Who will be this Generation’s Thomas Jefferson?
We could be looking at the end of the American experiment, and it has gone so far that it'll take a political revolution to set things right again.
On Monday, Charles and David Koch, the Koch brothers, pledged they would raise and spend $889 million to help elect Republicans in the 2016 election cycle. To put just how huge this number is in perspective, $889 million is more than both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee spent combined over the course of the 2012 elections.
This is the brave new world we live in thanks to the Supreme Court and it’s doctrine of money as speech and corporations as people. Two billionaires - two oil barons - now have just as much power, arguably even more power, than America's two main political parties. But the Kochs are just one example of a very big problem. And that problem is the near total takeover of our political system by plutocrats.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “Since Citizens United was decided in 2010, there has been more than $1 billion in super PAC spending. Just 195 individuals and their spouses gave almost 60 percent of that money - more than $600 million.”
It’s clear that this investment has paid big dividends for the plutocrats.Republicans now control 69 of the 99 state legislative chambers across the U.S. as well as both houses of Congress, where they’re hard at work pushing corporate-friendly legislation like a bill to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline.
On the state level corporate influence has become so pervasive that in Kansas Governor Sam Brownback submitted his state budget to Koch-funded lobbyists weeks before he submitted it to his own state's legislature.
Meanwhile, wealth inequality remains at an all-time high as the top one percent has captured 91 percent all income gains since the Recession.
Former Vice President Henry Wallace had a name for this kind of political system where the wealthy elite use the state to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. He called its “fascism,” and he called people the plutocrats who supported it “fascists.” Writing in The New York Times in 1944, Wallace said about the plutocrat fascists that,
"They 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… 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."
Eternal subjection - that’s a powerful phrase, but it really is what we’re looking at right now.
Look at how few Americans have any power or representation by a union in the workplace - before Reagan, it was about a third of American workers; now it's around 7 percent in the private workplace. Or look at how many young people are shackled for decades with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, subjecting them to a narrowed existence, unable to start a family or buy a home.
As billionaires like the Kochs continue to buy elections and legislatures, they snuff out a real democracy. And they're doing it not for the good of the nation, but purely so the rich can get richer. Remember the bumper sticker? Republican billionaires make investments when they buy politicians to make themselves richer. Democratic billionaires invest in America when they support politicians who will raise their taxes.
We’ve seen this situation before a handful of times in our country’s history. As I wrote about in my book The Crash of 2016, the plutocrats, fascists, economic royalists - whatever you want to call them - have been around since the revolutionary era. And every generation or so, they’ve assumed almost total control over our government and our economy. We saw this during the 1920s and the lead-up to the Great Depression, when President Warren Harding made it his mission to put “less government in business and more business in government.”
We saw it during the Gilded Age, when robber barons like John D. Rockefeller used their monopoly power to dominate the political and economic landscape. And we saw this during the late 18th century, when President John Adams and his Federalist allies almost succeeded in turning our young republic into a European-style oligarchy.
But each time the economic royalists have threatened to overthrow our democracy, progressive revolutionaries like Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Teddy Roosevelt have blocked them and reformed our system for the better. We’re at similar moment in time right now.
With the Kochs set to spend almost $1 billion in the next election cycle and the right’s war on campaign finance raging as strong as ever, our democracy is perilously close to slipping into oligarchy. But revolutionaries like Jefferson in 1800, Lincoln in 1860, Teddy Roosevelt in 1901, and FDR in 1932 don't just fall out of the sky. They come to power because “We the People” have had enough of the oligarchs, and get out and support them.
Whether the next revolutionary to come to power will be Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or even if Hillary Clinton or some other Democrat gets religion and comes out as a populist only time will tell. But none of it will happen if you and I don't get politically active.