Some years ago, Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore (before he was Trump's advisor) was a guest on my radio/TV program. I asked him, "Which is more important, democracy or capitalism?"
Without hesitation, he answered, "Capitalism."
That philosophy (of capitalism being more important than "We the People" democracy), has held the Republican Party in its thrall for the past 40 years, and has brought America to a moment of great crisis and danger.
It has transformed America from a democracy to an oligarchy, and the point of no return is now visible.
The Demonizing of Government
Approval of government has recovered slightly since the election, but is still at an historic low because Americans feel that government generally isn't working for them in the way that it once did in this country.
This disconnection of government from the people isn't an accident; it was intentional. In the 40 years since the Reagan Revolution, the GOP and a meaningful chunk of the Democratic Party have made the transition from operating as agents of a functioning democracy into advocates for and agents of a full-blown oligarchy ("rule by and for the rich").
Oligarchies, however, are inherently unstable forms of government because they transfer resources from working people to the oligarchs and average people, seeing that they're constantly falling behind, first become cynical and disengage, and when things get bad enough they revolt.
That "revolution" can either lead to the oligarchy failing and the nation flipping back to democracy, as happened here in the 1860s and the 1930s, or it can flip into full-blown strong-man tyranny, as happened in recently Hungary and Russia, and nearly happened here last month.
The good news is that we avoided Trump establishing a full-blown police state to enforce his oligarchy, and appear to be moving back towards something resembling democracy.
But we have a long way to go, and the outcome is still uncertain.
Reaganism nourished the rise of the new oligarchs.
The seeds of today's modern Oligarchy were planted in 1976 and 1978 when the Supreme Court ruled that rich people and corporations can wholly own politicians and political parties.
The Court said that buying and corrupting politicians, something that was illegal in this country from its founding until 1976, was no longer against the law: it was simply rich people and corporations exercising their "free speech" rights.
Corporations are people, the conservatives on the Court said, and money isn't money: it's speech. (They doubled down on this in 2010 with the Court's conservative's Citizens United decision.)
After those decisions in 1976 and 1978, the Reagan campaign jumped in with both feet and a flood of oligarch cash propelled him into the White House, and has sustained the Republican Party ever since.
Researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page published a famous study back in 2014 showing that prior to the Reagan Revolution in 1981 what most people wanted, policy wise, actually got translated into legislation.
Average Americans got union rights, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, housing support, college support, civil rights and voting rights legislation, and a whole plethora of programs and supports for average working people that built and strengthened the middle class from the 1930s through the early 1980s.
During that time, the average working person's wealth and income was actually rising faster than that of the top 1%. Democracy and the economy were both relatively healthy, and prosperity was the word of the day. The American middle class was the envy of the world.
But, these researchers found, since the Reagan Revolution of 1981, that connection between what average people want and what legislatures do has been completely destroyed.
Instead, since the 1980s, legislation almost always does what the top 1% wants, while ignoring the needs and desires of average working people.
The result has been an explosion of billionaires and the gutting of the working class; a decade ago, for the first time in generations, more than half of Americans had fallen out of what was once called "middle class."
This is the literal definition of oligarchy.
The ingredients of an oligarchy have been added
Oligarchic governments almost always do a few predictable things:
- They change laws and regulations so their rich buddies can take control of most of the media.
- They stack the courts and regulatory agencies with oligarch-friendly ideologues or outright corrupt toadies, while massively eliminate regulatory protections for average citizens.
- They cut taxes on the rich and keep wages low on working people while criminalizing and cracking down on dissent.
- They distract voters from their own looting by demonizing minorities and encouraging racism and regionalism.
- They actively suppress the vote among people inclined to oppose them (typically minorities and the young), or outright rig the vote to insure their own victory.
- And they transforming their nations' into police states to put down the inevitable rebellions as people realize what's happening.
The Reagan, Bush and Trump administrations have championed and executed every one of these steps, following the playbook laid out long ago by Machiavelli, in the 1920s by Mussolini, and most recently executed by Hungary's Viktor Orbán.
Americans must see that government can be good and will once again make people's live better
Stopping and reversing an oligarchic trend first requires reclaiming the trust of the nation's people, and that means making government work again for them.
Just putting a Democrat in the White House and giving the Democratic Party control of the House and Senate isn't enough to break today's Reagan/Bush/Trump oligarchy and prevent the eventual transition, if a Republican like Josh Hawley or Ted Cruz is elected in 2024, to the kind of full-blown fascistic tyranny Trump tried to bring about by storming the Capitol on January 6th.
To stop this trend, Congress and the White House must take definite steps to undo those disastrous Supreme Court decisions, which culminated with Citizens United in 2010, and thus reduce the political power of billionaires, giant corporations and their lobbyists. We need to get money out of politics.
There's an extraordinary history behind this moment; our nation has fought back major, organized oligarchic attempts to destroy democracy twice before in our history, as I lay out in my new book, The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy from the Ruling Class.
And today, we're there again.
The starting point to back down oligarchy now, in this era, is found in the House of Representatives' first proposed legislation, HR1, also known as the "For the The People Act."
Tragically, because this legislation doesn't involve budget issues, it will be subject to a Republican filibuster, forcing a required 60 votes in the Senate to pass.
That's why Americans must be reaching out to conservative Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, demanding they help the rest of the Democratic Party end the filibuster now. (The phone number for the Senate is 202-224-3121.)
If we don't reclaim democracy now, the next generation of Americans may well grow up in the dystopia George Orwell imagined in his novel 1984 and Europe suffered under in the 1930s.
Between great wealth, control of the media, and algorithmic manipulation of the American mind, tyranny is itching to take over completely. We must stop them.
Originally posted on thomhartmann.medium.com.