UNITED STATES—The Democratic Party has been moving along to the right with the Republican Party since the 1980s. If you look back in time at the Republican and Democratic platforms from my youth, you would find almost nothing in either of them that would find a place on their party’s platform in the 21st century. Why is it that both parties have galloped headlong to the right? This has a simple, easy answer: money.
Those with wealth have always wielded a disproportionate amount of power in these United States. At the time of the founding of our nation, only propertied men of means were allowed to vote. For most of our history, we have been improving on this, and we have become a more fair and democratic nation as a result. However, starting in the 1980s we began a gradual decline in egalitarianism and a gradual shift of wealth from the world’s largest and most prosperous middle class to the very rich. Poor people didn’t have much 50 years ago and they have even less today, but they don’t have a lot less. It is the middle class that has been the big loser.
As laws were changed to allow more political spending by the people who had the money to spend, culminating in the Citizens United case that opened the floodgates, it has become more and more expensive to run for office. The more expensive it is to win an election, the more the candidates must pander to the people who can afford to pay for their campaigns. This is as equally true for Democrats as it is for Republicans. Both parties gradually shifted their political platforms to address the needs, wants and prejudices of the rich, and away from the more egalitarian concerns of the ordinary citizens.
In this week’s election, we have seen a fractured Democratic Party that has increasingly bent over backwards to seem more “responsible” and “conservative” and a Republican Party that has continued to march determinedly to the right wing extreme. The people who are naturally in sympathy with these positions, the people who stand the most to gain from these policies are the rich. They like “conservative” policies because they are designed to allow business to profit at the expense of the general public. They view “liberal” policies as allowing the general public to profit from business, which, they believe hurts their income. They seem to be unable to understand that if the general public has less, business suffers. This is what an economic downturn looks like. They like the Republican positions slightly better than the Democratic ones. The Democratic ones are at least seasoned slightly (if not liberally) with an aura of residual liberalism. At the same time, people who dislike the Republican agenda that leaves them behind, who feel just as passionate and convinced of their beliefs as the conservatives, feel betrayed and left behind by a political party that does little more than give lip service to their ideals. So nobody bothers to get out and vote Democrat.
The big problem here is that we seem to have traded a solution oriented government that was concerned with developing and maintaining an entire nation, for a government of profit oriented businessmen (in two slightly different flavors) whose only concern is being able to manipulate the institutions of governance so as to be financially remunerative for their friends and coincidentally lining their own pockets quite nicely, too. This is not a prescription that offers any cures for what ails this nation. Business as usual will inevitably result in a downward spiral into eventual collapse and bankruptcy. This is what happened in the Roman Empire and it is what is happening in our empire.
Both parties have become so similar and so similarly corrupt that it is difficult to think of a practical solution from within either organization. As President Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” I fear that we may be close to that point. All the ways in which people have tried to work within the political process have failed and we are very quickly running out of time and choices.
And this intransigence and corruption of our once great democracy is a global problem. We are, as a species of living things on this planet, faced with some really clear and present dangers: world population, exhaustion of resources, pollution and habitat destruction, global warming, nuclear proliferation, global health concerns, are just a few of the highlights from a long list of factors that could jointly result in the actual extinction of humans from Earth in a relatively short time.
I have several friends, now fast approaching retirement, who say that they are so glad they don’t have kids. They spent their whole lives wanting kids, wishing they could have kids, and trying to have kids, but it never happened and now they are glad. They are glad because they think we’re at the end of human history and they don’t want to leave behind anyone to suffer. They think things will stay substantially ok for the short span of time before they die, but not long after that they know in their hearts that billions of people will die in agony and they are glad that some of these will not be their children or grandchildren.
What a horrible conclusion for successful, comfortable, rational, well educated people to come to about the world they live in. What a horrible reflection on our society.
I hope that they are wrong, and I fear they are right. And I have children, and may yet have grandchildren. And I am not merely concerned. I am not upset. I am damn mad. I am mad at you and at me. I am mad and a whole lot of us who let things come to this pass. I want action and I want it now. But like you, I have no one I can turn to, no solution I can logically propose. I keep hoping that someone will come up with something that will actually allow us to get back out of this hole we have dug for ourselves.
And this is what I think our politicians need to fear most: a plausible demagogue who can galvanize people into action. This country is riper by the day for a person like this. I just hope that when someone comes in to fill this need we get someone like FDR and not someone like Hitler.