My Turn: Oligarchy in America

A recent study done by two professors at Princeton University and Northwestern University concluded that the USA is an oligarchy, not a democracy. The conclusion was reached after the researchers reviewed answers to 1,779 survey questions asked between 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels, and organized interest groups, saw their policy preferences enacted.

The study found that our elected U.S. Congressmen and Senators vote in agreement with the majority of Americans only 10 percent of the time. The rest of the time, they vote for the special interests of the very rich and the major corporations which are the oligarchy that run this country.

I’ve always wondered why the actions of our government don’t match up with the avowed principles of our country and the feelings of most Americans I know.

America’s foreign policy decisions are very often in direct contradiction to the principles of our Constitution and the values of Americans. We have a long history of supporting dictators in Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia in order to protect and enhance the financial interests of Wall Street. Though the U.S. was so anti-communist during the cold war, Wall Street is now heavily invested in China, which is still a communist dictatorship. But, you don’t hear about that now because China provides cheap labor and big profits to the U.S. oligarchy and the heck with the rest. Follow the money. Forget “buy American.”

When our government, goaded on by Wall Street, decides to overthrow a foreign government (oftentimes a freely elected government), Wall Street and its cooperative servants in the White House and the C.I.A. raise the flag, beat the drum, and misrepresent another American invasion as a patriotic and altruistic mission to build democracy and protect the U.S.A. Our young people are encouraged to join the military, and often do, out of feelings of misguided patriotism or because they need a job. When you open the camouflaged can, you usually find the war is about our oligarchy supporting a foreign oligarchy for financial profit that has little if anything to do with freedom or democracy and more to do with obtaining cheap resources and dominating markets in order to make good profits.

Iraq is a perfect example of a war generated by big business. In that case, the oil industry assisted by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Like Viet Nam, it was an unnecessary war which caused immense suffering to the people of Iraq and to American soldiers and their families. It also augmented the mistrust that many Americans have for government. The majority of Americans paid for it and are still paying for it. Halliburton, Big Oil, and the defense industry benefited from it. Americans, propagandized by the White House, fell in line for what?

At this time, our citizenry seems to be so polarized and divided that we can barely have civilized political discussions. In elections, our votes almost cancel each other out. And, according to the aforementioned study, we have no real control over our country anyway, except for our vote which is usually a choice between the lesser of evils.

Yet, there are issues the majority of Americans agree upon that are ignored by our representatives in Washington. Some of them are:

Better gun control; equal wages for women; raising the minimum wage; more affordable health care; clean air and a healthy environment; raising taxes on the very wealthy and repealing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision which basically granted the oligarchy power to spend as much as they want to choose candidates and finance political campaigns, thus granting corporations and Wall Street “banksters” even more control over politicians (a.k.a. our representatives).

John Dewey, a leading 20th century social philosopher pointed out that until “industrial feudalism” is replaced by “industrial democracy”, politics will remain “the shadow cast by big business over society.”

Our only hope is to stop pigeon holing one another with black and white, red and blue, political labels and start working to implement what we agree upon. Only by doing so can we build a real democracy and stop slipping backwards into feudalism.

• Lisle Hebert is a Juneau native who works at the hospital and makes films.

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