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“Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens,” concluded that the US government no longer represents the interests of the majority of the nation’s citizens.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.