Have corporate/billionaire control of our republic reached such a point that it’s no longer reversible? Have we passed the tipping point where democracy dies?
A few years back, on my radio show, President Jimmy Carter said that America, in large part because of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, has become “just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery.”
He’s right. It’s the elephant in the room that everybody, particularly our corporate media, completely ignores.
While Republicans are doing the will of their oligarch owners, replacing real scientists with industry lobbyists and shills everywhere from the White House to congressional science committees to the EPA, the media stubbornly refuses to report in depth on it, preferring instead to following the Worldwide Wrestling moves of our tweeter-in-chief.
“Red-shift “ election fraud (called red because it helps only Republicans) has been flagrantly on display across the country since the privatization of our vote by GOP-leaning voter-machine companies in the 2000-2004 period. GOP voter suppression in nearly 30 states has now been institutionalized with Kris Kobach’s Interstate Crosscheck scam (now a presidential “commission”). Pre-poll and exit-poll results “flipped “ in Georgia’s 6th district in a way that caused us to decry similar vote-rigging in the Ukraine (the result, like in Georgia’s 6th, was measurably off from the exit polls).
Yet in the face of all this, enough to provoke revolution in countries like Egypt and Ukraine, our press instead focuses on the oligarchs’ unproven and well-debunked claim that “illegals” are voting to help Democrats.
While climate change is ravaging the world, the administration of billionaire oligarch Donald Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate change agreement and is rolling back climate-protecting rules on behalf other oligarchs in the oil, coal and gas business so they can continue to use our atmosphere as a sewer.
While billionaire-owned Republicans frantically work to roll back the 3.8% tax on investment income (for families with over $250,000 in investment income/year) their oligarch owners so despise, cutting millions of Americans off any hope of affordable healthcare access, the television media usually plays this tax-cut story as if it were about healthcare.
From trying to destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which has returned to consumers billions of dollars in ill-gotten gains from our country’s banksters), to gutting environmental laws, to preventing students from even declaring bankruptcy when their efforts to join the middle class by going to college don’t work out, the oligarchs who now largely run America are solidifying their power and their wealth.
This is rule by the rich. It’s here. It’s now.
As Vice President Henry Wallace predicted in a prescient New York Times op-ed in 1944:
“They [the super-wealthy] claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest.
“Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”
Have they finally reached that goal which, in Wallace’s day, they could only hunger for?
In 1944, the dream of the oligarchs to once again control America the way they did during the Gilded Age of the 1880-’90s was just that, a dream. Wallace’s president, FDR, had called them out, repeatedly, calling them “economic royalists” and damning their efforts to corrupt American democracy.
“These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America,” Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed in 1936. “What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power.”
But, he thundered in that speech, “Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power!”
FDR kept them in check, as did Truman and Eisenhower. The latter, a Republican president who ran for office on the 1952 platform of ending the Korean War (“Vote for peace, vote for Eisenhower” said the TV ads), even wrote to his right-wing brother , Edgar Eisenhower, about the very wealthy oil oligarchs who wanted to end the American experiment of a strong middle class:
“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
That was back when Eisenhower/Nixon ran for re-election in 1956 on a platform of having expanded Social Security, increased union membership, raised taxes on rich people, and built thousands of miles of freeway, hundreds of schools and hospitals, and radically increased funding for public education.
It all changed in the 1970s. As I outline in detail in my book The Crash of 2016 , the modern oligarchic takeover of America began in a serious way in 1971 when Lewis Powell outlined in a memo how the very, very wealthy and corporate America should launch a massive, well-funded program to take over American media, takeover our schools and colleges, takeover our courts, takeover our economy, and ultimately take over every branch of our government.
In 1976, Powell had his chance to put it all in motion in a big way. From 1776 until 1976, giving money to politicians in exchange for political favors had been considered a behavior (and often considered a corrupt behavior) that could be regulated by government.
But in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo Supreme Court decision, Powell, who had been put on the court by Richard Nixon in 1972, wrote that giving money to politicians wasn’t a “behavior” subject to regulation, but, instead, was merely an “exercise in free speech.” Free speech protected by the First Amendment.
This major rewrite of American law, sweeping in its breadth and reach, has echoed forward into our time with Citizens United and McCutcheon, among others. The result is that today right-wing billionaires not only own Fox and much of the rest of our media, but they are also largely determining the result of our elections.
In the 2016 election cycle, just the Koch network pledged over $800 million to elect billionaire-friendly Republicans. They succeeded, taking the House and the Senate, and with the efforts of their pliant shill Mitch McConnell, in blocking President Obama’s middle-of-the-road SCOTUS nominee, Merrick Garland, from ever taking his rightful seat on the court. It’s reported that they’re planning to “invest” $400 billion, more or less, over the next 16 months.
Neil Gorsuch is more hostile to the interest of working-class Americans, minorities and traditional American egalitarian values than any member of the Court since the Lochner era. Billionaire-funded right-wing judicial groups like the Federalist Society are salivating at the chance to replace Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, cementing their control of the Court for as much as the next two generations.
This is the greatest crisis for democracy since Henry Wallace’s era during World War II. Similar assaults against democracy are taking place all over the world, from Poland to Hungary to the Phillippines.
Will America see its way back to the expressed values of this country’s founding? Having used those values as a guidepost, we’ve ended slavery, enfranchised women and created a social safety net that, at least until the era of Reagan, was still capable of offering life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to working American citizens.
Now, instead, we’re seeing the values expressed by the dark underbelly of the American Revolution—the oligarchs who owned plantations in the South—ascendant.
Violent policing, more people in prison than any other country on earth, and the destruction of competition and entrepreneurial opportunity by monopoly are all the new normal. Corporate power is now being used not just to advocate for corporate interests, but to prop up faux populists like Trump and Scott Walker.
The effort, launched in the wake of the Brown v Board decision in 1954 (as so brilliantly documented by Nancy MacLean in her new book Democracy in Chains ), to take over the institutions of American governance has been largely successful. And to solidify their gains, some among the very, very wealthy are aggressively supporting Republican efforts to gerrymander and vote-suppress the Democratic Party into oblivion.
In Crash, I pointed out how each of our nation’s major reboots (each leading to a huge progressive leap forward) happened after an economic crisis. The economic crisis of 1772 (which led to the Tea Act, and then the American Revolution), the Great Crash of 1856-’57 (which even wiped out Abraham Lincoln and led to the Civil War), and what was then referred to as the Republican Great Depression of the 1930s (which led to World War II) all led to major changes in America.
Will it take another Great Crash to bring about a reformation of our government? Or have our oligarchs so deeply embedded themselves and their shills into our institutions of government that it’s no longer possible for us to pull back from our headlong rush into neo-feudalism/neo-fascism?
The answer to both questions will probably become evident in the next three years.
But if America is to truly become the land of the free and the home of the brave, a place where any person can make it, a land clean and protected from corporate predation, it’s going to take a massive mobilization of people who currently aren’t even bothering to vote or run for office.
The Republican Party’s behavior today eerily parallels the day in 1936 when Roosevelt said , “In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for.”
In 1932, the pain from GOP policies was so great that Americans turned out in huge numbers for FDR. Disgust with the Republican embrace of America’s robber barons was so thorough that, outside of 1947-’48, Republicans didn’t hold majority control of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1933 to 1995.
Today, even the phrases “robber barons” or “economic royalists” are likely to produce a “Huh?” response, particularly among those who watch oligarch billionaire Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News or listen to right-wing hate radio.
Americans are in crisis. From opiates to student loan debt to underemployment, oligarchs representing monopolistic Big Pharma, Big Banks, and Big Retail/Fast Food are devastating us. Our courts are largely taken over by shills loyal to billionaire wealth and corporate power, as have the majority of our state governments. And our land and food supplies are poisoned daily by frakkers, polluters, and agricultural chemical companies.
And our ascendant political party, the GOP, is working as hard as it can to transfer trillions more dollars of wealth from working people to its patrons in the top 1%.
As Eldridge Cleaver said, “There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.”
It’s truer today than ever before. And it’s not like we weren’t warned.