An oligarchy is a government run by a small group of elitists; in our case, the very rich. (In which case, perhaps the better term is a plutocracy.) Today’s Supreme Court ruling was the final deciding factor.
How did we get here, in a place that Teddy Roosevelt warned us about?
1. Reagan’s tax cuts. It started under Reagan when the tax rates on the super rich were dropped tremendously. Soon after this, we started going into great debt (unnecessary wars didn’t help any). Infrastructure started falling apart, education was cut, opportunities started vanishing, and they took the middle class with them. And the rich got even richer and, therefore, more powerful.
2. The removal of regulations. Reagan again. From the very beginning, our economy went through periods of prosperity and crash, on the average of every seventeen years. There was the Panic of 1819, the 1837 Crisis, the Panic of 1873, the Panic of 1893, the 1907 Banker’s Panic, and so on up to the Great Depression. Then Franklin Roosevelt put in controls and restrictions on Wall Street and banking and lo and behold, no depressions and no recessions for fifty years. Reagan comes in and removes those and bang! The S&L crisis, the 2001 recession, the 2007 Mortgage crisis, and the 2008 Bush collapse. But more importantly, the lack of regulations produced less competition as huge businesses and banks gobbled up smaller ones and created monopolies. This gives us great income inequality, where the vast majority of wealth in America is concentrated in the very few at a level comparable to the period before the French revolution.
3. Gerrymandering. This isn’t new, but it has gotten so absurd that it keeps those in power there, with hardly any challenges to incumbents. Therefore, there is no one “stirring up the pot” and bringing in new blood to change things. In certain districts, it is impossible for the other party to challenge the incumbent party. This is terrible for democracy, which — like capitalism — needs competition to survive.
4. The removal of campaign contribution limits. With Citizen’s United and today’s McCutcheon decision, the Supreme Court has vested power in the filthiest rich at the expense of the rest of us. You have to be daft to deny that money is power, and what these decisions do is to create the two great fictions that “corporations are people” and “money is speech.” This means those in power now have even more means to keep themselves in power, by being able to spend unlimited, uncontrolled, and unregulated money in politics.
Because, according to the Supreme Court, if you bribe a politician quietly behind the scenes, it’s a crime. But if you do it as a campaign contribution anonymously, it’s protected speech.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this latest nail in democracy’s coffin but for now I am just too angry to think.