Thom Hatrmann's reflections on the factions of our day
Yesterday (March 21, 2022) Thom Hartmann wrote a terrific essay, titled “Is America facing the ‘Doom Loop’ of democracy?”
Is America Facing The “Doom Loop” of Democracy? (hartmannreport.com)
It is an essay about the present state of political affairs in both the US and Russia, which are both dominated by factions bought by a wealthy few, “oligarchs” or “plutocrats,” who use factions of bought-and-sold “elected” politicians to form governments for their donors/owners.
The whole, brilliant essay could be subtitled, “The best investment in America is a member of Congress,” and Hartmann gives clear descriptions of the causes for the demise of the American middle class
I am including here a large section out of the middle of the essay that gets clearly and forcibly to his points.
President Jimmy Carter explained it to me on the radio seven years ago, and any reading of history finds it scattered through the accounts of the Revolutionary, Civil War, and New Deal eras.
And with a billionaire in the White House for four years, with several billionaires in his cabinet, signing billionaire-friendly executive orders and corruptly devastating the EPA, IRS, and several other federal agencies, we approached the brink.
To put it in straightforward terms:
"Powerful rich people motivated primarily by a desire to increase their own wealth and power — when they act together as a faction to accomplish that goal, like Lewis Powell suggested to America’s business leaders and wealthiest men in 1971 — will always try to change a democracy into an oligarchy."
In this process, democracies and their working classes lose — but the oligarchs, who drive this disintegrative process, win. In most cases, in fact, they win big.
Investing in politicians and think-tanks, it turns out, is the single most effective investment a faction of oligarchs can make in a republic once its guardrails are sufficiently weakened to allow it to happen on a large scale.
Consider how, prior to Reagan’s deregulation and tax-cutting binge, America didn’t have a single billionaire and the average income of American CEOs — restrained as they were by a top income tax rate of 74 percent — was only around 30 times that of the average worker. Congress routinely passed laws that were widely popular, like Medicare and the Voting Rights Act, because back then they were more responsive to the people than the morbidly rich.
Today, after Reagan’s massive tax cuts and de-regulation efforts, we have hundreds of billionaires and CEO pay in some industries runs a thousand times that of their workers. And legislation with approval rates as high as 80 percent — like funding education and healthcare — are blocked in the Senate.
Democracies were growing and strengthening around the world from the time of the American Civil War until the 1980s. But, around that time, country after country began to consider Reagan/Thatcher style neoliberalism.
Some countries, like China, explicitly rejected neoliberalism and trickle down economics, and instead adopted Alexander Hamilton‘s “American Plan.” As a result, their economies and their middle-classes grew. China’s middle class today, for example, is larger than the population of the entire United States.
But far too many others, encouraged by their elites, took the plunge and drastically cut taxes on the morbidly rich, cut business oversight and regulation, and loosened their laws regulating money in politics.
By 2005, as Reagan’s neoliberalism spread around the world, countries that were losing their middle classes (like America has over the last 40 years) began to flip into oligarchies and then autocracies.
Democracies around the world began to backslide.
Like the USA, country after country has set aside limits on corporate and oligarch participation in politics, with predictable results. As Freedom House noted in their most recent annual report:
“The present threat to democracy is the product of 16 consecutive years of decline in global freedom. A total of 60 countries suffered declines over the past year, while only 25 improved.”
America, they note, is one of the countries in a “decline” of democracy.
While a few of those democracies in decline fell apart because of invasion by a neighbor, terrorism, or a natural disaster, most are being taken down by their own internal factions, typically the nation’s own oligarchs.
It’s not like we weren’t warned, as Dan Sisson and I pointed out in The American Revolution of 1800.
In 1776 the United States was the first major experiment in democracy in the past several thousand years and, although it was badly flawed by both slavery and a lack of rights for women, the idea of even the minority of white men deciding the future of their country was a revolutionary departure from thousands of years of kings, popes and brutal warlords.
The era of the Enlightenment, particularly throughout the 1700s, brought vigorous discussions of whether democracy was even possible, or if it would always be doomed to collapse back into oligarchy and autocracy.
The recurrent concern of the people of that era was that wealthy factions would arise and corrupt any democracy back into something resembling a kingdom with wealthy lords and autocratic rulers.
As Lord Bolingbroke wrote in his Memoirs, published in 1752 (the year after Bolingbroke died and James Madison — who would later midwife our Constitution — was born):
“A Party then is, as I take it, a set of men connected together … pretending to have the same private opinion with respect to public concerns; … but when it proceeds further, and influences men’s conduct in any considerable degree, it becomes Faction.”
And what are factions that have seized control of political parties almost always all about? Bolingbroke laid it out with a clarity that still resonates today:
“In all such cases there are revealed reasons, and a reserved Motive. By revealed reasons, I mean a set of plausible doctrines, which may be styled [called] the creed of the party; but the reserved motive belongs to Faction only, and is the THIRST OF POWER. [emphasis Bolingbroke’s]
When greedy people rise up as a faction to try to seize a government, Bolingbroke wrote, they always claim to be acting in the best interests of the people.
Consider today’s Republican Party, backed by billionaires and openly opposed to union rights while reaching out to blue-collar voters, as you read Bolingbroke‘s words:
“The creeds of parties vary like those of sects; but all Factions have the same motive, which never implies more or less than a lust of dominion, though they … generally are covered with the specious pretenses of … zeal for the public, which flows, in fact, from Avarice, Self-Interest, Resentment and other private views.”
Bolingbroke was widely read among the Founding generation, and Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” echoed his sentiments in Federalist 10, in which he warns us of the dangers of faction.
First, he defines the term “faction,” to separate it from the notion of just being a political party or a special interest group:
“By a faction,” Madison writes in Federalist 10, “I understand a number of citizens … who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse [opposed] to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” [emphasis mine]
In other words, factions aren’t political parties or advocates for the public good. They are, pure and simple, politically active wealthy people opposed to the public good and thus a poison in the bloodstream of a democracy.