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How Capitalism Destroyed American Democracy: Part 3 (of 3)Daniel Johnson Salem-News.com
Neither political party represents the ordinary American anymore.
(CALGARY, Alberta) - The fact that American democracy doesn’t work is such a no-brainer that only those living in denial object to this assertion.
Benjamin Franklin was a key player in the founding of the United States. Biographer Walter Isaacson called him "the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become."
In Advice to a Young Tradesman Franklin wrote:
“Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but six pence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides.
“Remember, that credit is money. If a man lets his money lie in my hands after it is due, he gives me the interest, or as much I can make of it during that time. This amounts to a considerable sum where a man has good and large credit, and makes good use of it.
“Remember, that money is of the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again it is seven and three-pence, and so on till it become an hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker, he that kills a breeding sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds. ”
Through Franklin primarily, the pre-eminence of money was built right into the foundation of America.
What of the so-called genius of the founding fathers? I want to first shine some needed light on the widely-revered Constitution.
In 1950 Isaac Asimov published a science fiction novel titled The Stars, Like Dust. In serializing it, Horace Gold, the editor of Galaxy, wanted to introduce a new plot element. Across our galaxy of millions of stars, everyone would be searching for a mysterious document which would turn out at the end to be the American Constitution. Asimov says, “I objected strongly to that, saying it was corny and downright unbelievable. No one could suppose that an instrument of government suitable for a primitive nation forming a small part of a single world would be suitable for a stellar federation.” When his editor at Doubleday heard about the change he, too, was enthusiastic and wanted to leave it in the hardcover book, which he did. And that, says Asimov, “is the chief reason why The Stars, Like Dust—is my least favorite novel.”
The first 29 words of the Constitution are:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare…”
“…in Order to form a more perfect Union” Has this actually happened? Only if you consider that the democracy the Founding Fathers were advocating did not include women, blacks (who were slaves—Jefferson owned some) and any citizen who did not own property. But that has nothing to do with the “Union”, but rather with who governed the Union.
Also lost sight of is the fact that the Founding Fathers were not actually trying to establish a democracy of ordinary Americans. They were, themselves, part of the aristocracy of the day and were merely attempting to improve the system in the Colonies. Men like Madison, Jefferson, and Washington, were products of aristocratic society. They did not provoke a revolution in order to establish democracy. On the contrary, they wanted to remain aristocrats. But, like Mikhail Gorbachev in the old Soviet Union, they just wanted to reform an oppressive system without fundamentally changing it. They were not successful at reform, and, like Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, the entire social system of the gentry to which they belonged was swept away by the social forces they helped set in motion. So completely was the gentry’s conservative social system rejected, that the citizens who followed them were able to mythologize them as revolutionary democrats which they were not.
There is also residual doubt over who the people were in “We the people…”
John Bach McMaster
I resume my argument with the last four words: promote the general Welfare…
John Bach McMaster (1852-1932) was an American historian best known for his eight-volume History of the People of the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War (1883-1913). His A School History of the United States (1897) was an extremely popular textbook for many years. But the year before the School History he published With the Fathers, a book which was reprinted in 1964 as The Political Depravity of the Founding Fathers.
On this subject McMaster wrote in Political Depravity: “During the twenty-eight years which have passed since 1861, three hundred and seventy-seven amendments have been offered. Many of these, it is true, have in one form or another tormented Congress for ninety years; but among them are others which indicate nothing so plainly as the belief that the Government is now a great national Government and that its duty is to provide in the broadest sense for the ‘general welfare’ of the people”. [my emphasis added]
On selecting the President, McMaster writes of the Electoral College:
"All were agreed that the choice should not be left to the people--to do which, as one member of the Convention expressed it, would be as foolish as to leave the selection of colors to a blind man. At length they adopted the method of choosing by electors, and, taking the system by which Maryland chose her State senators, modelled after it the Electoral Colleges of the States. Their plain intention was that the presidential electors should do two things--select a suitable man to be President, and then elect him to the office. The people were to have no direct part in the matter ." [my emphasis added]
And so it remains. After more than 200 years as a nation, Americans are still not allowed to directly vote for and select their president! But, looking at the fractured state of American society today, this is not a high priority for concern.
The American people have elected their Representatives and Senators to uphold the alleged ideals of democracy. But in the 19th century, under the sway of Social Darwinism, the robber barons—John D. Rockefeller, J. J. Astor, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, Jay Cooke, E, H. Harriman, J. P. Morgan, et al were able to inculcate the ethic that money is the most important thing in a society and in the lives of the citizens.
The most influential American social Darwinist was William Graham Sumner who taught at Yale (1872 to 1909). He defended millionaires, saying that “the millionaires are a product of natural selection, acting on the whole body of men to pick out those who can meet the requirement of certain work to be done….It is because they are thus selected that wealth—both their own and that entrusted to them—aggregates under their hands… They may fairly be regarded as the naturally selected agents of society for certain work. They get high wages and live in luxury, but the bargain is a good one for society. There is the intensest competition for their place and occupation. This assures that all who are competent for this function will be employed in it, so that the cost of it will be reduced to the lowest terms.”
Writer Andrew Brown describes Social Darwinism in the non-moneyed class: "It is a way for otherwise despised and marginal people to assert the importance and autonomy of morality in their lives. Social Darwinism in its original Spencerian form was overwhelmingly popular in America (and in imperial Germany before the First World War). In both cases it was an ideology used by the strong to say that their subjugation of the weak was necessary and good. The Social Darwinists stamped around the world like Vogon guards. 'Resistance is useless' was their message to the weak.".
From Social Darwinism and the Constitutional distrust of the electorate, it’s a simple step to H. L. Mencken’s definition of democracy as:
“…the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”
This is the democracy that America has. Is it what Americans want?
The evidence is all around. If we assume that democracy exists in America, that it is effective and works the way it should, then here are the top ten things that the American electorate has voted to support:
10. Two disastrous--expensive and deadly--foreign wars—so far.
9. There are 15.1 million unemployed, more than double the number of jobless at the beginning of the recession in December, 2007. This is greater than the population of all but four states.
8. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan says: “My own suspicion is that we’re going to penetrate the 10 percent barrier and stay there for a while before we start down.”
7. the U.S. jobless rate now stands at a 26-year peak.
6. 5.4 million people have now been out of work for at least 27 weeks, representing 35.6 percent of the total number of unemployed, the most since the Labor dept. began keeping statistics in 1948.
5. There are six job-seekers, for every job opening
4. non-farm payroll declined by 263,000 jobs last month
3. another 517,000 Americans dropped out of the labour market altogether
2. State and local governments slashed 47,000 jobs last month
1. The proportion of people who have been searching for work for longer than half a year rose to 35.6% of the unemployed, up from a third of the work force in August.
The national government has “invested” hundreds of billions of dollars to save banks, insurance companies, brokerages and other big businesses, while at the same time leaving the ordinary, unprotected citizen, to twist in the wind.
Neither political party represents the ordinary American anymore. There is no effective voice for the American citizen. As Ross Douthat argues in his Oct 4 New York Times column, “this is because the Democrats have become as much the party of the rich as the Republicans, and parties rarely overtax their own contributors. (That’s why the plan to pay for health-care reform with a ‘surtax’ on high earners found so many skeptics within the Democratic caucus.)”
A new direction?
After Joe Wilson’s cry that Obama lied, Keith Olberman in his Commentary said:
“It is this week evident that the greatest threat to this nation is not terrorism, nor the economy, nor H1N1, nor even bad health care. It is rank wilful stupidity. When did we come to extol stupidity ahead of information, and voodoo superstition and prejudice ahead of education. How many Republicans believe in death panels, and brownies and elves….The time has come to rise up and take this country back, to again make it safe for people who actually completed the seventh grade…This nation cannot survive the continued acceptance, the continued endorsement, the continued encouragement, the continued institutionalization, of stupidity.”
If ignorance is bliss, why are Republicans so angry?
In Part 1 (see: How Capitalism Destroyed American Democracy: Part 1 - Daniel Johnson Salem-News.com), I reviewed Vance Packard’s 1960 book The Waste Makers
Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which explains why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class—a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue, although a lot of his views could be described as left-wing. He understands that who he is, is largely defined by where he came from. The focus for Daniel’s writing came in 1972. After a trip to Europe he moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. Alberta, and Calgary in particular, was extremely conservative Bible Belt country, more like Houston than any other Canadian city (a direct influence of the oil industry). Two successive Premiers of the province, from 1935 to 1971, had been Baptist evangelicals with their own weekly Sunday radio program—Back to the Bible Hour, while in office. In Alberta everything was distorted by religion.
Although he had published a few pieces (unpaid) in the local daily, the Calgary Herald, it was not until 1975 that he could actually make a living from journalism when, from 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman (1979-1993), Canada’s top business writer (notably a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting with the CBC. You can write to Daniel at: Salem-News@gravityshadow.com
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