Whites are being horribly exploited … by other whites

The Thinker by Rodin

Fox News host Laura Ingraham drew some attention in August when she said this on her Fox News TV show:

“In some parts of the country, it does seem like the America we know and love don’t exist anymore,” she said, with videos of agricultural work playing over her shoulder. “Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people. And they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like.”

Donald Trump’s election proved there are plenty of white people worried that America isn’t quite white enough for their tastes anymore. It’s making them nervous and scared and not coincidentally is causing many of them to stock up on guns.

The browning of America is hardly new but for decades Republicans have been riding this anxiety to political power. Richard Nixon’s 1968 Southern Strategy (as well as his Silent Majority strategy in his 1972 reelection) harnessed this fear. Ronald Reagan stoked it too, with images of imaginary welfare queens buying steaks and driving Cadillacs. Donald Trump of course made this anxiety the center of his campaign and his presidency. Fear, particularly fear of “the other” is a powerful motivator.

Reagan’s imaginary welfare queen was probably not a white person. This is strange because whites receive the majority of food stamps. In 2015, 40% of SNAP recipients were white. That’s more than blacks (26%) and Hispanics (10%) combined. If you are one of those whites on food stamps though, it may be scary though because it suggests that you can’t do any better economically than those other “lesser” races in our country. That can be unsettling. But whites traditionally have always been the biggest recipients of food stamps because they are a majority of the country.

Still, Laura Ingraham’s remarks are awfully odd considering that she has an adopted Guatemalan daughter. With images of brown agricultural workers in the background during her tirade, you have to wonder how long it’s been since most of our agricultural workers were white. Whites don’t want to work agricultural jobs, even for increased wages. I live in Western Massachusetts where local farmers advertise heavily for agricultural workers but get few takers. That’s because these jobs are brutal, far away and don’t pay well. Just 23% of agricultural workers in the United States were born here. I was born in 1957 and I’d be very surprised if in my 61 years the majority of agricultural workers were ever white.

As for Ingraham’s assertion that none of us ever voted on these changes, what a load of malarkey! Congress makes immigration law so we have only ourselves to blame. Agricultural interests though doubtless pushed these laws. They succeeded with guest worker programs and policies that gave short shrift to immigration enforcement on our Mexican border. This was not bad. It allowed our agricultural section to flourish and keep their prices low. With native born Americans unwilling for the most part to take these jobs, that we still have an agricultural sector is due principally to these workers we’re told to despise. To this day, it’s largely unheard of for an employer to be held liable for undocumented workers they employ.

Yes, America certainly did look a lot whiter in 1957 than it does today. The places I lived in when I was young were so far in upstate New York that I don’t recall even seeing a black person until I was in high school. Lots of these places still exist, but in cities like Hazelton, Pennsylvania they are finally coloring up. And it’s making lots of whites in Hazelton anxious. In 2013, a Hazelton-area chief of police channeled his frustrations with a crazy YouTube video.

There are plenty of reasons for whites to be anxious, but it’s not because the nation is coloring up. It’s because pathways for whites to enter the middle and upper classes are narrowing. Things are particularly bleak for blue-collar whites, the base of Trump’s support who he’s largely left out to dry. A good paying blue-collar job is hard to find and harder to retain. When lost these workers usually quickly fall into jobs that don’t pay a living wage, even if they work two or three of them. People like Amazon warehouse workers, many of whom are on food stamps. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is worth $164B but can’t pay his warehouse workers a living wage. He’d rather let the U.S. government try to fill in the difference with food stamps instead. Amazon is hardly alone, which is why a $15/hour living wage proposal polls so well.

It’s the rise of wealth inequality that is driving most of this white anxiety. While courting whites though Republicans (and sometimes Democrats) have worked instead for their real masters: corporations and rich people. They’ve enacted tax cuts that disproportionately allow the rich to keep more money. They cut services and when possible entitlements that principally benefit the rest of us, like affordable public college tuitions, that used to be free in many states. Corporations use their tax cuts to buy back their own stocks rather than raise wages for their employees or invest in the future. Minimum wage laws rarely move upward, making it impossible for people falling through the cracks to reach for the next rung. So-called Right to Work laws make it hard for workers to organize for higher wages. Moreover, Republicans shamelessly feed the myth that if you work harder and try hard enough you can scale the economic ladder. In most cases though they took the rungs out of the ladder decades ago. Middle and lower classes have been disenfranchised not by accident, but by design. Bernie Sanders long ago recognized the real issue: the system is rigged against working people.

The game is rigged but there are some signs that whites may be waking up at last. Midterms in two months should be revealing. In deeply red states like Oklahoma, West Virginia and Arizona teacher strikes have drawn the sympathy of the public, including working and middle class whites. They are even electing politicians who commit to raising their taxes in exchange for more services. They can certainly understand how teachers are struggling economically on substandard wages. It may be that Republicans have played the race card about as far as it can be played.

In any event, it’s absolutely clear that the rich and the powerful, who are principally white men, have been systematically and cynically abusing middle income and working class whites, feeding their anxieties and promoting false rationalizations for their anxieties. Curiously the best way to make this anxiety ebb is for whites to rise up against their economic masters and elect people who will put rungs back in the economic ladder again, many of whom will be brown, black or female. White politicians are horribly misleading and abusing them.

Fiddling while the USA burns

The Thinker by Rodin

Reputedly Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Republicans pretty much reenacted this event this week when the Senate passed its version of a “tax reform” bill in the wee hours yesterday. As if Americans were not sufficiently appalled by the House’s version of the bill, the Senate’s version turned out to be even more of a looting spree. It got totally crazy in the generally gentlemanly Senate.

It turned out that cutting taxes was kind of incidental in this “tax reform” bill. Lots of taxes will get cut if you are wealthy. There is the illusion that middle and lower classes will have their taxes cut but at best it’s a temporary tax cut to make the budget math work. As for budgeting, apparently there is none because at least $1.5T in new debt will get authorized and most of that will go into the pockets of the rich who already can’t find enough ways to spend their existing windfalls. The permanent tax cuts the rich will get apparently aren’t good enough for the rest of us, but then again our current Congress is proof that not all the animals on the farm are equal. Even Republicans seemed less than enthusiastic about tax reform, but their donors were pretty explicit: cut our taxes or we stop funding your reelection campaigns.

Apparently regular order in Congress is now so 20th century. When asked when senators were supposed to find the time to read the tax bill, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said there would be plenty of time after the bill was passed. Amendments to amendments that were hand scrawled in the margins were submitted to the bill at the last hours of debate. No one had time to actually read the 400+ page bill chock full of new amendments. Lobbyists sitting outside the Senate chambers actually dictated the wording of many of these last minute amendments. There was one committee meeting that turned out to be a farce. Protestors were dragged out of the committee room as the discussion was going on.

A so-called budget reconciliation bill morphed into a social engineering bill. It tries to do lots of things that Republicans want to do. To kill the Affordable Care Act, it essentially lets people opt out of the requirement to get health insurance by removing any penalties for doing so. Last I checked, the bill sort of defined a person as not just a fetus in utero, but as potential human beings you might have at some future date, because it allows you to set up college trust funds for children not yet conceived. If all this were not crazy enough, the bill will require automatic Medicare cuts to kick in to save money because of the $1.5T in additional borrowing. We know this will effectively take away cancer treatment for many senior citizens because that’s what happened in the past when these cuts kicked in. Since senior citizens form the base of the Republican Party, senators effectively are giving the middle finger to their own base. Seniors had best hope they not get cancer. If they do, they better hope they can fund their treatment out of pocket. If not, well the Party of Life apparently wishes you a happy and premature entrance into eternal life because it’s far more important to give tax cuts to the rich than to keep you alive.

So the Senate bill now goes to conference with the House bill. It will be interesting to see what happens now, but something will likely get signed into law pretty soon. Trump will apparently sign anything Republicans put on his desk. He’s obviously not someone who pays attention to details. Whatever form of bill is signed into law it will take aim not just at Democrats, minorities and the poor, but Trump’s base and the Republican Party’s base too. Republicans think their base is the oligarchy. While they provide the money to keep them in office, these legislators actually stay in charge to the extent they can hoodwink the rest of their voters.

PT Barnum famously said that no one went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. So I can’t predict that come 2018 Republican voters will not stupidly continue to vote against their own interests. One clue may be next Tuesday’s special election in Alabama to replace Jeff Sessions’ senate seat. If Alabama voters are stupid enough to vote for Roy Moore, twice thrown off the Alabama Supreme Court and a documented pedophile, it might well predict modest Democratic gains at best in 2018. At best Democrats have a 50/50 chance of flipping the Senate.

I like to think though that Republicans will get their comeuppance next year. It sure looks that way with Trump’s approval rating at 34% and Congress’s less than half of that. Elections last month in Virginia, New Jersey and elsewhere showed Democrats very energized. The House should flip; the Senate looks more problematic. While the energy level from frustrated voters is very high, there are many unknowns. These include how gerrymandered districts will affect the outcome and continued voter disenfranchisement. An expected Supreme Court ruling next year may clarify the former issue.

Meanwhile, the circus continues. Trump is a terrible president but he continues to excel in one area: distracting us from stuff that matters. When Trump makes some crazy or inane tweet, it gets Washington all a Twitter, literally, while conveniently distracting us from the real issues at hand. Even for Trump though Trump is looking wholly unhinged. There seems to be a direct correlation between the Mueller investigation’s closing in him and the level of weirdness coming out of his Twitter feed. If it were a fire, it would be four-alarm.

Reality is slowly catching up with Donald Trump though. I expect he’s about to go Richard Nixon in a Saturday Night Massacre kind of way. When he senses Robert Mueller is too close, he’ll find a way to fire him, which will probably involve firing the Deputy Attorney General supervising Mueller and installing an acting sycophant who will fire him. That’s when the crazy gets even crazier. Like the fictional band Spinal Tap, the amplifier will then be set at 11.

Let’s hope voters can stay focused amongst the painful noise and vote rationally next November 6.

The Republican tax bill is really quite breathtaking in its audacity

The Thinker by Rodin

Those of us of sufficient age will remember when W’s father, George H. W. Bush was running for president. The elder Bush’s famous words during the campaign were: “Read my lips: no new taxes.” It was infamous because after he won election in 1988 he made a deal with Democrats that modestly raised taxes.

Since that time it’s been anathema for any Republican to even think about raising taxes.

Next week the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on its version of a tax bill that will raise taxes, just like the House bill. To make this worse, they are dramatically cutting taxes on the wealthy and making the already stretched middle and lower classes generally pay more in taxes.

And it doesn’t seem to be bothering Republicans at all, which is perhaps the most amazing part. Since Ronald Reagan declared government and taxes evil, never raising taxes has been the nonstop diatribe from Republicans. Now although trying to paint their legislation as a tax cut, no one actually believes it is one. Virtually every analysis shows that it will increase the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion plus add taxes for most middle and lower income people. It’s also likely the resulting exploding deficit will give them reason to cut social services back even further.

The Republicans think that if they can get through this through Congress and into law, it’s one point for their side in an otherwise miserable legislative year when they have controlled all levers of power. They think their voters will be thrilled. Any objective person though looking at this turd of legislation will see it as an abdication of nearly forty years of Republican bedrock orthodoxy. Any Republican rank-and-file who actually believed this stuff should be dumfounded.

Just last year when Obama was still president Republicans were threatening to shut down the government if proposed spending bills were not revenue neutral. “We can’t leave our grandchildren with a mountain of debt”, we heard in many variations ad nauseum. Now, adding another $1.5T to the debt? No problemo.

It’s not news to Democrats that Republicans were not sincere about debt reduction, at least not when they were in charge. It exploded under Reagan, and again under Bush II. When Bush II’s Medicare Part D bill was voted into law, it was done at 3 AM in the House chambers so it would be less obvious how hypocritical Republicans were being. Maybe they felt a little ashamed. They might try the same strategy this time but I don’t think it will work and I doubt feeling ashamed about what they plan to do has even entered their minds.

Still, it takes amazing audacity to give huge tax cuts and inheritance windfalls to the very richest while bleeding the working class even more. This is explainable: all Republicans really care about is the moneyed class and making them even more so. They got control of the Executive and Congress. Now is the time to squeeze the system for themselves and their special moneyed interests. It’s the culmination of decades of strategy to convince Americans to act against their own self-interest. That $1.5T deficit? The only reason that’s there is because they have to get this bill through the Senate using budget reconciliation rules, i.e. Republicans-only so it could only add so much to the deficit, at least officially. Without the rule maybe there would have been no lower and middle class tax increases. To give the rich this tax windfall though and keep the deficit spending to $1.5T, they had to squeeze someone. Couldn’t be them of course, so lower and middle classes it has to be.

And Trump? The guy who ran as an outsider and promised to help the working class? To make America great again? The candidate who during one of the first debates openly admitted he traded money for favor from politicians? The charlatan that Americans elected who ran promising he’d do exactly the opposite? Why he’s all in on this tax bill, of course! His family will reap at least $1B in estate tax relief alone from its passage in its current form. What’s not to like about that? It’s pretty clear what Trump is all about. He’s about bleeding the government dry mainly to enrich himself and his empire. He goes golfing pretty much every weekend at one of his resorts to make sure the Secret Service has to pay usury rates to rent his golf carts and stay in his hotels. Much of the rest of his administration is looking out for either themselves and/or their sponsors. Education Secretary DeVos is trying to move tax dollars toward charter schools. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is downsizing national monuments so private interests can mine and frack gas on nearby lands including possibly the Grand Canyon. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin when not posing holding sheets of dollar bills with his wife is trying to loosen regulations on Wall Street, the same regulations that caused the Great Recession.

In short Trump’s voters — but really the vast majority of Americans — are being played for suckers. It’s time for Republicans to give America that high colonic of their dreams. With the oligarchy in charge, it’s time to fleece the sheep just as winter approaches instead of afterward.

Or so they think. I think a wave is building and come November 2018 Republicans are going to discover the wrath of the American voter. It’s quite similar to the late 19th century when homeless urchins roamed the streets while the Carnegies and Rockefellers lived the life of Gatsby. Back then the voters spoke and a true progressive called Teddy Roosevelt won office, along with a massive wave of Republicans (who were the modern day Democrats of their time). Too big to fail corporations were broken up. National Parks multiplied. Government represented the people again.

Granted the challenge will be harder in 2018. In the late 19th century the art of gerrymandering had not yet been perfected. Blacks and women were disenfranchised but that was the status quo; however there were enough regular folk out there with voting rights to sweep the oligarchy out of power. I’m anticipating that’s what we’ll see in 2018. It’s not really Republican vs. Democrat anymore, it’s big business against the rest of us. It will be mostly Republicans but also a lot of corporate Democrats that will pay the price this time.

No time like the present holiday season for Republicans to play the part of the Grinch. In 2018 though Republicans and their ilk are likely to find their game is over.

The oligarchy in charge

The Thinker by Rodin

Based on polls, only 25% of Americans want Congress to enact the Republicans’ tax “reform” plan. A look at the proposed plan (which will likely change substantially before getting a vote) makes it easy to see why: despite all the hoopla, there is nothing in it for most of us, since most of us are not wealthy.

If you are wealthy, well, it looks pretty good. Less than 1% of us will owe an estate tax when we pass on, but Republicans want to get rid of that altogether. By creating fewer tax brackets, more of us will pay at the 25% tax rate meaning the 28% tax rate goes away. So if you make over $156K, you will pay less tax than you did before, but probably not if you make less than this. To be taxed at the 35% level you would have to make more than $260K, which means the 33% rate disappears for those whose income is between $156K and $238K, effectively a tax cut for them. As for that top tax rate of 39.6% which applies now if you make over $480K, if this bill becomes law, you will have to earn more than $1M to pay this rate. That’s a lot of savings for those in the $480K to $1M bracket.

A lot of these tax rates though become just theoretical for the rich. Since many of the rich own LLCs (Limited Liability Corporations) they can pass income to themselves at a “pass-through” rate. It is now 20%, which meant most of these people saved money on their taxes because if this money were considered as ordinary wages they’d pay at a higher tax rate. This rate goes to 25% in the plan, but it’s still less of a tax rate than anyone making over $260K would pay if this income were counted as wages.

Meanwhile, for the rest of us this attempt to “simplify” the tax code means we’ll probably be paying more. There was a somewhat theoretical tax rate of 10% for those earning up to $19K. The rate changes to 12% so in principle the poor pay more than they do now. Those taxed at the 15% rate, which is most of us, will be taxed at 12% for income up to $77K. That sounds good but look what they are taking away: no deductions for state and local income taxes (which affects mostly blue states), no deductions for student loans (claimed by 25% of filers) and limitations on home interest deductions. The standard deduction goes up meaning fewer of us will itemize, which could have ripple effects like fewer of us giving to charities.

The bottom line is that at best most of us ordinary wage earners will be coming out even, but are more likely to be paying more taxes through a lot of smoke and mirrors, while the rich will generally pay a lot less. Oh, and that corporate tax rate falls, good if you are a corporation. However a lot of the old loopholes that keep many corporations from paying taxes remain in place. And to finance all of this there will be increased deficit spending.

So it’s unsurprising there’s little support for the plan as it’s pretty obvious who the winners and losers will be. And the winners will be those who financed the campaigns of these Republicans, i.e. the oligarchy. As Jimmy Carter noted, we no longer have a democracy, but an oligarchy. This stinky, duplicitous tax bill pretty much proves it.

How else would a bill that has 25% support make it through Congress? Most representatives are gerrymandered into safe districts. It’s all by design so incumbents can keep their jobs, so of course they are going to do the bidding of those who funded their campaigns instead, at least if they think they can get away with it. They need special interests to fund their next one. Which is why they have to do this now somehow. It has to be done before the year is up so there is plenty of time for the smoke to clear before next year’s midterm election.

While it all looks pretty bleak, it’s not. This bill and any subsequent amendments to it are more likely to fail than not. And this is because (blessedly) the oligarchy does not vote as a bloc. They each have their own interests at heart, which often conflicts with someone else’s interests. For example, the bill writers have proposed limiting the mortgage interest deduction. This has the National Association of Home Builders up in arms. They have vowed to defeat the bill unless this proposal is removed from the bill. Remove it though (like the proposal to end deductions for 401K savings, since rescinded) and something else has to replace it.

And this is because Republicans are trying to do this on their own using the Senate’s budget reconciliation rule, which allows bills to pass in the Senate with a simple majority. The other way would be to make it a matter of regular order, and that would mean that Democrats would have input into the legislation. Such legislation would likely pass and get broad support, but it wouldn’t resemble what the oligarchy wants. Can’t have that!

Yes, our tax code is a mess but it’s a result of lots of compromises along the way. It has its own inertia because reconciling all these conflicting interests happened long ago and has slowly evolved along the way. Our tax code is already a huge gift to corporations, LLCs and the wealthy. This bill is just trying to make it more so and is doing so using the unorthodox procedure of violating the normal committee process. I hope that like getting rid of Obamacare before it, it too fails. As bad as our tax code is, this makes it worse and increases our deficit, the one thing Republicans supposedly care most about, at least when Democrats are in charge.

Americans aren’t buying it. But don’t take it for granted that this will fail too. Call your representative and senators to let them know you know it’s a con, and you will hold them accountable at reelection.

The southern strategy bites back

The Thinker by Rodin

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson recently wrote that Donald Trump has changed the Republican Party permanently. In the past the establishment elite controlled the party. Unfortunately well-moneyed Republicans were relatively few in number. They had to find votes somewhere so they adopted a “southern strategy” that pandered to the fears and prejudices of those principally in the south. This included crass appeals to classists, racists, fundamentalist Christians and to those who wished for things to be the way they were in the 1950s, you know, when non-whites knew their place.

It worked quite well. Essentially the Republicans picked up formerly white southern Democrats when Democrats (some say unwisely) moved toward being more inclusive instead of the party of the white working class. Starting with Richard Nixon, Republicans realized that catering to people’s prejudices was a reliable vote getter. Republicans stoked then exploited these class divisions and anxieties so well that today the south and much of the non-coastal west is now a deep shade of red. Robinson said that Trump’s genius was to call to task Republicans because they didn’t follow through on their promises to this new base, actions like sending undocumented immigrants home. He said that Trump has fundamentally changed the party, wresting control from its establishment and making it explicitly a party centered on addressing these fears rather than merely pandering to them.

It used to be that in the Republican Party the tiger controlled its tail. The tail (the Tea Party, racists and Christian fundamentalists) now appears to control the party. We’ll find out for sure if Trump wins his party’s nomination. Even if Trump somehow slips, anyone who takes his place will have to sound a lot like him, which is why Ted Cruz won’t say anything bad about Trump while echoing most of his talking points. Counterproductively, the remaining Republican candidates are busy criticizing each other instead of focusing on Trump, at best a pennywise but pound-foolish strategy.

The Republican Party is thus on the cusp of becoming an officially anti-democratic party. It’s clear this is where they’ve been heading for a long time given their hostility toward the poor made manifest in egregious gerrymandering and increasingly odious voting restrictions. It’s like George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Republicans have decided they are the pigs. What Republicans don’t want to admit is that any control they get must be tenuous at best, as the nation’s changing demographics will eventually overwhelm them. They already recognize their reality by creating egregious voter restriction laws. These stack the deck in their favor but they cannot last forever.

Trump’s policies are popular with his supporters because he is proposing actions that explicitly redress these problems. He wants to deport the undocumented and cut off a path to citizenship for those here legally. Do this and you can at least push off the date of white disempowerment. When Trump proposes a wall along our border with Mexico, what his supporters hear is not that it will deter the undocumented from coming into the United States, but that it is a concrete step toward moving us back to the 1950s when they were in charge and minorities knew their place.

An explicitly anti-democratic party should be very scary to the rest of us. It suggests that Republicans want a radical change to our constitutional government. Trump’s words at least suggest he plans to govern by fiat if he cannot get his way.

It’s understandable that many voters are frustrated with the gridlock in Washington. I am one of them. They want to elect someone that can end it. By supporting someone who will use non-constitutional means though, they tacitly are saying that this is the only way things can change. If elected, Trump’s methods appear to be to take action unlawfully and unilaterally if necessary. He can say that he ran on this promise, voters voted him in anyhow and thus he has their sanction. However, the problem of Washington gridlock has everything to do with excessive gerrymandering that Republicans spent decades working on to garner disproportionate political power. Gerrymandering gives power to the extremes and disempowers the middle.

Curiously many of Trump’s political supporters are not new Republicans but frustrated disempowered people in the middle who see him as their savior. You can see this because some of Trump’s policies are not traditionally conservative at all. His supporters are less concerned with whether the policies are conservative but whether he can make government function for the people again. They see Trump as a man of practical action who by using the force of personality and the presidency will untangle this Gordian knot. For decades the disenfranchised white working class has propped up the Republican Party’s power, with little to show for the support they were given. This gave an opening for the daring (Trump) to exploit.

I contend that what really irks Trump supporters are not the loss of white political power, but their ability to influence politicians to work for the middle class, as evidenced by their declining wages and more problematic standard of living. As Jimmy Carter has pointed out, we effectively live in an oligarchy now. The Republican Party is the champion of the oligarchy. And the oligarchy wants a sense of stability that leaves them in charge. Then they can exploit government and the country for their benefit, which in recent decades has meant a decline in the standard of living for most of us by redistributing income to the rich.

Trump supporters are realizing that they have been had and their votes for Republicans have been counterproductive, but for many they still can’t vote for a Democrat because most Democrats don’t believe in the specialness of whites that Republicans have skillfully exploited. However, it’s why Bernie Sanders can appeal to many Trump supporters, and visa versa, by channeling their economic frustrations. Both are speaking to them in a language they understand. Trump though has chosen to pander to the white working class.

Both parties have exploited working whites for many decades. Whites perceive that Democrats favor minorities at their expense, which they attribute to erosion in their standard of living. They also perceive that Republicans pander to them for votes but give power to the oligarchy instead. They don’t realize that by uniting with many of those they instinctively revile that government could work for them, and in the process work for everyone else too.

To make that leap they must see behind the façade, which is that white Christians are somehow more special than everyone else. I expect the smarter Trump supporters will leach off toward supporting Bernie Sanders instead.

Trump is a showman and a fraud. Those who want the real deal though need to support someone whose entire career has been toward making the government represent the people. By raising the boats of the middle and lower classes, the anxiety about these others should ease.

The oligarchy’s recipe for staying in charge

The Thinker by Rodin

If we reputedly we live in a democracy, then why are those in charge so out of touch with the needs of ordinary people? Ordinary people want jobs, but that appears to be the last thing that politicians in Washington are concerned about. Of course they claim just the opposite, but see what animates them. It sure isn’t jobs. Instead it’s tax breaks for the wealthy and ending abortion.

It might be because Congress has little in common with its constituents. For example, just one percent of Americans are millionaires, but 46 percent of Congress are millionaires. The problem got worse with the 2010 elections, which brought in a freshman class of senators with an average net worth of $4M each. It’s not impossible to get a seat in Congress and be of modest means, but it’s clear that it is very hard.

Running for Congress is not something you can squeeze into your evenings and weekends while you earn income at a full time job. Running for Congress is far more than a full time job. It consumes pretty much all the time you have, including a fair amount of your sleep. To even have a chance of winning against an incumbent, you need lots of money, so you spend most of your time not campaigning, but on the phone dialing for dollars or at fundraisers. So it really helps to be independently wealthy. If fundraising slacks off, you can always dip into your personal savings. But even many of the wealthy cannot self fund their own campaigns. Campaigns are so expensive they must seek out others with money.

For the most part, the rest of us are just trying to survive. If we have ambitions for running for political office, it might be for school board or dogcatcher, because that’s as high as we are likely to get. But even winning those kinds of elections still takes the ability to raise tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Which is why you quickly find that you must affiliate yourself with a political party. Hopefully there is some congruence between your beliefs and the political party you choose, because if you run then you will need to animate members of your party to campaign for you. Which means you will tune your message, at least in part, to what they want to hear. To win, it helps enormously if you become more partisan, not less.

It also helps if you fire up your base while other voters stay mired in apathy. You want those who would vote against you to feel disengaged and not vote at all. When voters overall are engaged, this results in close elections, reducing the likelihood that you will win. However, if you can fire up your base but those who would vote against you are more inclined toward apathy than to vote, the chances of winning rise dramatically. On the other hand, particularly during presidential election years when turnout tends to be higher, if you can align with the winning presidential candidate’s ideas and philosophies, you can profit from the coattail effect. This is great if it works, but is dangerous.

Once in office, while you could work on issues your constituents care about, for the most part they won’t be calling or writing, since they are busy. Those who will be calling and writing are more likely those with particular axes to grind. Don’t expect many visits from those lobbying to end muscular dystrophy. Instead, expect those fiercely animated about something to knock on your door instead. This will be a lot of gun nuts and antiabortion zealots. You will find your path to reelection so much easier if you accommodate them instead of having them as obstacles, so most in Congress do. Mostly those who will be calling will represent corporate interests. In fact, most of them you will know already, because they helped fund your campaign. They did so on the understanding that you were aligned with their business interests, so you need to keep voting for their bills.

Since Congress has become an oligarchy run principally to meet the needs of American corporations, American corporations in particular know a good thing when they see one. Power is exercised through proxies. They will sponsor you to the extent that you vote with their interests, and will quickly pull money and support if you dare deviate from it. With money of course comes the opportunity to leverage more power. This is done in various ways. It is done by setting up think tanks stuffed with eloquent people that will act as an echo chamber. It will be done through setting up shell political action committees that are purportedly average citizens, but in reality are corporate CEOs. Since those with money tend to control the airwaves and the presses, it also means the media must reflect a corporate message. Over time it means using your advantage to win more political power, not just in Congress, but also in the executive branch and, most importantly, in the Supreme Court, where power can be extended over decades unchecked. It is not coincidence that our conservative Supreme Court has declared that corporations are people, in spite of the fact that this has nothing to do with original intent.

What does have something to do with original intent is limiting voting power to men with property. This was how republican government was understood in 1776, but it reflected a society where slaves and women were chattel, and those without property were often indentured servants. Who could vote was a matter for states to decide, and typically these were only male property owners. Some see virtues in this today, and it is expressed in a variety of policies that give one class more power at the expense of another. At one time it was accomplished through a poll tax. Now it is done by raising barriers to voting: making it harder to use absentee ballots, requiring students to come home to vote, voter ID laws and tightening the window between when you must be registered to vote in order to vote. Vote suppression is only illegal if you get caught, and if you do get caught it won’t invalidate the results of an election, so it’s worth a try. Election officials can always claim later they did not know they needed more voting booths in poor wards. Mistakes happen.

There are more insidious ways to maintain power, and unfortunately they are being played out now. The wealthy understand that money is power, which is partly why it doesn’t bother the Supreme Court at all to call corporations people. If money is power, then those with more money have more power. Hence, you want those with less money to have even less of it, and you to have more of it, so lower those capital gains taxes and keep taxes for the rich artificially low in general. The key to doing this is to make it virtually impossible for anyone poor to get a leg up. You want people to be poor, because this leaves them disenfranchised. You want public schools to fail, so you underfund them. You want more poor people, since it further reduces the cost of labor, so you find it convenient to be antiabortion. You also want the poor to die early, since they do not burden society by being unproductively unhealthy, so it doesn’t bother you if they cannot afford health insurance. You want the poor to have insurmountable obstacles to wealth. In short, the poor become tools that let you live a richer life. They are to be used with no thought or concern that they are actual human being with feelings.

What you don’t want are people who manage to escape the barriers put in front of them, most recently manifested by presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Lessons learned: they managed to escape their social class through Great Society programs like Food Stamps and scholarships for poor and minority students. Practical men of action like them, who root for the common man, are extremely dangerous. This explains not just the dislike, but the hatred and loathing against both Clinton and Obama. They escaped the many traps put in place to keep them down. So get rid of welfare, get rid of Food Stamps, get rid of scholarships, and get rid of anything that can address their inequity. Say it’s all about self-reliance and that anyone with enough gumption can surmount insurmountable hurdles. It’s part of the American myth and it’s part of how the oligarchy stays in charge.

In a future essay I hope to suggest what we can do about this.