It’s become clear over the past few decades that the democracy that our nation was founded on and that our citizens hold so dear is on life support. Our political system has become utterly corrupted by its lust for money, ceding power to the whims of the mega-rich and to the multinational corporations that by their nature have no interest in anything but enriching its shareholders. A recent study released by the esteemed Princeton University has confirmed those fears; after analyzing “1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002,” they have concluded that our nation is no longer an actual democracy, but an oligarchy – “a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.”
The report notes that “the central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” they write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.”
Given the events of the past two decades, it’s clear that this is the truth. Our democracy is a sham; the desires and opinions of the common people are briefly considered before being discarded if they don’t line up with those of the elites. From Ronald Reagan’s reckless deregulations, Clinton’s revoking of the Glass-Stegall Act (which forced banks to behave like banks and not like casinos), the continued deregulation of the George W. Bush years leading directly to the Great Recession – our government has acted to enrich the oligarchs and empower the institutions which they control. The American middle class has been consistently mistreated and abused by the elites, turned upside, shook like a piggy bank, a plaything to be exploited to keep the money and power funneling up to the top until today, when the middle class is naught but a carcass of what it once was.
Little care has been shown for the well-being or happiness of the common people. The middle class driven into poverty by robber-baron economic policies, squeezed dry by the ravenous hunger of the “free market.” Our supermarkets flooded with cheap junk foods that have created an obesity epidemic; our streets are filled with deadly weapons that make us live in fear of our fellow humans. When we require treatment for our diabetes, for our gunshot wounds, for any basic malady, we are forced to make enormous sacrifices for the “privilege” of health insurance.
The oligarchs dangle increasingly rare jobs and opportunities above a sea of desperate humans, for which they turn against their fellow men in order to ensure security for themselves and their family; when those jobs are secured, we are expected to put our lives on hold for the corporate masters, disregarding our personal and emotional health, our families, our mental well-being in order to show gratitude for living in some form of comfort.
Those who cannot find opportunity, jobs, or meaning for their lives in a system stacked against them are demonized as lazy and unworthy of survival. The mainstream media fans the flames of division between races and religions; the politicians take the money from our schools and give it to corporations, leaving the people stupid, weak, and infinitely at their mercy.
Obviously these are all gross generalizations, but it is no coincidence that 20 Americans control as much wealth as half of the rest of the population – some 160 million souls. It is no coincidence that Donald Trump, an oligarch himself, has barely bothered to lay down any ground network in the early states, barely interacts with the people at all – with the exception of his rallies, where he channels the frustration that him and his ilk have created and redirects it towards their fellow men, blaming blacks, Mexicans, women, Muslims for all of America’s problems. It is no coincidence that our politicians in Congress have gerrymandered their districts to ensure re-election, and then vote against the interests of the citizens who they supposedly represent. It is no coincidence that making an impact in our political system requires a great deal of money.
Senator Bernie Sanders has become a powerful political force in this country because people recognize what has happened; have recognized that the other candidates only offer more of the same. He is the only candidate to openly acknowledge the deeply-entrenched forces in this country which keep us subjugated, kept us complacent with mindless consumer content while the oligarchs plot to send our children off to die in useless overseas wars, to extract every ounce of value from our environment regardless of the consequences.
When world warms and the waters rise and the wrath of a vengeful earth wreaks havoc across the world, whose lives will be lost? Whose homes lost in the deluge? This study is just another confirmation of what too many of us already knew; and it is an urgent demand for us to begin to do something about it.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.