By Ray Weymann
Consider these facts. The 26 world’s wealthiest have more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s least wealthy, according to a 2017 article in Business Insider. In the U.S., the wealthiest 1/1000 have nearly as much wealth as the 300 million in the lower 90 percent, according to a 2019 article in PolitiFact. The owner of a large U.S. chicken processer donated $7.7 million to Republican candidates while his employees were required to work unsafely in a COVID-infected plant or lose their jobs while being paid poverty wages of $13/hour, according to a New Yorker article from July 2020.
In “Let Them Eat Tweets,” by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, it’s explained how those wielding extreme economic power dictate political policy while enriching themselves. To persuade enough voters to maintain political control, they ally themselves with tactics, groups, and politicians who pander to voters via divisive cultural tactics, leading to what is called “plutocratic populism.”
These tactics involve mobilizing issues and groups including the NRA, white Evangelical Christians, anti-abortion, anti-LGBT and anti-immigrant sentiment, voter suppression and gerrymandering, ultra-nationalism and, let’s be frank, appeals to testosterone-driven tough-guyness. Underlying all this is an undercurrent of racism. These tactics fuel resentment toward minorities while fostering opposition to policies favoring the very groups whose votes the plutocrats and their political surrogates depend upon.
The dangers and distortions to our Democracy these tactics have led to manifest themselves in many ways. Obstacles to voting via baseless claims of rampant mail voter fraud and purging of voter rolls; cutting short the census; verbal attacks on journalists and condoning, even encouraging, Russian interference in our elections. Obstructionism in the Senate and abusing the filibuster so that progressive legislation is not passed leads to cynicism and disgust with the political process, especially among young voters.
This danger isn’t limited to the U.S. We already see dying democracies in Hungary and Poland. But in the U.S., the passions engendered among far-right groups by these tactics have already led to violence and loss of life. It’s led to open defiance of the law by vigilante groups like the Bundys. Overreaction by Federal law enforcement personnel in Portland and Seattle has triggered lawless behavior by some, overshadowing legitimate protests against law enforcement abuses.
We badly need a progressive President, House, and a Senate to abolish the filibuster and enact reforms in election laws and the Supreme Court that I have previously written about. Read the report “Our Common Purpose” online at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, for more on this.
They should restore tax policy to what it was during the 1950s through most of the 1980s when we had a flourishing middle class and strong unions. They should also restore scientific input in policymaking, rejoin global efforts to solve global problems, and vigorously counter misinformation about climate change and pandemics.
True, minorities were often excluded from equal opportunity and basic civil rights needed achieving — and still do. So, I recognize and applaud the huge progress since made in civil rights and social programs like Medicare.
I anticipate that some readers will accuse me of advocating for “redistribution of wealth,” of “instigating class warfare,” and, of course, “socialism.”
To the first charge: absolutely. Not to some new radical extent but simply restoration of top tax rates that were much higher than today at a time when prosperity was not disproportionately gained by the very wealthy.
To the second charge: absolutely not. On the contrary, if a recent tweet from our President — “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low-income housing built in your neighborhood” isn’t racism and “class warfare,” I don’t know what is. I am not advocating “class warfare” but for ending it — along with the anger, resentment, and divisiveness fostered by the tactics of ‘plutocratic populism.’
As for the charge of ‘socialism’ that is so silly, it does not warrant a reply.
Most especially, I’m advocating for the restoration for civility and reason in public discourse and for basic humanity, fairness, and moral decency.
This column is dedicated to the memories of John Lewis, my favorite protester, and friend and champion of fairness, Adam Hill.
Ray Weymann is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.