anger and apathy which, ironically, serves to further their cause.

There’s more.

The GOP pandered to evangelicals by promoting a variety of “social” issues. They told voters that gay rights would diminish their own rights and destroy our military; that gay marriage would destroy traditional marriage; that a woman’s right to control her own body was “against God’s will” and that it would destroy our culture; that the inclusion of contraceptives in employer-based insurance policies destroys the freedom of religion. But, in reality, all of these issues are simply a way to generate fear and to permit government-sanctioned discrimination.

In the eighties, Ronald Reagan verbally attacked the government and Grover Norquist hatched a plan to defund the government in order that Republicans might “starve the beast.” Then, in the nineties, former Speaker Newt Gingrich superimposed another destructive philosophy on Congress. A longtime fan of European-style parliamentary politics, Gingrich convinced his GOP colleagues to vote as a unified bloc on every bill. Any Republicans who had the audacity to defy the leadership and vote his or her conscience was labeled a RINO (Republican In Name Only). The party punished them by withdrawing support for their re-election campaigns and redirecting support to their primary opponents.

Through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the GOP turned over control of state legislatures to their corporate sponsors. And, through funding from the Koch brothers, the same anti-government philosophies are now being promoted in city and county elections.

That is how the GOP has become what it is today – a party that, on the day of the inauguration, chose to vote in lock-step to obstruct every one of President Obama’s initiatives, even if the initiatives were based on Republican ideas, such as Obamacare or Cap and Trade. It is now a party that willfully ignores the needs and the wishes of the voters while pandering to the very wealthy and the powerful.

Fed up with such inequality and governmental dysfunction, a large number of voters have jumped on board the Trump train thinking that an outsider can change things. Really? He is running as a Republican, representing the very party that created this mess. And, far from being an outsider, he is one of the wealthy puppeteers who pull the strings of government officials in order to further enrich themselves, all the while taking advantage of tax loopholes and offshore shell companies to avoid paying taxes.

In other words, a vote for Trump and his Republican colleagues is a vote for those who have willfully destroyed “a government of the people, for the people and by the people” and replaced it with a functioning oligarchy. It’s impossible to imagine that even the Republican Party’s founder, Abraham Lincoln, would want that.

The US Is No Longer A Democracy. Here’s How It Happened.

Last year, a study from Princeton and Northwestern universities, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens,” concluded that the US government no longer represents the interests of the majority of the nation’s citizens. Instead, it panders to the rich and powerful.

In other words, the US has become an oligarchy defined as a government by the few, a small group that exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.

More recently, President Jimmy Carter, commenting on how big money has subverted our elections, said, “It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations.”

The US didn’t become an oligarchy by accident. We got here as the result of a long list of political decisions designed to pander to the wealthy and the powerful. Here’s how:

During the 1800s, the US went from a largely agrarian society to a society based on the industrial revolution. This created some extremely wealthy individuals often referred to as the “Robber Barons,” who took advantage of cheap labor created by the influx of immigrants. They paid little and subjected their employees to horrific working conditions. During this so-called Gilded Age, the wealthy chose the candidates and ran the nation until the masses began to rebel.

In the early 1900s, the Gilded Age ended when workers began to unionize. The wealthy responded by hiring the police and ex-military (the American Legion) to break the labor strikes by bashing some heads. In reality, it was America’s second civil war.

When the Great Depression struck, the nation moved even further toward socialism which caused the wealthy to try to arrange the assassination of President Franklin Roosevelt. In fact, many of the industrialists wanted the nation’s government to reflect the fascist governments of Italy and Germany. Their agenda was interrupted with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, World War II and the revelations of the Nazi death camps. And they were forced to accept the will of the masses until the 1970s when President Richard Nixon and Vice-President Spiro Agnew attacked the new media in order to deflect criticism of their policies.

By raising questions about the objectivity of the media which were embraced by conservatives, it set the stage (intentionally or not) for the Reagan administration and its economic policy of “Trickle Down” theory. This was nothing more than a return to the “Horse and Sparrow” economics of the gilded age, during which government policies were carefully crafted to benefit the wealthy under the theory that if you feed enough oats (money) to the horses (the wealthy) enough will fall on the road to feed the sparrows (the masses).

Reagan portrayed the government and its regulation of industry as the enemy. He attacked labor unions. He lowered taxes for the wealthy. He increased the amount of money exempted from estate taxes. He deregulated the media by eliminating the Fairness Doctrine which held media accountable to serve in the public interest. And he lowered capital gains taxes, which allowed the wealthy to keep more of their primary sources of income – interest and dividends from investments.

With the wealthy allowed to accumulate more money, labor unions on the defensive and an emasculated press, the table was set for the oligarchs. All of this was made worse by Grover Norquist, Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed who showed the Republican National Committee that it could thrive by eliminating compromises from our political discussions and treating politics as war – a blood sport. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took congressional dysfunction a step further by transforming the GOP into a parliamentary-style party in which the entire Party is unified on every vote. If you dare to break ranks with Party, you are punished in the next primary and election.

Add to all of this the more than $28 billion lobbying industry, which is financed almost exclusively by the rich and the powerful, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which writes laws on behalf of its corporate sponsors then hands them to its conservative members to sponsor in their state legislatures where the bills are often passed with little discussion or examination, and the George W. Bush administration which cut income taxes for the rich by 4.6 percent and all but eliminated the estate tax.

The last major player is the conservative majority on the US Supreme Court, which by 3 decisions (Buckley v Valeo, Citizens United v FEC and McCutcheon v FEC) unleashed a torrent of money in campaign donations from the oligarchs. So much so, that candidates should have to wear NASCAR-style uniforms with labels of their sponsors. Indeed, of the nearly $400 million donated to presidential candidates so far this year, nearly half has come from fewer than 400 families!

Given all of this, no election in our history has been as critical as next year’s. We can either continue further down the road of oligarchy by electing candidates who try to divide us over social issues while pandering to the wealthy. Or we can elect candidates of change – real change. Candidates who will put the power of the government back in the hands of the people.

That’s why I support Bernie Sanders.

Political Wars – From Reasoned Debate To Party Tribalism.

Despite our political differences, almost all Americans would agree on one thing: Our political system is broken. But why? What led us from the relative political unity following World War II to the anger and divisiveness of today?

It didn’t just happen.

A few individuals intentionally created the politics of destruction, most notably the so-called three amigos consisting of Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed. Beginning in the 1980’s, these three not only viewed politics as a quasi-military, win-at-any-cost enterprise. They viewed it as a profit center in which they could squeeze millions from conservative groups and ideological billionaires to control the political dialogue and enrich themselves at the same time.

As leaders of the College Republicans, these first-rate bullies embraced combative politics. The only thing they treasured more than money was confrontation with liberals, progressives, and moderates of either party. As their power and standing in the Republican Party and conservative circles grew, our national politics devolved into a series of culture wars combining right wing militancy with the evangelical fervor of “Christians” unhappy with what they believed to be a nation in moral decline.

Abramoff was eventually arrested in 2006 and sentenced to six years in prison for mail fraud, conspiracy to bribe public officials and tax evasion. As executive director of the Christian Coalition, Reed was also implicated in the scandal but not charged. However, he was previously found to have violated federal campaign finance laws in 1990, 1992 and 1994. Meanwhile, Norquist has continued to gain power, having established Americans for Tax Reform and created the notorious Taxpayer Protection (No New Taxes) Pledge that all Republican candidates are asked to sign.

But the three amigos are not entirely responsible for our poisonous politics.

When Newt Gingrich was selected as Speaker of the House, he transformed Congress by pushing Republicans to vote as a unified block or risk being labeled a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and forced to face a difficult, and expensive, primary fight in the next election. Rather than fight, most Republicans submissively fell into line. As a result, we have an uncompromising, European-style parliamentary party in a two-party system that was based on compromise.

Adding to the dysfunction, the Tea Party movement, feeling displaced by minorities and disenfranchised by large corporations that had shipped jobs overseas, attached themselves to the Republican Party like leeches determined to bleed the party of every remaining moderate.

There you have the perfect political storm. A storm that destroyed the party of Lincoln and has now taken aim at our federal government. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

You can learn much more about the three amigos in Thomas Frank’s book The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. Frank summarizes the thesis of his book this way, “Bad government is the natural product of rule by those who believe government is bad.” I also highly recommend It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How The American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics of Extremism by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Orenstein.

Neither of these books were written by anti-conservative ideologues. To the contrary, they were written by thoughtful and highly-respected moderates who are as dismayed by our take-no-prisoners style of politics as I am.