Within the last 30 years, while we’ve chased bogeymen overseas and here at home, our Democracy has fallen. We have been taken over; defeated; our voices neutered; our freedoms trampled; our democracy vanquished.
No invading force accomplished this; no jackboots echoed across our republic; no alien flag was raised above our lands. Not a single shot was fired by our vaunted military to halt this takeover. No, this was a quiet coup, accomplished from within, and conducted in stealth.
In the cult film classic, The Usual Suspects, Roger “Verbal” Kint says, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Just so, has the Oligarchy taken over the US.
Many of us continue with the delusion that we are free. We celebrate Independence Day. We vote. We express ourselves openly. We are not jailed for our opinions, at least not usually. We live where we want. We pursue the work we choose. We get our news from a “free” press. We engage in the pursuit of happiness.
And while all this seems true, we are not free. Our votes carry no weight. Our news is a hollow monoculture in which six corporations own 90% of the outlets with most of the rest controlled by elitists who can no longer relate to the average person; in which infotainment has replaced information; in which a modern day version of bread and circuses keeps us distracted from the increasingly grim reality we are everyday immersed in. The jobs open to us are becoming increasingly exploitative. And the pursuit of happiness is marred by a lack of choice, increasingly desperate economic straights for the majority of us, and a feeling of impotence as we watch the American dream shrink before our eyes.
- When 91% wanted to strengthen rules on clean air and protection of drinking water, Congress – led by the Republican majority – proposed weakening them;
- When 90% wanted to protect public lands and parks; the Republicans proposed putting them on sale or otherwise privatizing them;
- When 74% of Americans favored ending subsidies to big oil, Congress retained most of them;
- At a time when the majority of citizens favored allowing tax cuts for those earning over $250,000 to expire, the best Congress could do was to compromise on $400,000;
- When 70% of Americans said climate change should be a high priority issue, Congress took no action;
- Some 80% of Americans favor shoring up Social Security even if it means higher taxes and a similar number support retaining Medicare as is, but the Obama administration has twice offered cuts to both programs as part of a “grand bargain” and Republican budgets routinely seek to privatize them;
- Or take this gem … more than 80% of Americans want to clamp down on Wall Street but the best we could get was weak-sister legislation that doesn’t even address too-big-to-fail or restore a Glass Steagall provision limiting the risks these big banks can take with your money. And even this slap-on-the-wrist legislation is being completely eviscerated as it is translated into regulations.
- After Orlando, 92% of the people supported a bill expanding background checks to online purchases of guns, but Congress has been unable to pass it;
- And when 85% of citizens supported a bill barring people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns, Congress couldn’t pass the it;
Dwell on these last two bits of political pornography for a moment: Congress denied the vast majority of the people’s perfectly reasonable – in fact, bare minimal – desire to keep assault rifles and weapons out of the hands of potential mass murders because a few special interests opposed it.
But it’s not simply a list of specific issues where the Oligarchy defeats the will of the people. Their victory has been complete.
Even as we spend tens of trillions on “Defense,” ostensibly to protect our freedom, we quietly relinquished it; not to an invasion from without, but to a silent coup by the rich and powerful from within. As Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page pointed out, in their landmark study on the influence of money and special interests in politics:
When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy. (emphasis added).
They went on to note that “… the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.” (my emphasis).
Take a moment to consider this, too. We the people have no say and almost zero influence in our governance. Forget about the land of the free and the home of the brave – we’ve become the land of the duped and the home of the indentured.
The system which enabled this coup is the pay-to-play politics that Trump and Clinton and virtually all politicians subscribe to.
This contention isn’t hyperbole; it can’t be written off to the excess exuberance of the young, or the unrealistic reveries of ideologues that the Establishment Media would have you believe. It’s data. It’s reality. And it’s the logical end-point of the pay-to-play PACster politics that reached its apogee with the Citizen’s United Decision.
It costs about $1.7 million dollars to win a seat in the House, and $10.5 million to win a Senate seat according to a to a study by maplight.org. Daily News reporter David Knowles spoke with Maplight president Daniel Newman for an article on a recent study they conducted, and Newman told him that no shortage of this money came from corporations. He went on to say:
“Most industries give money to members of Congress because it buys them access and influence. And now, with Citizens United, corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money on these races. The result is that members of Congress are fearful about voting against corporate interests because there’s so much money at stake.”
Much of the rest of the money a candidate needs to run for Congress comes from uber-rich individuals such as the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and George Soros. They too, have an agenda, and it isn’t usually aligned with the interests or the wishes of the American people. Even liberal contributors like Soros, favor members of the establishment elite such as Clinton over “revolutionaries” like Sanders, who want to completely change the system that gives them influence.
This is why we can’t enact meaningful gun control legislation when the vast majority favor it; this is why we can’t enact effective climate change policies when majorities in both parties say they want to; this is why we let the people founder but bailed out the banks when they crashed the economy in 2008; this is why politicians from both Parties still favor job-wrecking trade agreements when most citizens from both Parties are against them; this is why the uber rich and corporations can easily discharge debt and renege on promises to their employees using bankruptcy laws, but students and the poor cannot; this is why we can’t break up the too-big-to-fail banks or reinstall Glass-Steagall or pass a tax on securities trading, again, even though the majority of Americans favor all of these measures. This is why we are engaged in never-ending wars nobody wants and that nobody can explain or justify at a cost of tens of trillions of dollars that the people don’t want to spend.
Quite simply, the United States is no longer a Democratic Republic; it is an Oligarchy.
John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.