They say the devil is in the details but sometimes the devil is in the big picture.
When it comes to the American political system, the problem is not an instance of dysfunction here or an element of corruption there. It’s not just one thing, it’s the whole thing. It’s that our government has become a system of legalized bribery, as the undue influence of money, mainly corporate money, has corrupted our democracy.
This has created what is for all intents and purposes an economically rigged system. Due to the undue influence of money on our political system, our politicians now do more to serve corporate interests than humanitarian ones, to advocate for short-term profit maximization for huge corporate entities before the health, well-being and security of the American people and the planet on which we live.
There’s a word for a situation in which a small group of people control most of the resources and exercise most of the power in a country: oligarchy.
More and more Americans on both the left and right now realize that our democracy has turned into an oligarchy. Our government’s ability to truly serve its people has been kneecapped, so that the private interests of a relative few will best be served; this has created not simply an aberrational chapter of our history, but a seemingly entrenched system of economic injustice.
Democracy has been under attack in America for a very long time, and at this point it doesn’t seem to be winning.
The oligarchic take-over of the U.S. government started in 1980, sometimes moving faster and sometimes moving slower but never really waning. By now it’s made its way into the category of “just the way things are”–and in the words of founding father Thomas Paine: “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”
Contrary to his self-promotional ruse, former President Donald Trump‘s administration represented the culmination of oligarchic rule. While he claimed to be a voice of the people championing their interests against a Washington elite, nothing could have been further from the truth. Donald Trump as a champion of the little guy is one of the biggest lies at the core of his presidency.
But Trump is no longer president, and the tremendous power of that office now lies in the hands of Joe Biden. It is still early in the Biden presidency but so far, his administration is in too many cases supporting policies that paved the way to Trump’s ascendency to begin with.
Biden’s promise to “build back better” is teetering toward building back pretty much the same as before: not stopping the rule of oligarchy so much as making it more bearable for the little guy. The American Rescue Bill provides just enough relief to enable people to go back to living lives as economically stressed and traumatized as they were before the pandemic occurred.
Even before the pandemic, 40 percent of Americans could not afford a $400 unexpected expenditure. Today, a majority of Americans live in economic insecurity. Many of the elements in the COVID Relief Bill turned out to be excellent, and that is to be acknowledged. But they don’t create the kind of fundamental change that will raze the now comfortable perch of the American oligarchy.
President Biden caused a ripple of excitement when he placed a picture of FDR over the mantelpiece in the Oval Office. But Roosevelt didn’t only rescue people in the Great Depression; he created structural economic changes that addressed the fundamental causes of the Depression to begin with. He gave people a New Deal, literally and figuratively. Rescuing people who are drowning in the middle of the ocean is of itself not quite enough, if it’s only to deliver them to a shore where they remain little more than serfs in their own land.
COVID alone did not lead us to where we are, and Trump alone did not lead us to where we are. The massive transfer of wealth into the hands of 1 percent of Americans has been going on for 40 years, a march of malfeasance that began with the Republicans but which no Democratic president stopped. Nothing short of a fundamental interruption of that march will end the economic tyranny by which giant corporate entities–from health insurance companies to Big Oil to defense contractors and more–use the U.S. government as little more than a cash cow to increase their short-term profits.
Whether rejecting the English aristocracy in 1776 or the American corporatocracy in 2021, it’s the most American thing in the world to say, “Hell no!” to such undemocratic nonsense.
Does the oligarchy appreciate a repudiation of its contention that the major resources of the country should belong to them and them alone? Of course not; it never has and it never will. And that is just the way of the world.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson: “It is the general tendency of the rich to prey upon the poor.” Every generation is supposed to know that, and regulate accordingly.
A system that routinely makes it easier for the rich to get richer and harder for the poor to even make it at all, is immoral, un-American and undemocratic. It is not just our right but our responsibility to rail against such a system, whether need be to Republicans or to Democrats.
The multi-billionaire donor class is not sweating it out for the sake of the average American, and the very existence of such an economic class system bears the fingerprints of a government that systematically turned its back on its people. When we’re not allowed to seriously consider a 3 percent wealth tax on billionaires, yet cannot raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the American people have a problem. Their needs are not being ignored; they are being assaulted.
The people deserve a president who sides unequivocally with their interests. It won’t always make him popular with everyone, but that shouldn’t matter.
Those whom Roosevelt called “economic royalists” pushed back mightily against his plans for a New Deal–to which he famously responded, “I welcome their hatred.” Did they yell loudly that he was a socialist? Of course they did, just as they do now. And how did he respond? Among other things, by creating Social Security. Is anybody complaining about that today?
Roosevelt knew that simply helping people during a crisis is not enough; that the role of government should be to create a society in which such crises are more preventable. He was dedicated to what were called “the three R’s”: relief for the unemployed and poor, recovery of the economy back to normal levels and reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat Depression.
In our current circumstances, President Biden is giving laudable attention to the first two, but the third–reforming the financial system to actually level the playing field and prevent further disasters–is still up in the air. Why? Because such fundamental changes would anger today’s oligarchs, and Biden seems unwilling as yet to follow in Roosevelt’s footsteps and welcome their hatred.
Where does that leave us? Most probably on the path to the next Trump or Trumpesque presidency, I’m afraid.
For without policies like a higher minimum wage, universal healthcare, free college tuition, cancellation of student loan debt, the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, strong prosecution of monopolies, pro-labor legislation, a wealth tax, the repeal of the 2017 Tax Cut (not the middle class cuts, however)–all of which would make up today’s version of a New Deal–then Democrats will do with their trifecta in Washington what Democrats too often do these days: ameliorate the immediate and peripheral pain of millions of people, but refuse to challenge the underlying forces that make the return of their suffering inevitable.
If that’s the case, what will those people do in the next election? Many voters–far too many–will simply stay home. Eight million more people showed up to vote for Biden than for Trump for two reasons: to get rid of Trump, yes, and also because they believed the Democrats when they made the argument that a new day for them was possible.
The fact that today is not as horrible as yesterday will not be enough; a new day means a new day, not only with less despair but also with more hope. And that would mean a fundamental pattern disruption, a repudiation of entrenched economic injustice that goes way beyond “Pretty please,” has no problem embarrassing Republican senators or overriding archaic Senate rules, cares more about people than about bipartisanship and puts our corporate oligarchy to bed–once and for all.
You want to be like FDR, Mr. President? Please do. People deserved a new deal in the 1930s. And they deserve a new deal today.
Marianne Williamson is a Newsweek columnist, best-selling author, political activist and spiritual thought leader. She is founder of Project Angel Food and co-founder of the Peace Alliance, and was the first candidate in the 2020 presidential primary to make reparations a pillar of her campaign. She is the author of 13 books, among them Healing the Soul of America and A Politics of Love.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.