WHY WE ARE A NATION DIVIDED
Born in the 1940’s, my generation was the fortunate beneficiary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) “New Deal,” whose long-term goals after the Great Depression were to enact public, government policies that would develop the nation’s resources while ensuring a fair and egalitarian distribution of America’s vast wealth.
World War II had been won and, using its constitutionally authorized right to create the nation’s money, our federal government provided free college education for tens of thousands of returning military men and women under the GI Bill, it paid for the rural electrification of small communities and farms across the country, it paid for the greatest infrastructure project in history – our interstate highway system, it built public schools to care for our children that were the envy of the world, hospitals were constructed, and the list goes on. In short, direct federal government spending of government created money for the good of all (this would soon be subversively labeled socialism/communism), resulted in the greatest working-class prosperity the world had ever known.
Additionally, this same government spending of government created money was of benefit to private business and corporations. People had money to spend, and the resulting growth of the U.S. economy was unprecedented. Things weren’t perfect – blacks and other minorities still struggled to partake in the “American Dream” – but more than ever before, the people of America were prospering. Single incomes commonly supported families, government regulations began preventing corporations from destroying the environment or forcing employees to work in unsafe conditions, employee unions were encouraged, banks were heavily regulated to stop them from dragging us into another “Great Depression,” CEO’s of corporations were typically limited to making about 12 times as much as workers, progressive taxes prevented us from returning to the gross inequalities of the Gilded Age and the abuse of the “robber barons” who hoarded the nation’s wealth for the privileged few, and people pulled together for the common good. We were a nation united.
Unfortunately, through all of these years of collective prosperity, there was a class of people who hated the government’s use of its constitutionally granted powers to function for the public good, who hated the rules and regulations that prevented the cancerous growth of a new class of billionaire robber barons. Quoting the words of monetary theorist J. D. Alt:
“There had always been a faction of American society passionately opposed to Roosevelt’s vision. That faction comprised the special interests and powerbrokers associated with Wall Street financing and corporate America.” This faction hated government serving the common good that “would deprive the Wall Street financiers and corporate elite of the exclusive power their capital and profits had always exercised over the American economy and political agenda.”
Beginning as early as the 1950’s, these Wall Street financiers, these bankers and corporate elitists, began developing long-term strategies to dismantle FDR’s “New Deal.” They were determined to regain control over America’s politicians, to get rid of government policies preventing them from exploiting workers, and to once again capture the lion’s portion of America’s wealth.
Few now remember the despicable actions of one of the financier’s first political pawns, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. Only a decade earlier, Russia had lost 20 million people, far more than any other nation or religious/ethic group, helping Europe and America defeat the Nazis. But seeking to undermine the “New Deal” policies preventing them from once again controlling America and its wealth, the Wall Street bankers, the corporate elitists, needed a boogeyman, something to instill fear of “big government” in working people. Deliberately linking the word “socialism” with “communism” (they are not the same), Senator McCarthy began falsely accusing anyone who supported government social policies or spending for the common good of being a Russian infiltrator, a communist. Such policies we were told, were government overreach, a threat to personal rights, a threat to freedom itself. And thus began the subtle fear mongering to undermine the “New Deal” policies that had done so much to raise average Americans out of poverty. The slippery slope to government of, by, and for the rich, to oligarchy and plutocracy, was quietly reseeded in America.
The following decades saw the slow, “death by a thousand cuts” of FDR’s “New Deal,” of government actually working for the people of America. Expert linguists were hired to frame the message, to create the soundbites designed to appeal to emotions, rather than intellect. We faced an endless barrage: “Government isn’t the solution, government is the problem,” “government can do nothing right,” “government is the enemy,” “the government can’t create jobs,” “regulations kill jobs,” “taxes kill jobs,” “government debt is out of control,” “runaway government spending,” “we’re mortgaging our grandchildren.” These of course were followed by: “only private business can do things efficiently,” only private enterprise can create jobs,” “the job creators,” “the free market,” “trickle down,” “a rising tide lifts all boats,” “we must privatize, privatize.”
Of course, all of these soundbites were false, were misrepresentations. But they successfully instilled fear of government in people, successfully convinced people that corporations, financiers, and billionaire “job creators” were the saviors. The results were depressingly predictable.
Working American’s wages have stagnated for decades, most families struggle to get by on two incomes, corporate CEO’s commonly make 300 or more times as much as their employees, millions of our young people are crippled with insurmountable student debt, our highways and infrastructure are crumbling, our formerly world class public schools are being privatized, our children are being monetized – turned into profit mechanisms for the rich, millions of Americans are going into bankruptcy because “for profit” healthcare has taken all they have, Wall Street hedge funds have destroyed our industries, “free trade” agreements have sent millions of manufacturing jobs out of country, giant corporate farms owned by financiers who have never worked on a farm are destroying our rural communities and family farms, deregulated Wall Street banks collapsed our economy and were given trillions – trillions – of public dollars to make their corruption whole again, and big money chooses our politicians and controls our “democracy.” But the new billionaire robber barons are happy. They once again own America.
Naturally, as more and more of America’s people fall into poverty and struggle to provide for their children and families, the stress levels, the simmering anger, begin to grow. Someone has to be blamed. Deflecting this blame from its real cause – gross inequality – today’s billionaire robber barons once again control the message. Welfare recipients – – – they’re to blame. Food stamp recipients – – – they’re the ones at fault. Migrants – – – they’re taking all the jobs. Teachers – – – they’re overpaid – – – they’re keeping the rest of you poor. Muslims, Jews, they’re the ones keeping you from getting ahead. Guns – – – you need guns. Guns will protect your “freedom,” your “rights.”
And so it goes. Divide and conquer is complete. While the masses are driven relentlessly to serfdom, squabbling over the crumbs, the new 21st century billionaire robber barons look on with contempt from on high. They own the yachts and the mansions. They own the banks, the corporations, the hedge funds, the offshore tax havens. They own the politicians, the Democratic and Republican parties. They own “democracy.” They own America. Life is good.