The history of the United States has been a cyclical struggle between democratic and class control. It is a history of rising democracy as stated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution United States. But it’s also a history of aristocracy that hearkens back to before the American Revolution, which was a conservative revolution led by the wealthy merchants and shippers in the north and, most of all, by slave-owning aristocrats primarily in the South. The democratic and republican ideas came from the north (and a few slave-owners from Virginia) who articulated the ideas of the European Enlightenment. These southern plutocrats made sure that their interests were preserved and that the slavery issue was postponed. The American Civil War in 1860 - 1865 almost resulted in the splitting of the nation. It was the greatest threat to the existence of the United States. Today is a continuation of that threat.
The struggle is basically between people who are inclusive in their beliefs and those that are exclusive. Between the greedy and the altruistic. In actuality, pure socialism and pure capitalism are more similar than they are different. Pure socialism is where the government controls the means of production, like what existed in the Soviet Union until it collapsed in 1991, or what exists in North Korea today. Pure capitalism is a system wherein the economy and the political structure are controlled by very wealthy individuals known as plutocrats. Ultimately both societies are ruled by elites, are corrupt, are dictatorships, and eventually implode. The only society that proves to work in the long run is one of democratic capitalism. Capitalism is regulated and controlled by the people which limits control by the few. This is the type of government that exists in Scandinavia, most of Western Europe, and a small number of other places in the world. It’s the type of capitalism that existed in the US prior to 1980.
The history of US society has been one of the cycles of control - usually by those who controlled the new technology, operating on a government that they indirectly control. This cycle is inevitably followed by resistance, chaos, economic depression-- and like the Phoenix rising -- reform. The Republican Party as we know it today really began in the early 1980s when two individuals, Charles and David Koch, who owned the largest private business in the US, realized that for their libertarian point of view to win the day, the key was to control the political system of the country. At the same time, President Reagan promoted a similar political agenda to reduce government regulation of business and reduced taxation on “the wealth producers.” This had to start at the local level by getting elected judges and county commissioners and then proceeding to state officials and then federal officials so that today the split between Democrats and Republicans is nearly even. With the means of controlling the vote by gerrymandering, voter suppression, and other means of preventing Democrats from winning elections is their strategy for gaining complete control of society as an autocracy.
The US is now experiencing the second greatest threat to its democracy. The midterm election in 2022 could be the critical election to determine if we will be democratic or a dictatorship. In at least 19 state legislatures controlled by Republicans laws have been made that will allow them to overturn the vote of the people of that state. This is in addition to the advantage they gain through gerrymandering voter suppression. Among the threats cited by President Biden were those efforts to move power away from independent election administrators and toward partisan operators with the power to overturn election results within their states.
“This is election subversion," Biden declared. "It’s the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history. Never before have they decided who gets to count ... what votes count.” (Politifact)
What Needs to be Done Domestically
In its 2021 report, the Institute in Sweden, based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance that evaluates the state of democracy around the world, rates the United States as a “backsliding democracy.” According to the Freedom Report in the World 2021, globally American democracy is rated 83%, a two-point backslide from the previous year.
We are currently at the beginning of a reform period of the political cycle. It’s important to reiterate that historically, US society has been one of cycles of control by those who controlled new technology and who indirectly control government. This cycle is inevitably followed by resistance, chaos, economic depression – and, finally, reform. Some of the critical reforms urgently needed include the restyling the appointment of congressional seats by partisans, (which creates uneven distribution), limiting the amount and time for national elections, changing the Supreme Court, and more.
Democracy cannot exist without a commonly accepted set of facts. Reform cannot come about without common facts and honest discussion. It requires truthful news reporting and the elimination of the ability to propagate a false narrative, through fines and prison sentences if necessary. Most of all we need to end Citizen United, which states that corporations are considered people, thereby enabling control by the plutocrats.
It is in our country’s self-interest to create and maintain a global democratic system. Yet in the last 30 years since the post-Cold War, the US squandered its global dominance through a series of mistakes where decisions were based on hubris and individual short-term greed. This led to some very bad decisions, such as the creation of Israel without following through with the creation of Palestine; undermining an independent and democratic Iran; the Vietnam War; the War on Terror that led to 20 years in Afghanistan; and the current apparent ascendency of global authoritarianism, including in the US. Additionally, in the last 15 years since 9/11, the US has lost a series of catastrophic wars.
All systems go through cycles as they evolve, be they internal or external, domestic or global, societal or individualistic. Human survival requires democratic order. Authoritarian systems require a selfish response – and a global response is critical. So is an egalitarian one because otherwise too much talent is wasted. The authoritarian response is wake-up call to preserve and extend democracy around the world. Madeleine Albright writes in the Nov/Dec issue of Foreign Affairs, in an article entitled “America’s Opportunity to Lead the Fight Against Authoritarianism” that this is the opportunity to spark a global democratic revival. I will write on this subject at a later time.