“We the People.” How many of us have really thought through the implications of these three words? Can people today even imagine a government that is on the side of We the People, instead of being rigged to benefit the already-wealthy and crush the hopes and efforts of the rest of us?
Since the early 1970s corporate/conservative-funded interests have pounded the public 24/7/365 with unceasing propaganda promoting the idea that government can’t do anything right, business always does everything better and more “efficiently,” market solutions (one-dollar-one-vote) are better than public (one-person-one-vote) solutions, and so on.
Meanwhile democracy does not have a marketing budget, and for so long now so many people have not even heard that there can be another side, another approach to solving our problems and making our lives better. People just hear over and over that “government is bad, efforts to do things for each other are bad, but private business for profit is good.”
Has it Been Too Long to Remember What it Was Like Before?
It has been almost 33 years since Ronald Reagan became president. Reagan turned government away from being on the side of We, the People and to being on the side of the wealthy and corporations against the rest of us, “the 99%.”
Under Reagan the government cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations, and cut social programs while dramatically increasing military spending. Reagan said we need “market solutions” to social problems (privatization) and used his “bully pulpit” to amplify this message the idea that government is bad and its functions should be turned over to businesses for profit. To that end his administration cut regulation of businesses, and cut protections for consumers and working people.
Reagan appointed anti-union people to the National Labor Relations Board and the Department of Labor, fired unionized air traffic controllers and ushered in the union-breaking beginnings of the destruction of the middle class. Similarly, he appointed people opposed to environmental protections to head agencies that were supposed to protect the environment, people opposed to worker protections to head agencies supposed to protect workers, people opposed to consumer protections to run agencies that were supposed to protect consumers and people opposed to regulating businesses to agencies that were supposed to regulate businesses. He dismantled efforts to wean the country from fossil fuels so the oil and coal companies could have more power. (Also, 138 appointees of the Reagan administration either resigned for various ethics violations and/or were criminally indicted.)
Government Rigged to Benefit the Wealthy
Thirty-plus years of anti-government propaganda – teaching people that we should all be anti-government, that government can’t help us, and the efforts to get our government to help us will always backfire and hurt us. Thirty-plus years of defunding the things government does, privatization, deregulation, dismantling the social contract and sabotaging government’s efforts to help people… And the result is that people don’t imagine a government that works and can be on their side.
We could have a government and economic system that works for We the People to make our lives better. Instead, today the government and the economic system is rigged to help only the already-wealthy. The agents of plutocracy obstruct every effort to do anything for regular people, maintaining a system of subsidies and tax breaks for the connected.
Filibusters in the Senate and the Republican leadership’s refusal to allow votes in the House block efforts to hire people to rebuild the infrastructure and improve our energy efficiency. They block efforts to improve education and cut the cost of college. They block (and sabotage) efforts to successfully implement the new health care reforms. They block efforts to stop incentives to move jobs and factories out of the country. They obstruct and sabotage everything else that might help regular people and the economy that regular people work and live in.
Instead of a We-the-People government that makes our lives better, the elite push “austerity” policies that demand cuts to further crush the middle class. People at the top are even discussing cutting old-age benefits and cutting food assistance! We have mass unemployment and declining wages and a climate emergency bearing down on us. But our government is kept from doing anything that might solve problems – to turn us further against the idea of being able to govern ourselves.
Imagine A Government on the Side of We the People
That anti-government effort started in earnest with Reagan’s inauguration 33 years ago. So you have to be, what, almost 50 to even remember a time when our government was on the side of We, the People? I’m over 50 so I can remember a time when government was on the side of We the People. This enables me to imagine a time when it could be that way again. It also means I can see the many ways that so many people are unable to even imagine how a country run by the people would operate.
Our government used to try to help We the People. Examples: Public education for all children, a Department of Labor helping people organize unions so they could increase their pay and benefits, the GI Bill, civil rights laws, Social Security, Medicare, the War on Poverty, protecting the environment – so many things, and people felt the government really was there for them. I remember.
The Full Implications of the Words “We the People”
Think through the implications of the words, “We the People.” Would a government that truly was of We the People allow an entity like a corporation to exist solely for its own profit, with no regulation and no requirement that it serve the public good, pay good wages and deliver quality products or services? Would a government that truly was of, by and for We the People cut the safety net, allow high unemployment, allow wages to fall, allow teachers to be laid off, cut infrastructure maintenance, deny health care, deny equal rights and have lower tax rates for the wealthy than for the middle class? Would a government of, by and for We the People make it harder, not easier to vote?
It’s Up to Us
Our country is supposed to be about We the People, but the country has lost its way. The only way we can restore democracy and keep government of the people, by the people and for the people from perishing from this earth is to understand inside of ourselves what “We the People” and democracy mean. And then each of us has to demand a return to the principles of democracy. We cannot accept one-dollar-one-vote over one-person-one-vote. Special lines through airport security for first-class passengers? That is one-dollar-one-vote, not democracy. Special low-traffic toll lanes on freeways? That is one-dollar-one-vote, not democracy. Cuts in Social Security and food stamps while taxes remain low for the ultra-wealthy? That is one-dollar-one-vote, not democracy. (Top tax rates were over 70% before Reagan, FYI.)
We have to look at everything government does, and ask if it reflects one-dollar-one-vote or one-person-one-vote.
Read this, and think about what Lincoln is saying here:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
The young experiment of self-government was scorned and mocked by other countries traditionally ruled by the wealthy. They were waiting for our democracy to fall apart. But many gave their lives, “their last full measure of devotion,” for the idea that democracy – this unfinished work – would survive. Please do not let government of the people, by the people and FOR THE PEOPLE perish.
Dave Johnson (Redwood City, CA) is a Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future, writing about American manufacturing, trade and economic/industrial policy. He is also a Senior Fellow with Renew California.
Dave has more than 20 years of technology industry experience including positions as CEO and VP of marketing. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. And he was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.