At fifteen months and counting, our long national nightmare may soon be over. With the POTUS electoral season finally and mercifully grinding to a close, can normal people (you are out there, I know it) hope to soon breathe a weary sigh of relief? Now I promise to avoid cheering on a particular candidate or excoriating the opponent and his / her supporters as flakes, bigots, bleeding hearts, racists, troglodytes or effete elitists. (Well, maybe the elites will get knocked around some.) I respect your intelligence here and am pretty sure that at this stage, most folks have made up their minds to vote for this one, that one, the other one, or no one. Like good soldiers facing Armageddon, we choose our ground in anticipation of the final onslaught.
But what I do wonder at and heartily criticize is how the Democrat and Republican parties have devolved to such a regrettable state to have belched up the only two candidates in America who could possibly loose to the other one. Surely, this very same thought has crossed your mind at some point?
The party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Regan has become the party of bigotry, fear and war mongering. Not to be outdone, the party of FDR, Harry Truman and LBJ, long ago abandoned its tradition of standing up for the working people and the middle class and now answers to the whims of well-educated, elitist snobs and narrow special interests. It has its hawks as well; with our current President bringing the war on terror into its second decade, continuing our efforts to demonstrate to those who disagree with us our resolve and moral superiority as we bomb them in hopes they stop hating us.
Both parties are polluted by money; big money, bad money and grubby money. Republicans have always been seen as the party of the wealthy, but if you have been paying attention, you can’t help but see that the Democratic Party can match them buck for buck and then some. As of October 19, the Clinton campaign has raised $753 million to the Trump campaign total of a mere $372 million. The Boston Globe reported that campaign donations to Hillary Clinton from Wall Street interests approach sixty million dollars with another twenty-eight million thrown in from lobbyists and lawyers. God only knows how much the Donald has hustled from this crowd, but one would think that lawyers, lobbyists and Wall Street fixers would have to be tapped out by now. In either case, these donations surely aren’t made to represent the interests of the average American like you and me.
How did this come to pass? In our America, corporations have long been afforded the rights of people, but more disturbing is the reality that money has now been judicially affirmed as a form of free speech by the Supreme Court. This has allowed Political Action Committees of the super variety to line the pockets and pocketbooks of candidates with cash raised from those looking for power and influence in the service of their particular interest. It’s a story as old as the hills; money goes to money, and those with it not only want to keep it, but crave more of it. Those without it remain so. Period.
In the good old days, the captains of industry who ran the world had at least a tacit understanding that it wasn’t always the best idea to keep all profits for themselves, and that sharing some of it with those who actually did the work to create it was a wise concept. There were also strong labor unions to remind them of this and labor laws to compel a more level playing field. Then along came The Gipper in the 1980’s who took on and destroyed the Air Traffic Controllers union, deregulated the airline industry and tipped the precarious slope of the labor – management relationship. This was welcomed by those who saw organized labor as a problem, as often it was. However, unions existed as the pesky necessity giving those holding onto messy end of the stick a lift toward a better, more secure life with things like pensions and health insurance.
But if The Great Communicator fired the starter’s pistol in the race toward the bottom, it was The New Democrat from Hope who unleashed The Furies that brought the average Joe to his knees. When Bill Clinton was President, he worked doubly hard to see that the Bush – generated North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement met with congressional approval. Seeking the grand bargain with a skeptical congress, Clinton sold the idea as good for the American consumer and maybe the American worker too. Fueled by the explosion of internet technology, it was mostly good for a new generation of robber barons who saw it as an opportunity to increase profits by moving manufacturing and labor costs overseas at will. But hey, we got to import more items of cheap, plastic junk made by exploited and underpaid, third-world workers. What was not to like?
Bill didn’t stop there, though. If NAFTA and trade deregulation was such a good thing, then why not try some on the banks? With support and encouragement from anyone looking to profit from looser banking rules, or no rules at all, he succeeded in allowing banks free rein to create their own rules of engagement, commence on a binge of mergers and acquisitions and create such exciting financial products as derivative investments and sub-prime mortgages. The banks were encouraged to lend, lend, and lend some more. Nearly anyone who wanted a mortgage could get one, as home ownership was part of the American Dream. The inability to pay the mortgage back was deemed irrelevant. Property values would always increase beyond the mortgage obligation and their rise to ridiculous levels was seen as a good and permanent state of affairs. And if things suddenly turned sour, Uncle Sam (read average American taxpayer) would always be there to bail out the banks anyway.
Companies dumped pension programs – long the holy grail of the working class, and forced employees to instead enroll in 401K retirement plans. These monies were invested in the stock market with the encouragement of commissioned “investment advisors,” who promised never-ending double digit returns. If the stock market burped once in a while, not to worry, it was only a temporary adjustment that would right itself in the long run.
Let’s face it. Most of us were as were lulled into a belief that the world was a more peaceful place and prosperity would never end. The Cold War had thawed, the Berlin Wall had tumbled down and the Soviet Union was swept into The Gipper’s “Dustbin of History.” The peace dividend would carry us all into a new prosperity. We had reached “The End of History,” with a best-selling book by that title to prove it.
We ignored a serious warning when the Dot-Com bubble burst sending the economy into recession. But lots happened during those times and the following decades to distract our attention. Clinton’s Impeachment for fibbing about a Saturday session with Monica, the “Hanging Chad” election of G.W. Bush, the terrible and endless tragedy of 9-11 and the War on Terror. Add in the fights over gay rights, gun rights, immigration, etc, etc. Warnings by some that the banks were a mess and about to implode were ignored by the political class. Then in 2008 came the financial crisis followed by The Great Recession, which was only great if you were a bank deemed “To large to fail.”
If you owned a home mortgaged above its suddenly deflated value, you weren’t too large to fail. If you had lost your job as a result of the economic times and could no longer make the payments, or if all of the hard-earned money in your 401K lost half or more of it’s value just as you were going to retire,too bad for you. Thousands of Americans suffered foreclosures, bankruptcies, lost savings and destroyed credit. The term “Toxic Assets” entered the American lexicon as the finger of blame was rightly pointed toward super-sized banks, insurance companies and the pigs of Wall Street. Much harrumphing was heard from politicians and a new President, Barack Obama was elected on the hope of straightening out the mess and holding accountable those responsible.
I eagerly anticipated watching a parade of the thieves and hustlers who had placed the economy in the toilet being led up to the scaffold to dangle from the gibbet of the people’s justice. I’m still waiting. Rather then appoint honest reformers and tough-minded realists, Obama filled his original cabinet with charter members of the financial class, associates of the very people who had robbed the economy. Naturally, they were reluctant to see their friends hang and instead preached a tone of moderation. The Justice Department commenced a grand total of just one prosecution of a Wall Street huckster, with that guy getting thirty months in the Fed.
The growing income inequality in America has been reported and talked about ad- nauseam, but to what end? It seems that people have adjusted to lowered expectations, higher debt, less secure jobs and fewer benefits. How many working people are now “exempt, at-will” employees or required to sign non-compete or confidentiality agreements, or any other variation? In America today, a mere 11% are members of some type of labor union. Workers simply have no clout in today’s economy, and aren’t likely to regain much soon.
Always fearful of labor and scornful of unions, Republican politicians and their ditto-head spokespeople decry the sad state of the recovery and offer only the same old tired bromides that tax cuts for the rich and corporations will cure the malaise and raise all boats. Traditionally impressed by the power of property over the power of people, their instinct leads them to side with the former. Although they tout the advantages of a capitalistic economy based on freedom and competition, they prefer deregulation and the elimination of rules which might adversely impact the established wealthy.
Ironically, they have been perversely eclipsed in these beliefs by the rise of the new Democratic true-believers. This knowledge class of well-educated technocrats, professionals, bankers, investors etc., have benefited tremendously in their selected fields from deregulation and the reluctance of the government to even attempt to employ existing anti-trust laws. They have created monopolistic systems of financing, insurance, health care, delivery of consumer goods, energy and communication. They are not interested in the idea of a level playing field and competition, but know that the key to success in the new American economy is the re-establishment of monopolistic control of their enterprises. Labor leaders are not counted among their friends.
Socially liberal, they voice support for issues of civil rights and progressive idealism, provided that it doesn’t impact their ever-increasing wealth and influence. They know instinctively that they are right, and insist that you understand this too. They speak mostly to themselves and bask in the reflections of their righteousness. They swoon in the presence of Democratic leaders like the Clinton’s and Obama’s, but turn an eventual cold shoulder toward someone like Bernie Sanders who might challenge the hypocrisy of their self-proclaimed virtue in the face of their wealth and the influence that it brings.
Because of this troubling reality, the middle class, at least those traditionally seen as “working people” and not necessarily college educated, have nowhere to go now, no party to call home. They wind up disaffected and lost, or seeking some type of voice in things like the hollow promise of the Tea Party or the shrill accusations of a Sarah Palin. All of this leads to a growing segment of our population who are economically stagnated and increasingly powerless to change their circumstances. At more that 324 million people, the United States is far too large to long endure such wide swaths of economically depressed people.
I still believe that on the whole, the economic system of capitalism, when properly restrained by a system of checks and balances, remains the best and fairest system of creating and distributing wealth. When those checks and balances are undermined or outright eliminated, the natural tendency of the rich and powerful toward greed and ceaseless accumulation take hold and accelerate.A new breed of hyper-capitalists are at large, people who show more interest in their wealth and power than to their country or the citizens who make our nation whole. This is what challenges democracy and the future of the United States. I wish I could offer an answer to this, but I fear that we must first go through the fire of the next big downturn or another disaster that leads to some sort of reawakening. Sadly, I conclude that our challenges will not be cured in any way by this election.