Money, Hate and Fear: When Too Much Goes to Too Few

Yesterday, 20 people were killed, 26 injured, in El Paso, Texas, previously one of the safest cities in the U. S.. In Dayton, Ohio ⎼ nine dead. The previous Saturday, in Gilroy, California, 3 dead. According to the New York Times, there have been 32 different incidents of mass shootings this year. According to the Gun Violence Archive, in the last 216 days, 251 people were killed in incidents of mass shootings.

 

And who are the people doing this killing? In most cases, at least the ones with hate as a motive, it is white men. According to the Mother Jones archive, of the last 22 mass shootings, 21 were by men, 13 were definably white. According to the New York Times, the El Paso murderer considered Hispanic immigrants a threat to whites. He joins a long line of white nationalist murderers, from El Paso, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Christchurch, New Zealand, Munich, Germany, and Norway.

 

But who is responsible for fueling this hate? One obvious answer, in the US, is the President who speaks with hate and incites it. He called immigrants and asylum seekers at our border an invasion, of rapists and criminals, and just recently attacked an American city as a “disgusting, rat infested, mess” and attacked the African-American Democratic Congressman from that city.  According to an analysis by the Washington Post, in 2016 the counties in the US that held T rallies experienced a 226% increase in hate crimes compared to counties that held no such rally.

 

According to the manifesto of the shooter in El Paso, Texas, he was not originally inspired by the President’s rhetoric; but since his language mirrors the President’s, he was emboldened by it. According to the Intercept and other sources, so was the MAGABomber, and the Neo Nazis murderer of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, etc. Many Democrats, including Beto O’Rourke and Bernie Sanders, have laid some blame clearly on the President. 2016 was the only year on record before 2019 with more domestic mass shooting deaths than days and 2019 is on track to eclipse 2016 by far.

 

The other fuel for hate is greed and money. The people who have been killed are the victims not only of hate being used to gain political power, but of too much money in politics. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision of 2010 allowed corporations and unions to spend freely on elections, and reinforced the fiction of corporate personhood. It released corporations and the super-rich from most restrictions on the buying of politicians. It said that corporations, like people, have the right of free speech. And making political contributions was a form of protected speech, not to be restricted.

 

Combine this with the increasing concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands and you have a Congress incapable of governing and of enacting laws to protect our nation. America’s wealthiest 20 people own more wealth than the bottom half the population, own more than 152,000,000 people combined. This great wealth gives a few people the means to out speak thousands, even millions, of voters.

 

Hate and money are fueling what Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg called a “national security emergency.” Another Presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren, spoke about gun manufacturers owning Washington. But it is not just the NRA and gun manufacturers whose unfettered lust for great profits contributes to hundreds of American lives lost each year. The concentration of wealth and the power it bestows on a few people is killing us and undermining any chance of democracy.

 

And then there’s climate change, also exacerbated by the ignorance of consequences caused by the lust for profit and leading not only to the loss of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in economic losses, but an existential threat to human civilization.

 

In order to save our nation (and world), end the violence and the social disintegration it can cause, and create an economy and political system “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” we must begin by demanding that our politicians work to control gun violence and limit the power of money in politics. Then we can begin to work on hate and more systemic changes.

 

When so much goes to so few the rest feel ⎼ and are ⎼ excluded, whether we understand what is happening or not. Democrats will only win when they speak to these realities, and the fears and outrage they cause, in a way most can understand. They must counter the fear with hope grounded in a sincere concern and understanding of others and the threats we face. This is how they, or we, win the next election and expel hate from office.

 

This post has been syndicated by the Good Men Project.

How Did It Happen?

What a week. Every week, every day, T provides a new outrage. This week, we all saw T fail to hold Putin accountable for hacking into Democratic and Republican computers and emails and the computer systems of state electoral boards. He also sided with Russia against U. S. intelligence assessments. He basically colluded in public with Russia. Yet, the GOP, after a few harsh words early in the week, by the end they let it all slide.

 

How did politics in the US get so bad? What role did economic manipulation play in the increasing divisiveness in the U. S. since the early 1990s or before? Institutional racism, sexism, anti-semitism, etc. played a huge role, but I need to center for the moment on economics or my head and heart will spin ⎼ too much information for me to digest.

 

Why are Democrats seemingly so ineffectual and the GOP so ready to support whatever T does, even when he puts Russia before US interestsdictatorship before Democracy? Why does the GOP walk so much in lockstep, ready to stomp on the humanity, rights, health care and income of so many in the middle and lower classes?

 

And the goose or lock stepping of the GOP is not just an example of politicians afraid of their base or afraid of losing their position, as many in the centrist media portray it. The base of the GOP itself is something relatively new in US politics, even though it has been developing for years. Since Reagan, the GOP has become increasingly intransigent and devoted to only one small group of people—the white super-rich. T is also something relatively new, but he is a poison in a garden that was already laid waste by politicians unable and unwilling to halt the pressure by the super-rich to undermine any restraints on their power.

 

One book I’ve been reading to help me gain some clarity is Billionaire Democracy: The Hijacking of the American Political System by economist George Tyler. This is an important book to read. It talks not only about how democracy has been hijacked, but how to take it back. In 1980, according to Tyler, the richest 0.1% contributed less than 10% of all campaign contributions. By 2012, their share increased to 44%. In 2016, it increased to about 66% of contributions to Congressional candidates.

 

Along with this trend in political contributions is a trend many have noted in wealth controlled by the top 1%. In the 1920s, before the depression, the top 1% owned 44.2% of the wealth. During the depression, and even more, during the war, the taxes on the rich were raised to 94% for top earners, and the percentage of wealth owned by the rich by 1945 was down to 29.8%. By 1979, the percentage owned by the 1% was down to only 20%. Thanks to Reagan, the percentage of wealth owned by the super-rich went up. By 2013, the top 1% owned 36.7% of US wealth. The top 20% of the US population in terms of wealth owned 89%, leaving only 11% for the remaining 80% of people. In 2017, the top 1% owned 42.8%. It has been increasing by 6% annually since the mid-2000s. (See my chart on the last page.) And the GOP tax cut is only making income inequality worse.

 

America’s wealthiest 20 people own more wealth than the bottom half the population, own more than 152,000,000 people combined. Among the Forbes 444, only 2 are African-American.

 

Tyler analyzes how the super-rich used their wealth to buy a political party. They went about this from several directions. They first chose a party that had favored the super-rich since the Gilded Age and the Robber Barons. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in the primary season for the 2016 presidential election, nearly half of all political contributions came from about 158 families. 158 families! 87% went to the GOP.

 

Second, Tyler explains how the party “culled” most of its more moderate members from their ranks or leadership positions. They culled those who would actually work with Democrats, or support Medicare, capital gains taxes, public schools, or work to limit soft money donations, etc. For example, former Senator Olympia Snowe was a moderate Republican from Maine. She was booed in the Republican convention in Bangor because of her history of cooperating with Democrats. Soon after that, she stopped her bid for reelection. (A similar thing occurred with U. S. Rep. Mark Sanford, who was a critic of Mr. T and lost his bid to run again for Congress after T tweeted his support to Sanford’s challenger.)

 

Third, the super-rich bought a movement, the Tea Party. When the Tea Party was just getting organized in 2009, wealthy donors like the tobacco industry and the Koch brothers helped finance their meetings, conventions and advertising, yet so many of their members had no idea this was happening.

 

Fourth, Tyler clarifies how the rich bought media outlets and continue to do so today. The Tea Party movement was created not only with the money of the wealthy but by their control of the media. Rupert Murdoch, for example, bought Fox news and turned it into the propaganda outlet of the rich and right-wing. The super-rich funded media that spread an anti-government, anti-tax, anti-any-social-program that actually was helpful to the lives of most Americans.

 

The rules obliging the broadcast media to provide factual reporting (called the Fairness Doctrine, spelled out in 1947) were undone in 1987 by Reagan. As Tyler put it, “since Ronald Reagan…broadcasters have abandoned objectivity in favor of an afactual, partisan din. Fables foisted as reality have become commonplace…”  (p. 193) The Trumpian attack on facts and truth has been developing for decades.

 

In Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton warned of “cabal, intrigue, and corruption… chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the union…?” Hamilton greatly feared a misinformed citizenry. His fears were eerily actualized in the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In fact, as Tyler puts it, the GOP strategy was to undermine exactly what the framers meant to preserve. They “demonize[d] the fact-based information industry central to the framer’s vision of a democracy sustained by an informed electorate.”

 

Fifth, the super-rich went after the legal system, including the Supreme Court. They used the concept of the personhood of a corporation to advance their agenda and diminish governmental restrictions on their power. This concept was nowhere to be found in discussions by the Founding Fathers and was nowhere mentioned in the history of the court prior to the 1880s.

 

According to Tyler, in the 1880s Roscoe Conklin, a lawyer representing a railroad baron, introduced the idea that the 14thamendment was passed not only to protect the civil rights of African-American males but also protect corporations from government interference. Conklin argued for this idea despite the total lack of any evidence for it. There were no records of it being mentioned in any of the discussions that led to the passage of the 14thAmendment in 1867. In 1886, his fabricated doctrine helped win a case protecting the railroads from “bothersome” taxes levied by the county of Santa Clara on the railroads. It has been used since to protect the rich from the rest of us.

 

The founding fathers, explained Tyler, distrusted big corporations and thought contributing to a political campaign was a way to buy a politician. It was, thus, a criminal act. Vote buying undermined the integrity of voting. This criminality became legally protected by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision of 2010, which synthesized two evils. It not only reinforced the personhood of corporations. It released corporations and the super-rich from most restrictions on the buying of politicians. It said that corporations, like people, have the right of free speech. And making political contributions was a form of protected speech, not to be restricted.

 

The whole idea that a corporation should be considered a person is ludicrous. Corporations were never given the vote, don’t give birth, don’t shake hands or die, except metaphorically. The rich who own and manage corporations already have a vote and a voice, if they are citizens. Why give them what amounts to two or thousands of votes? The constitutional guarantee of free speech refers to guarding the content of speech, not its volume.

 

Apparently, most Americans know that the rich have too much influence on the government. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, in 2015, 79% of Americans (63% of Republicans) said our economic system unfairly favors the rich. A similar view is held about the government. And the support shown to Bernie Sanders in 2016 (and maybe even to T himself) seems to confirm this.

 

Taxing the rich is one traditional way to exercise a little control over how wealthy the wealthy can be. It is not socialism, but is how the U. S. financed a winning strategy in World War II. It is how, in the 1950s and 1960s, we experienced the greatest growth of the middle class in our history. From the 1940s to 1980s, the highest earners paid more than double what they do now in taxes. In fact, from the 1940s to 1960s, the highest tax bracket was around 90%. Reagan’s first tax cut lowered the top tax rate from 70% to 50%; in 1989, it was down to 28%. Since then, the rates have gone slightly up and down, down especially with the latest GOP tax cut to the super-rich. (See below.)

 

Meanwhile, today, most of us pay in real taxes about 25% of income, which includes property, sales and other taxes, not only income tax. This puts the US at the lowest tax levels of all nations except for Korea, Chile, and Mexico.

 

So, when we think about how to take back or create democracy, we have to keep in mind who really constitutes the base of the GOP and T. We have to find a way to lessen the influence and control of the super-rich over public policy and all our lives.

 

And we have to find out how Russia fits into the plans and manipulations of the super-rich.

 

 

Chart Showing How Increasing Taxes Lowers Income Inequality (Compiled from different sources.)

Year % of wealth controlled by the top 1% Income tax rates for the wealthiest of us
1929 44.2% 24%
1945 29.8% 94%
1979 20.5% 70%
1983 30.9% 50%
1989 35.7% 28%
1990s 37.2 – 38.1 28 – 39.6%
2017 42.8%
2018 Estimate: 45.3% (6% increase per year since 2008) 37%
2030 Est: 64%