The Failed Experiment
The great American experiment of modern democracy is in danger of failure due to the domination or an economic elite. This may also spell the end of the human race as a viable species on this planet.
At the end of the 18th Century, the newborn United States of America was often hailed as the modern incarnation of democracy, which had rarely been tried on a national level since its last incarnation in classical Greece. We had a constitution that held democracy in high esteem, even though its practical applications were somewhat lacking at times. The ideas seemed to continue intact, sometimes in a limbo of pressures from economic elites and at other times making some significant strides forward toward those ideals. Examples of such times were Lincoln and the Civil War, FDR and the New Deal, and the JFK years. All of which ended with the death of the leader, two by assassination. Although the Kennedy initiatives were continued early in the LBJ years, much was undone by the later years of LBJ’s presidency. Also, during those years two other leaders who championed democracy were assassinated: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy.
Earlier, the economic elite quickly regained power after the Lincoln assassination, undoing the democratizing plans Lincoln had espoused. And later, during the FDR years, that economic elite watched in horror as the New Deal began to transfer power from those with traditional power, to give the ordinary American a real voice in the governance of the nation. During the New Deal, that economic elite were vehemently opposed to where FDR was taking the nation and had been marshalling their forces to regain their power through World War II and certainly after. In addition, they found a new cudgel, in the anti-communist movement of Joseph McCarthy, to use against any socially active pro-democracy groups and labor unions, labelling them as communists, or fellow travelers. This strategy was also used to attack the Democratic Party and weaken its control.
After World War II, America emerged as not only the dominant democracy, but also as the dominant economy as well as the dominant military power of the planet, although the power of the Red Army was quite significant in Europe.
The American economic elite quickly focused on the dominance of the American economy and of the American military, and not so much on democracy. The Cold War became a perfect vehicle for the economic elite to forge back into power by flexing their economic power to build the military forces needed to face “the Russian threat”. Somehow the ideals of democracy were beginning to get lost in the process although they were given great lip service to justify nearly every economic move. The fear of Russia also allowed the CIA and an entire clandestine element to develop and grow.
Eventually, democracy became conflated with capitalism, under the pretense that there was no way to have a stable democracy except by basing it on capitalism as its economic system. This was a perfect vehicle to use to reject socialism as an economic system, even though socialism is also based on democracy as its system of governance. Europe had successful social democracies after the war, but they were seen as anathema in the USA since they seemed to challenge the idea that democracy could only thrive under capitalism.
That shift to a controlling economic elite was supported during the Eisenhower years, but the Kennedy years began to signal a potential shift back to a more democratizing focus. And the Kennedy assassination allowed a shift back to the control of an economic elite with the Viet Nam years. By this time there was a great upwelling of democratizing protests in the nation, culminating in the 1968 election of Richard Nixon.
And then the real onslaught on those ideals of democracy began to take centerstage beginning with Richard Nixon and his “law and order” campaign, moving the nation in a more authoritarian direction.
Business was ready to extend its power into the political arena and the Powell Memorandum to the National Chamber of Commerce, was a call to arms for them. It stated pretty clearly that if business did not get very directly involved with politics, democracy might break out and squelch their power. Incidentally, Nixon later appointed Powell to the Supreme Court.
From then on, the switch to a nation focused on economic ends first and democracy as an afterthought, began to become dominant. Influence by special interest groups from corporations, the military, health care, insurance and the financial sector became the name of the game. Meanwhile, unions were eviscerated, losing almost all of their power. Workers became pawns in the economic wars and the ordinary citizens were nearly forgotten.
Since then, the slide down the slippery slope toward the authoritarian leadership of an economic elite has continued, sometimes faster and sometimes slower, but continuous until we have disempowered the ordinary citizen. This is not to mention the growing disenfranchisement of certain groups of citizens, and money controlling everything. We have watched our major institutions, the national media, the government, and the courts being co-opted by that economic elite. While we, as ordinary citizens, are left with little or nothing to work with to create political change. Meanwhile the income inequality of the nation grows to obscene levels and the semblance of democracy continues to disappear.
With so many dark and powerful forces having a vested interest in a much more authoritarian system of governance than democracy could ever be, and with them controlling so many of the levers of power in our present society, it is hard to see any way for a democratic solution winning the day. And it sadly looks like this incarnation of democracy will again fail to fend off the manipulative forces of authoritarianism and aristocracy and will fade into the black hole of history.
The limiting reality this time, is that the planet itself can no longer tolerate the environmentally destructive forces necessary to support such authoritarian aristocracies. We will soon reach a point at which the planet will simply reject the human species as not compatible with a sustainable planetary web of life. So, we see a potential existential threat to human survival: the failure of the both the human experiment on earth and of democracy, allowing people a voice in their future.
So, into the black hole of history will go the human species along with democracy, the last attempt to save the human species. Sadly, the end of two noble experiments.