The New Year is always a time for reflection on the year past and hope for the year yet to come, but it’s hard to look back at 2017 without a sense of despair.
We have a deranged president who is in all probability guilty of multiple impeachable acts and who is dismantling any program or policy that is designed to constrain the worst excesses of corporations and the ultra-wealthy. We have a Republican majority in Congress that seems content to not only accept a manifestly incompetent leader, but to back his worst excesses and ignore his impeachable offenses.
As bad as 2017 was, it’s important to understand that Trump is merely a symptom of a far worse malady; one that has been brewing for a long time. Specifically, he is the logical end point of a decades long campaign by the oligarchy to take over America.
If we are to have hope in 2018, Americans will have to accept that there was a war on for our democracy between the people on one hand and corporations and the ultra-rich on the other, and we-the-people lost.
Bottom line: The institutions we used to rely on to monitor and protect our democracy have been taken over.
Take the political parties
It’s been obvious for some time that Republicans represent the oligarchy. What’s less obvious to some is that the Democrats have been representing them as well, and have been for decades now. As Thomas Frank noted:
Clinton had five major achievements as president: NAFTA, the Crime Bill of 1994, welfare reform, the deregulation of banks and telecoms, and the balanced budget. All of them—every single one—were longstanding Republican objectives.
Democrats manage to appear to be more representative of the people only when contrasted with a Republican Party that has become completely unhinged. The 2016 election is a case in point. Hillary Clinton favored fracking and oil exploration on federal lands at a time when we knew we had to leave 80% of the oil we’d already found in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change. She was manifestly sympathetic to the interests of Wall Street and big banks; she declined to back a $15 minimum wage; refused to advocate single payer health care; backed an aggressive foreign policy and the Defense Budgets such a policy demands, among many other conservative positions favored by the oligarchy. Yet because she didn’t back insane social policies and idiotic and immoral wedge issues, she claimed the mantle of a “progressive who got things done.” Too many voters weren’t fooled.
Consider the press
The idea that a free press would act as a guardian against tyranny is part of our national identity; it has been with us since Jefferson claimed he’d prefer a nation without a government over a nation without a free press. But we haven’t had a free and independent press for some time, now. It belongs -- lock, stock and barrel – to the oligarchy.
For example, until Reagan, the government maintained three critical positions on the media: first, that the airwaves were part of the public commons; second, that a license came with responsibilities to fulfill a public trust; and third, that the government had a right and a duty to assure that trust was honored. In a classic fox-guarding-the-chicken-coop move, Reagan appointed commissioners to the Federal Communications Commission who had been employed by the media companies they were charged with regulating, a practice Trump has done across the board with his appointments.
Case in point, in 1981, very early in his first term, Reagan appointed Mark Fowler to chair the FCC. Fowler, who made his living representing telecommunication companies before his appointment, was a free-market ideologue of the first degree who once said, “The television is just another appliance…a toaster with pictures.” Fowler went right to work watering down the FCC’s authority to regulate the media.
Bill Clinton, who pushed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, undid much of what remained of the FCC’s powers.
Moreover, both print and broadcast media have been bought up by corporations in a frenzy of mergers and acquisitions. Over the last twenty years about 90 percent of the country’s major media outlets came under the control of just six corporations, and it’s still going on today, with the proposed merger of Sinclair media with the Tribune corporation – a move that would give it coverage of more than 72% of American households. Sinclair regularly distributes propaganda for far right causes that local stations are required to run.
Then of course there was the end of net neutrality, which puts control of content, access and costs firmly in the hands of a few large monopolies.
So much for Jefferson’s free press.
The demise of civil institutions
With the death of the press and the neutering of the Internet, many hoped that civil institutions such as non-profits, unions and public interest groups might serve to provide some constraint on corporate influence, or if not constraints, at least some transparency and exposure of their worst excesses. But as the 2016 election revealed, many of these institutions – even the presumably progressive ones – were taken over by the neoliberal establishment, and ended up backing corporate-friendly candidates.
To the extent these groups do represent the interests of the people and do advocate progressive policies, they are outspent and outmaneuvered by conservative foundations, think tanks and political action committees. Moreover, their activities are given short-shrift by the elite establishment media.
This leaves we the people
If we are to have hope in 2018, we must realize that with a little over ten months until the 2018 mid-terms, there is no Party representing progressive interests. With the majority of eligible voters looking for candidates who embrace progressive policies, this could result in another election in which too many rational voters stay home, allowing the passionately ignorant minority determine the outcome once again.
Too many Democrats are taking their victories in off year elections as a sign of a rosier future. There’s two things wrong with this. First, the win in Alabama was possible only because the Republicans insisted on running a child molester. It should not be viewed as a harbinger of change in Dixieland.
Second, the victories in Virginia were a result of running real progressives, but the national Party seems intent on staying the course with the failed neoliberal strategy that has brought three decades of ruin to their Party, and made none-of-the-above the real winner in elections for several decades.
Remember, Trump won with a roughly 27 percent of the eligible voters, and Hillary got a little more, leaving nearly 45 percent of eligible voters as no-shows. People’s revulsion with beoing given a choice between a neoliberal and a reality TV star was so marked, that in 33 states, 1.7 million voters left the top of the ticket blank. There’s no telling how high the tally would go if the other 17 states were checked. If Democrats stay-the-course with their neoliberal, corporate friendly strategy, then the oligarchy will continue its rein over the rest of us.
Meanwhile, progressives are fractured into competing groups and interests. Each morning I get pleas from no less than seven different organizations for my time and money. This Balkanization into identity groups and interest groups contributes to a divide and conquer strategy that keeps the progressive majority from emerging as the potent political force it could be.
Mobilizing for victory in 2018
The revulsion many feel for the Democratic Party is real and justified, but the reality is, the nation will not survive if Republicans retain control of the government after the 2018 midterm, and there simply isn’t enough time to create a viable third party. We have no choice but to take the Democratic Party over, and make it ours.
The next ten months will be critical. If we’ve hit bottom with Trump, then we must start our climb. And we must climb together. The middle-aged white man, huddling in his basement, facing diminished prospects, shooting heroin, and clutching his gun must be given hope and the opportunity that makes hope real.
The angry young black man who’s never had prospects, who’s been denied a shot at an education, at a job—who has been a victim of frightened or prejudiced police, who sees people cross the street to avoid him—needs to be welcomed and represented.
The women who’ve been cheated out of wages, opportunities for advancement, and recognition—who’ve had to face misogyny, unwanted advances, and inflexible roles for their life choices need to be granted equality at last.
Immigrants, the LGBQT community, native Americans—each must be allowed to live in a land that values us for who we are and what we give, not for how we fit someone else’s template of what it means to be American.
And all of us—black and white, women and men, native born and immigrant, straight or other, young and old—must be willing to reach out a tentative hand each to the other because only by standing together can we win as individuals or as groups.
We must know that tyranny comes more often from within than without. Our freedoms and our opportunities have not been taken by foreigners, but by the rich and the powerful here at home.
Corporate tyranny is no less vile than any other. Living in a land that is fast becoming a company store will enslave us more quickly and more surely than terrorism or Russians or any of the bogeymen of the moment conjured up to keep us afraid and distracted.
We must know that the very people who have eroded our opportunities or prevented us from having any are posing as populists and champions of the people while they steal us blind, grab at pussies, and divide us one from another.
We must know that if our country is no longer the land where hard work and steadfast commitment turn dreams into reality, it can be again.
We must know that if we stand shoulder to shoulder the way we did by the millions on January 21, we are the most powerful force on Earth.
It will take work, it will take commitment, it will demand sacrifice. But together, we can take our country back again. We can end the four-decade-long con job that has robbed us of our freedoms, our wealth, and our honor.