“true reality … (an) identity and unity with all life”? A infant America posed something very similar, suggesting with “the moral compact implicit in the preamble to our Constitution: We’re all in this together.” But, like a meandering road, our history frequently deviates from such a standard, sometimes to the point where we can no longer recognize it. Today is such a time, as “the religion of inequality—of money and power—has failed us; its gods are false gods. There is something more essential—more profound—in the American experience than the hyena’s appetite”. Understanding what exactly has put us on this current path is critical.
The article linked below, from The Nation Magazine, by Bill Moyers, does an outstanding job trying to answer this question and (for such a complex topic) does it rather concisely. There are many very quotable offerings that tempt me to just say read the whole article. While you definitely should do that, I will select and quote a few, while adding my own perspectives and biases.
America was founded with many virtuous concepts making us very proud, but eventually leading to apathy. Virtues imply, if not require actions. They are goals, that we must constantly strive and work toward. Signing the constitution didn’t make it a done deal. We need to remember that maintaining a democracy is difficult and history is filled with those who failed. It requires work and can and will be lost if we don’t pay attention. The wealthy, the corporations, would rather “we the people (humans)” stopped worrying and just go shopping (as President GW Bush suggested). We probably too often do just that. “A plethora of studies conclude that America’s political system has already been transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy (the rule of a wealthy elite). Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, for instance, studied data from 1,800 different policy initiatives launched between 1981 and 2002. They found that ‘economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence’.” Surprised?
Whether you accept that America is now an oligarchy or not, democracy, in America, has been thoroughly weakened and “we the people” do not seem to realize it, much less know how to revitalize it. At the same time, the wealthy have created super humans to best execute their plan: corporations. Having been granted human rights under our constitution, as the Supreme Court finally accepted the fictional concept of “corporate personhood”, they now control most of government, including the authorship of our most intrusive laws. “A prominent neoconservative religious philosopher even articulated a ‘theology of the corporation’.” Moyers was astounded on this, adding “and its devotees lifted their voices in hymns of praise to wealth creation as participation in the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth. Self-interest became the Gospel of the Gilded Age.” What’s amazing here is the acceptance of wealth and power by such a large portion of Americans. This alone may be a vivid symptom of our failing democracy. “Our founders warned against the power of privileged factions to capture the machinery of democracies. James Madison, who studied history through a tragic lens, saw that the life cycle of previous republics had degenerated into anarchy, monarchy, or oligarchy.”
As oligarchy prevails other parts of society and life on earth itself also feel the consequences. “Jared Diamond (who) … won the Pulitzer Prize for describing how the damage humans have inflicted on their environment has historically led to the decline of civilizations. In the process, he vividly depicts how elites repeatedly isolate and delude themselves until it’s too late. How, extracting wealth from commoners, they remain well-fed while everyone else is slowly starving until, in the end, even they (or their offspring) become casualties of their own privilege. Any society, it turns out, contains a built-in blueprint for failure if elites insulate themselves endlessly from the consequences of their decisions.” This somewhat exemplifies the ability of so many on the right to adamantly deny climate change and instead demand “drill baby drill”, to further enrich already overflowing pockets.
Concentration of power also furthers the demise of democracy. Today there is almost no mention of monopoly being a problem. When was the last time we heard of the justice department going after any corporation on anti-trust grounds? No, instead wealth and power coagulate like giant blood clots, but since these corporations are not really humans, not really alive, these clots will not eventually dissolve. The rapid unraveling of the middle class is well under way. “French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville … feared what he called, in the second volume of his masterwork, Democracy in America, an ‘aristocracy created by business.’ He described it as already among ‘the harshest that ever existed in the world’ and suggested that, ‘if ever a permanent inequality of conditions and aristocracy again penetrate the world, it may be predicted that this is the gate by which they will enter’.” The rise of that “permanent inequality” is before our very eyes, but we have trouble seeing through the multitude of distractions before us.
Democracy suggests this inequality is not normal, but from the other side of the wealth scales, there is a very different view. The wealthy see this inequality as natural, something to emulate. Many go so far as to suggest that “this ‘law of nature’ has served to legitimate the yawning inequality of income and wealth, even as it has protected networks of privilege and monopolies in major industries like the media, the tech sector, and the airlines.” Capitalism fits in perfectly here. As G.K. Chesterton wrote a century ago, “In every serious doctrine of the destiny of men, there is some trace of the doctrine of the equality of men. But the capitalist really depends on some religion of inequality.” This doesn’t just happen magically and Moyers searches for how and who was responsible for the gross inequalities we now see.
In a fantastic book titled Winner Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson go into great detail explaining “Who dunnit?” They found that “Step by step and debate by debate, America’s public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefitted the few at the expense of the many.” Getting these politicians in office and providing them with the text for the laws to ensure and proliferate that inequality, that is the role of the wealthy through their “super humans or corporations”.
Sometimes even our leaders from the left seem to get it wrong, like recently “at the Rutgers University commencement ceremony … (Obama) said, ‘Contrary to what we hear sometimes from both the left as well as the right, the system isn’t as rigged as you think …’.” Any evidence of this seems to be left to faith.
There is much more in Moyers article, please read it. For my final thought I look to a quote from “the late (and great) Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who said, ‘We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.’ Of course the rich can buy more homes, cars, vacations, gadgets, and gizmos than anyone else, but they should not be able to buy more democracy. That they can and do is a despicable blot on American politics that is now spreading like a giant oil spill.” At this point the majority of evidence seems to resoundingly say that we are not “all in this together”!