You may have noticed in newspaper editorials and on Sunday morning talk shows that pundits are claiming the U.S. is no longer a democracy. Rather, that our nation has become an oligarchy.
New research findings announced at the Princeton University website inform us that the economic elites and organized groups representing U.S. business interests have managed to bring about substantial impacts on our government policy while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no influence. Distilled into simple language, the U.S.A. is now an oligarchy, a democracy in name only.
So, what’s an oligarchy? The word oligarchy is Greek in origin: It’s a system of government where power is concentrated in the hands of a small, elite group rather than a democracy where it is theoretically in the hands of all the people.
There’s been a bit of levity of late regarding this matter. The NFL’s Washington Redskins is under some degree of pressure to change its nickname. Since it is a team out of Washington, D.C., the suggestion has been made that they become the Washington Oligarchs. At present, the dispute remains unresolved.
But let’s get serious. Unlike the Church of England, the Vatican, many Muslim nations and other countries with a national religion, the United States was founded as a secular nation. If anything, Americans worship money. Those who’ve acquired the greatest amounts of it are at least somewhat revered and held in near-sacred status. Thereby, their riches not only bring them fame, but the power to buy whatever they want.
After the Civil War and into the 20th century the nation was ruled by the trusts and other business interests. Then there was a relatively brief reprieve of two generations of Americans from the Teddy Roosevelt administration through the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration when we functioned more like a democracy, it’s argued, than at any other time in our 225-year history.
Our “elected” politicians are not the oligarchy. The oligarchy is composed mainly of the nation’s inherited-wealth citizens and its bankers and corporate heads, as they rule the U.S. by money as much as dictatorships rule by force elsewhere. One example of this is the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC; it burst the dam to end limits on political spending. Every tuned-in American knows what this means for fair elections.
An oligarchy in the U.S. is forecasted as: privatization of Social Security and Medicare; no universal health care; termination of government regulations over business and industry; carte blanche discontinuation of drinking water, air pollution, and food standards; an end to labor unions and worker protections; cessation of all private and public pensions; conclusion of social programs for children, the sick and the elderly; and stricter requirements for seniors, minorities and all non-property-owning citizens to vote.
The 318 million American people could take back the nation and force it to function much more like a democracy; after all, the so-called one percent comprising the oligarchy represent a voting minority of about three million Americans. Unfortunately, Americans came together as a perfectly-tuned-whole the day after Pearl Harbor in December, 1941 and nothing like it has since been seen. A reminder from a page out of the comic strip, Pogo, seems more apropos than ever: “We have seen the enemy and he is us!”
(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)