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An Amazing Result for a Democracy

Issue of the week

Jun. 13, 2017
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With Donald Trump promoting a “tax reform” that would result in an enormous redistribution of tax burden from the super wealthy and corporations to the rest of us, you have to question how this can happen in a democracy. The Founding Fathers, many of them wealthy landowners, feared that with a democracy, the poor and landless would pass laws to redistribute land or pass confiscatory tax policies to deprive the one-percenters of that time of their wealth and privilege. This fear that envy and resentment toward the wealthy would lead to the majority turning against the one or two percenters caused the founders to limit voting to white male property owners. Over time, through great struggle and various constitutional amendments, things slowly changed until virtually all adult citizens were eligible to vote except when blocked in some states by racist laws and practices. Today, we are again seeing efforts to limit voting in places like Wisconsin with voter ID laws and other practices, but that is a whole other issue. 

The Fears Didn’t Materialize 

The amazing thing is how the fear of the wealthy founding fathers that the unwashed masses would rise up and democratically take from the wealthy has never really materialized. Instead, the opposite has happened. The poor and middle classes often vote for candidates who work against their economic self-interest. They elect people like Scott Walker or George W. Bush who dramatically cut taxes for the wealthy and give pathetically small tax breaks to the rest of us, the 90 or 95 percent. They also cut back on things the average person needs, such as public education. We had a great example of this in our last election when some of the most financially disadvantaged individuals voted for a guy who disproportionally stacked his administration with Goldman Sachs veterans. Trump wants to give massive tax breaks to the very wealthy and drastically cut back Medicaid and other programs that are keeping many of his voters and their family members alive. How does this happen?


How is this Possible In a Democracy?

The answers are many and complex, but we can list a few. There is too much right-wing and corporate money in elections, a glut that was recently expanded by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Right-wing media, especially talk radio and Fox News, has been effective in playing fast and loose with the truth and has either kept the public ill-informed or fostered great cynicism, which discourages people from voting. Our education system has had its funding severely cut back, which makes teaching more difficult for even the most dedicated teachers trying to manage a classroom and teach critical thinking. Our American culture does not value education enough, but rather puts too much emphasis on making money by any means. Our heroes are not the great scientists but highly paid CEOs, actors and sports figures. Much of mainstream media has replaced its mission to pursue the truth, hold the powerful accountable and expose wrongdoing with a mission of making as much money as possible and protecting and defending the corporate interests of their advertisers, including the climate-denying propagandists.

In the realm of public policy, right-wing special interests have manufactured perverse economic theories like supply-side economics and the cult of austerity to justify cutting taxes for the wealthy with the discredited fantasy that it will produce prosperity and jobs for the rest of us. A number of European countries championed austerity over the past several years only to find, once again, austerity kept Europe from experiencing robust growth. Then, there are the politicians eager to serve their wealth masters. Congressman Paul Ryan, a right-wing ideologue on economic policy, is a classic example of a puppy dog for the wealthy. His policy ideas would make his rich contributors much richer, while cutting Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, public education and other programs for the average person and driving America into an economic downturn.


Light at the End of This Tunnel

So where is the light at the end of the tunnel? The answer is in the fears of the Founding Fathers that the majority could actually vote to elect people who will fight for a fair tax system and curb the disproportion power of the wealthy. Those actions would truly “Make American Great Again.” Sometimes, you have to hit rock bottom to begin to take control of your life or, in this case, your country’s life. In 2008, the right wing started to call Barack Obama a socialist. Many Millennials began to wonder about this socialist stuff and began to Google socialism, only to find that social democracy—like that present in some Scandinavian countries—sounded pretty good to them. It put some fairness and social justice values at least on par with economic growth. They enthusiastically voted for Obama and he handily won the presidency.  

In 2016, a candidate proudly owned the label of a Democratic Socialist and generated true excitement and enthusiasm within the Democratic primary contests. Bernie Sanders lost the nomination and, unfortunately, Hillary Clinton lost the election. Now, with Trump’s victory, which many view as hitting absolute rock bottom, Americans who were casual about our democracy now realize that they can no longer take our country and its values for granted. Since the election, many people have gotten much more engaged in understanding the issues and involved in the political process and have continued to stay involved.


The Light Goes Beyond Our Shores

Across the pond in the United Kingdom, a similar shift occurred. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was viewed as a disaster for the Labour Party when he was elected his party’s leader because he was viewed as a socialist to the left of Sanders. He proved his critics wrong by significantly increasing his party’s seats in last week’s parliamentary elections. Millennials also played a very big part in Labour’s victory. 

Americans, and especially Millennials, are slowly waking up to the fact that elections have real consequences. They are now beginning to work harder to take back their country from wealthy special interest groups and demagogues who lie their way into the White House. And we want to give a special shout out to the Millennials who are our future. Despite all the articles out there, especially in the business press, complaining about their work ethic, they have a strong moral compass when it comes to social justice and creating a more just society. Positive change is coming. We at the Shepherd Express are very optimistic.


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