My Perspective

Thank God for Democracy

We begin 2018 with open and optimistic hearts—for our families, our communities and our nation. On a national level, it is a perfect time to ask the question: Where are we headed in 2018? To arrive at an answer, we need to assess where we are today.

Our problems are many: 1) the unemployment rate is still too high; 2) millions of workers have lost their jobs and need to be retrained to gain re-employment; 3) too many are struggling to make ends meet and need a chance to earn a living wage; and 4) a large part of the population can’t afford health insurance (now that Obamacare has been sabotaged) and/or a college education; they need to be given a chance to acquire both.

Of course, the very framing of the problems reflects a point of view, which is that government can and should play an active role in helping people. It’s the same philosophy that was behind Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Most historians credit FDR’s plan of action with saving this country; as a result, it was and remains immensely popular. At the time, however, it was opposed by the radical right, which demonized it and any governmental intervention in the economy. That is still their view today.

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In approaching these problems, you would assume that today’s leaders would give the tried-and-true New Deal approach a second chance. However, there are a number of reasons why that has not happened. First and foremost is the very nature of our political system in the 21st century. It costs an enormous amount of money today to run a campaign. I confronted that myself in 2006 when I attempted to run for Congress. It’s twice as costly today.

In their insightful article, “Testing Theories of American Politics,” Dr. Benjamin Page and Dr. Martin Gilens provide overwhelming evidence that our democracy is indeed in the control of people with means. The authors begin by asking the question: “Who governs? Who really rules? To what extent is the broad body of U.S. citizens sovereign or largely powerless?” After an exhausting study, their conclusion that the very rich rule is both a sobering fact and a call to arms.

For a long time now, the hard truth is that the wealthy have supported candidates who are in line with their opposition to progressive taxation, welfare programs and governmental regulations of any kind. Although unspoken, the “quid pro quo” has always existed. It is the elephant in the room. Understanding that, the very wealthy have not been shy about buying political power. During the 2016 campaign, for example, 40 percent of all political donations came from an elite group of 24,949 donors, the equivalent of 0.01 percent of the population. Compare that to the 15 percent in 1980 and you begin to see that democracy is in trouble. Although some Democrats have received funding, the vast majority of donors have lined the pockets of the candidates of the Grand Old Party. These new donors have dramatically pushed the Republican Party to the far right, offering unlimited amounts of money to anyone who would do their bidding. And it’s worked.

According to the research of Dr. Page and Dr. Gilens, the top 1 percent has long understood that running for any major political office is impossible without major financial backing. Appreciating that, and displaying a willingness to get their hands dirty in political fracases, the billionaires now wield enormous power over who gets elected and what policies get advanced. If you take their money and don’t promote their cause, you will find yourself faced with a well-financed primary opponent on your next go round.

The power of this new political force is evident in the actions of one of their own, Donald Trump. All that nonsense of working for the working class was quickly abandoned once Mr. Trump got elected. Instead, President Trump has served his wealthy friends well by ripping up regulations designed to protect families and the environment. He has destroyed the Affordable Care Act and in the process jeopardized the health insurance of millions of Americans (many who foolishly believed he was on their side). As if that weren’t enough, the very wealthy this past week have received their biggest payoff yet in the form of a tax bill that slashes their federal taxes and those of the corporations they own. Besides a blanket reduction in the taxes of the extremely wealthy, the new bill also offers loopholes to the rich while hurting the middle class by limiting its ability to deduct state and local taxes on income tax returns. It’s no wonder that President Trump is quoted as saying to his wealthy Mar-a-Lago friends, “You all just got a lot richer.” Indeed, they have.

The new tax code is illustrative of the approach the Republican president and Congress have taken toward the nation’s ills. It exacts pain in every place but the top of the income ladder. When forced to explain how they could have abandoned the poor and the middle class, they spout the same gibberish we heard when the Reagan tax cuts were announced: The profits will “trickle down” to the middle and lower classes. Of course, we know that’s a lie and they know it, too. Every study, and our experience, has shown that the profits stay where they were always intended to stay—with the very wealthy and powerful.

To make matters dramatically worse, once these tax breaks for the corporations and the very wealthy take effect, the national debt will increase by a trillion dollars. When that happens, you can bet that Trump and the Republicans will be looking at Social Security and Medicaid cuts to offset the national debt.

So, where are we headed in 2018? If 2017 is any indicator, the rich will get richer and the poor will become poorer. Of course, we also get to vote this November.

Thank God for democracy.

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