Plutocracy: Government by the wealthy.
Oligarchy: Government in which a small group exercises control for corrupt and selfish purposes.
Divide and conquer: The act of turning the citizens of a nation against one another to distract them from observing how plutocrats and oligarchs are using the government of that nation for corrupt and selfish purposes.
As the November election draws near, we Americans seem intent on tearing one another to political and social shreds. Neighbor turns on neighbor, friend on friend, family member on family member. Fear and hate override rational thought, and no matter our political persuasions, we all become victims. Yet few ask why. What are the roots of this self-destruction? A short look at history displays a bipartisan shift to plutocracy and oligarchy, to divide and conquer.
Ronald Reagan was Republican president from 1981 to 1989. Elected at a time of historically egalitarian wealth distribution and working-class prosperity, Reagan proceeded to voice perhaps the most destructive words ever uttered by a sitting president: “Government isn’t the solution to the problem, government is the problem.” And in that moment, all that we and past Americans had strived for, had shed tears and lives for, was denigrated by the highest leadership of the land.
What followed was an endless corporate media attack on our government and all it had done to provide a good life for working Americans: “The government can do nothing right,” “Only private business knows how to do things efficiently,” “Regulations are killing the economy,” “Taxes are hindering the ‘job creators,’” “Trickle-down economics will help working people,” “Government should be run like a business,” and on and on. These falsehoods – and they were falsehoods – were repeated for decades and remind one of the words of George Orwell in his book, ” 1984“: “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth.”
We were told that our government – a government that only 50 years before Reagan had pulled America through the ravages of the Great Depression, that 35 years earlier had mobilized the greatest war effort the world had ever known to help Europe and Russia overcome the evils of Nazi Germany, a government that guided us to the highest living standards in history after the war, that raised millions of elderly Americans out of poverty, that passed regulations protecting working people, that made our water and environment safer, that made cars safer, that made factories safer, that made food and pharmaceuticals safer, that made schools safer for our children, a government that had completed the planet’s largest infrastructure project, our interstate highway system, and shortly after had put a man on the moon, a government that wisely used progressive taxation to prevent the gross inequality that invariably undermines democracy – this government, we were told, was no good.
It was a despicable subversion of the government of the United States solely for the benefit of corporations, the richest, the plutocrats and oligarchs. It was the foundation of the historic inequality destroying America today.
George H. W. Bush followed Reagan in the Oval Office from 1989 to 1993 and essentially continued Reagan’s work. But it was Democratic President Bill Clinton, in office from 1993 to 2001, who fulfilled the plutocrat’s (and the Republican’s) wildest dreams.
It was Clinton who filled his cabinet with Wall Street bankers and signed the Riegle-Neal interstate Banking Bill deregulating the financial industry. It was Clinton who ended the Glass-Steagall regulations enacted after the Great Depression to protect Americans from the worst abuses of Wall Street banks. It was Clinton who enabled the Wall Street casino to effect the greatest transfer of wealth from working Americans to the rich since the Gilded Age and the “Roaring 20s.” It was Clinton who signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) transferring hundreds of thousands of high paying manufacturing jobs to Mexico where labor was cheap and environmental laws were lax. It was Clinton who undermined the social programs protecting working people enacted in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. It was Clinton who signed off on legislation which gave far lesser punishments to affluent law offenders than those of modest or low income, leading directly to the Black Lives Matter movement and mass incarceration of today.
President George W. Bush, in office from 2001 to 2009, followed in the wealth transferring footsteps of Reagan and Clinton. One of his first actions was the enactment of the 2001 tax cuts to be followed by the 2003 tax cuts.
Quoting the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “High-income taxpayers benefitted most from these tax cuts, with the top 1 percent of households receiving an average tax cut of over $570,000” … “Despite promises from proponents of the tax cuts, evidence suggests that they did not improve economic growth or pay for themselves, but instead ballooned deficits and debt and contributed to a rise in income inequality.”
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Along with the tax cuts for the rich, Bush also attempted to privatize Social Security to enable Wall Street to begin taking a cut of working people’s retirements. And of course, the historically documented lies that dragged us into the ongoing wars in the Mid-East were also guided by the wealthy in the oil and arms industries. Forcing Iraq and the other oil producing nations to continue the sale of oil in dollars rather than euros or other national currencies, along with the sale of arms produced by the corporations in the military/industrial complex, provided billions in profits to the richest of the rich. The plutocratic takeover of our government and our nation’s wealth continued unabated
In 2007, at the end of the Bush administration and decades of bipartisan deregulation, the game, the Wall Street casino, inevitably collapsed. The Great Recession devastated the lives of millions of working Americans, and Barack Obama was elected to the presidency with Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate. The following four years represented perhaps the most heartbreaking loss of opportunity for the people of America in U.S. history.
Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940s, had a president and Congress been given such a total mandate to end the corruption of the multibillionaire class that was plundering America. Even Warren Buffett, the richest of the rich, openly stated: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” Tragically, instead of criminal prosecutions and nationalization of bankrupt financial institutions, we saw Obama choose as his economic advisors the same Wall Street bankers, or their progeny, previously employed by Clinton.
Labeling two of the most predatory bankers on Wall Street, the CEO’s of J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs, “savvy businessmen,” Obama, with the full help of a Democratically controlled Congress, made corruption whole again. To the tune of literally trillions of dollars, the very institutions and corporate heads whose fraud had caused the economic collapse, were bailed out with public funds. Wall Street bank CEO’s received multi-million-dollar bonuses for destroying the economy, while the working people of America, who were losing their homes and livelihoods, were hung out to dry.
When the 2016 elections arrived, average Americans could not have defined how they had been screwed (there’s not a better word for it) by their political “leaders” for decades, but they intuitively understood they had been. The corporately controlled Democratic Party nominated Hillary Clinton, who had recently been paid $675,000 for three one-hour speeches to Goldman Sachs (one of the corrupt Wall Street banks receiving a public bailout), and the corporately controlled Republican Party nominated Donald Trump, a wealthy man who would go on to give more tax cuts to the rich in 2017. The billionaires, by then in full control of the U.S. Government, didn’t care which candidate took the presidency. Either way, they would win.
So here we are in 2020. Three men, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett own more wealth than the bottom half, 160 million (160,000,000) people, of all America. The richest 1 percent will soon own more than the entire middle class. These are the people who own our politicians and our government. These are the people who pre-approved Joe Biden and Donald Trump to be certain neither candidate would threaten the plutocracy, the oligarchy. America is no longer a democracy.
Inequality is now at historic levels. The majority of working Americans currently live with economic insecurity or in outright poverty. Millions of children go hungry, millions of elderly have no retirement, millions of Americans have no medical insurance or healthcare. The stress on people and families has never been worse. It is a situation ripe for “divide and conquer,” and Buffett’s “rich class waging war” is using it masterfully to keep working people at one another’s throats. Every time we blame our neighbor, or immigrants, or minorities, or Jews, or Muslims, we are doing the bidding of those who are truly taking away our right to a decent life – the plutocrats and oligarchs at the top.
I do not pretend to know the answers and help is unlikely to come from either political party at the national level. Both are in bed with big money. But every time we belittle another, every time we blame others who are struggling to survive and provide a hopeful future for their children like we are, every time we blame others who don’t look like us, every time we tote a gun in public, we are being our own worst enemy, and the billionaire class is delighted.
When we vote this November, let us seek to do the least harm. And when the 2024 elections come around, let us hope that “we the people” will have taken the steps needed to begin reclaiming our America.
Dave Svetlik of Kronenwetter
Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.