As we approach another election year, it might be helpful to try to understand how we got to where we are in American politics and where are we going from here.
These questions come from a profound love of our country and a sense of curiosity and wonder, regarding these maddening times.
From the very beginnings of American history, we have witnessed recurrent themes and we have also witnessed recurrent swings of liberalism and conservatism. Today, a paralysis of government exists, social and economic problems go unsolved, and they grow and fester.This inaction is not new, we have seen it before. In the past such inaction has led to a demand for change and reform. As a result of such inaction liberal governments have been elected throughout our history. Change occurs until that liberal impulse has used up its energy. The natural reaction to change brings about a return to a Conservative period where, conservatives consolidate what has happened and inaction is a reaction to the change that has occurred. The new Conservative government reflects the mood of the country and takes a breath, a pause as it were. History has shown that expression normally has been on the terms of the liberalism it has replaced. The change has been accepted by we the people and we move on to the next set of challenges that history inevitably brings to us. For if life shows us anything it is that change is a constant, and like that proverbial box of chocolates we know not what that change will be.
Since the early days of the Republic, we have seen re-current struggles between those who seek an alliance between business and government, against those who seek to extend democracy to all of the people through our representative form of government.
This began with the early Federalists. Alexander Hamilton did not believe that a society could succeed “which did not unite the interest and credit of rich individuals with those of the state.” As Secretary of the Treasury, he helped to found the Bank of the United States. This succeeded in giving the business interests of America a stake in government.
In his “Report on Manufactures,” he stressed the long-term positives of having an alliance between business and government. He shared with future Federalists the view that the people or the masses as they liked to refer to them as, could not be trusted to govern.
Hamilton, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster were strong advocates of the belief that society would be governed best if there was an aristocracy based upon property. Only men of property could vote during the early years of the Republic.
Benjamin Watkins Leigh observed that, ” power and property may be separated for a time by force or fraud, but divorced never. For, as soon as the pang of separation is felt, property will purchase power, or power will take over property. And either way, there must be an end to free government.”
Thus began the struggle to prevent that power from leaving the wealthy. They fought to prevent the extension of the vote to any others.
We witnessed this fight over power from the beginning. The importance of Andrew Jackson is that he fought successfully to not only extend the vote to others but to give the power of governance to the people. He also put an end to the Bank of the United States.
Our history has seen repeated examples of this continuing struggle and we see that today. Some call what we have today a plutocracy. A plutocracy is defined by Wikipedia as being a society ruled and dominated by a small minority of its wealthiest citizens.
Although we may not have a conspiracy to deprive we the people of our rights, we are seeing a concerted effort by the top 1% of our population to dominate and influence our present day politics. Money is used to influence our elected officials, through lobbying at the state and federal level and through campaign contributions. The growth in the expenditures of money in our elections has grown to epidemic proportions.
Whether you are talking about the early Federalist days, the Gilded Age, the years that preceded the Great Depression or now we have seen the re-current pattern in our history, to which the wealthy seek to dominate and the rest of us fight to maintain our rights and to gain new rights.
The use of the word conservative is a joke. What are they conserving? Today’s modern day so-called conservatives, like their predecessors, have fought against all progress for we the people. Conservatives were against the extension of the vote to all white males, they were against the 13th Amendment to end slavery, they were against women having the right to vote and they fought against the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s. They were against Social Security and Medicare and now they are against the Affordable Care Act. The question that should be asked is what do Conservatives want to conserve other than their financial self-interest?
Conservative reactionary arguments have not changed for nearly 200 years. We have seen and heard the Darwinistic arguments in the Gilded Age, when the idea was stressed that through natural selection if you were poor you deserved to be poor. Even as early as the Federalist Period, Peter Oxenbridge Thacher, expounded on the virtues of inequality by declaring that it “is the order of Providence.’
The American system of Hamilton existed to perpetuate an aristocracy of wealth, and like today they fortify their arguments and power by influencing the courts and using religion as a justification for their policies.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in “The Age of Jackson”, reminded us of how the wealthy used religion to keep down the masses. He stated on page 16, that “to the clergy were assigned the essential functions of reconciling the lower classes to inequality and binding them to absolute obedience to the laws.” “Christian morality and piety, in connection with the intelligence of the common people ” declared Calvin Colton, Episcopalian preacher, later Whig pamphleteer,” are the last hope of the American Republic.”
Republicans now use the very human goals of social stability and religious salvation as a means of sustaining their power and money against the interests of the people, just like they did 200 years ago.
So what do we see in the politics of today, we see the same re-current themes and patterns of the past. It is still a struggle of the many to have an equal opportunity for a better life against those who would seek to maintain their power and influence.
Throughout all these many years we have witnessed the struggle between the Jeffersonian ideal of individual liberty and equality against the forces of monied interests and power.
Today, we have the frustrated and angry minions of the wealthy being hoodwinked into believing the sales pitch that they too can become millionaires. The danger in today’s politics, is that we have a segment of our population that are not willing to accept the outcome of elections and the will of the majority.
We need to take a page out of the past as a guide for our future. We need to recognize that no class distinctions exist nor should they. We are all workingmen and women and we are all capitalists. We must admit that we are all mutually dependent on each other for each person’s success. Let us declare not just our independence but our mutual interdependence on each other so that we again may march forward into history more united than before. We are but one nation, we are all Americans.