The American Experiment has Failed
The American experiment has failed. While it is widely believed and taught in US schools that our founding fathers attempted to consider all the ways our country could end up with an imbalance of power, and that they employed every possible strategy available to safeguard against that in the drafting of our Constitution, there were several ways they failed in that regard. Within the original Constitution, slavery was legal, businesses were unregulated, and only property owners had the right to vote. As our society progressed, these oversights were corrected via amendments to our Constitution and laws enacted by changing those who could vote to all free white men, then leaving it up to the states, then black men, then women.
Throughout the progression of voting rights in the United States, a variety of restrictions and methods of intimidation were employed to keep certain segments of the population from voting, including barring Indigenous Americans who maintained their tribal affiliation from voting, requiring literacy tests and English language requirements, barring people of Chinese ancestry from voting, barring new citizens from territories that were formerly Mexico from voting, requiring military service for Americans of Filipino and Japanese ancestry, and Indigenous Americans, to be able to vote. It was not until 1971 that all United States citizens had the right to vote at the age of 18. From the start, despite the glorification given to the founding fathers who constructed the Constitution as being wise and brilliant, giving voting rights solely to property owners and legalizing slavery were surefire ways to stack the deck against anyone who wasn’t rich, male, and white. This is not the idyllic democratic society that students in America continue being taught. These original sins are the basis by which our society was established, and its ultimate demise stems from those sins despite attempts to correct them. When groups like Black Lives Matter point out an inherent system of white supremacy in the United States, accurately so, it originates here and has been perpetuated with actions such as the rescinding of major aspects of the Voting Rights Act and Congressional district gerrymandering.
Another aspect of our societal failure can be examined by looking at what Mark Twain coined as, “The Gilded Age,” a period in the late 19th century and early 20th century that consisted of, “a period of greed and guile: of rapacious Robber Barons, unscrupulous speculators, and corporate buccaneers, of shady business practices, scandal-plagued politics, and vulgar display,” according to the University of Houston digital history article on this topic. Every high school history student was taught about the significance of Upton Sinclair’s, The Jungle, and its exposure of egregious sins within the meatpacking industry and abuses of children involved in providing labor to many industries in the United States. Unregulated capitalism caused these conditions and in response, the US government created the Food & Drug Administration in 1906 to inspect and regulate food and the Department of Labor in 1913 to provide and enforce regulations to protect the health and safety of workers, along with a variety of other agencies, regulations, and laws to attempt to prevent unbridled corporate greed and power.
Despite the enormity of corruption and human rights abuses, the corporate world was not going to give up so easily and their influence on lawmakers has existed since the United States came into existence. The first mention of lobbyists in the US press appeared in Ohio in the 1830s. In the 1850s, Samuel Colt passed out guns as gifts to politicians and their families to extend a patent. In 1875, lobbying was in full swing and the most prominent lobbyist in the US, Samuel Ward, showered politicians with dinners, gifts, and cash. He was ultimately convicted in that year of bribery and in his testimony to Congress, he remained unapologetic for, and in fact proud of, his activities. In 1938, the first law was enacted to monitor and limit foreign entities from unduly influencing American politicians and in 1945, the Lobbying Registration Act was passed requiring people paid to meet with and influence politicians to register with the federal government. Subsequent acts of Congress and decisions by the Supreme Court were created in attempts to limit lobbyist influence on the surface, but as we can see today, the loopholes that remain have given lobbyists more influence over politicians than the citizens of the United States.
The supreme power of lobbyists was ultimately solidified by the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission, by which corporations were granted personhood and first amendment protection under the Constitution. Instead of giving gifts, lobbyists now employ methods such as hiring family members of politicians, providing honorariums to former politicians to speak at their dinners, meetings, and retreats, outright hiring politicians after they’ve left office, and of course providing funding and political donations directly to the politicians, which have financial limitations, and to PACs supporting individual politicians, which have no financial limitations. Each of these actions are financial incentives to enrich a politician to influence the way they vote.
I cannot explain this tremendous failure without mentioning the employment of the Southern strategy. In an audio-recorded interview in 1981 with Alexander Lamis, a Charleston, South Carolina native, an academic as research for his book, The Two-Party South, political strategist Lee Atwater, a fellow South Carolinian, provided a detailed explanation of how the Republican party used racism toward African Americans to woo voters in the South to join the Republican party. Harry Dent, Sr. and Lee Atwater concocted and commissioned this strategy in direct response to the passage of the Civil Rights Acts and the Voting Rights Act. And it worked. As was achieved by leading the South in secession from the Union to preserve the institution of slavery, once again we find that the sons of South Carolina were directly involved in promoting racism for political and financial gain. A shameful legacy for such a beautiful state.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative organization created in 1973 during the chaos and confusion of the Watergate scandal, was implemented to lobby politicians and draft boilerplate legislation to give to politicians to then sponsor and submit to Congress in the creation of US law. Paul Weyrich, one of the key founders of ALEC, was also instrumental in the formation of the Heritage Foundation earlier in 1973, a conservative thinktank with enormous influence over Republican politicians. ALEC’s motto is, "Limited Government, Free Markets, Federalism.” Conservative politicians no longer had to bother with the tedious task of thought or research, they could just receive these pre-written legislative bills from ALEC, attach their name to it, and submit it to their body of Congress. The authors of ALEC-drafted legislation do not have the constituents of America in mind as they compose their bills; these bills directly benefit the corporate and political benefactors of their non-profit organization.
Yet another aspect to the failure of the American experiment is the breakdown of the American family. I hear people longing for the days of the 1950s, when families were intact, and the country was united in the aftermath of World War II. What I don’t hear from people who reminisce about those days is the fact that labor unions were strong, employment was steady, longevity with companies and pensions were the norm, inflation was proportionate to revenue increases, manufacturing was domestic, foreign trade was regulated via tariffs, and our limited technology prohibited the viability of outsourcing jobs overseas. It is widely known that one of the leading causes of divorce are money issues. As organizations like ALEC and the Heritage Foundation were busy influencing politicians to engage in union busting and creating laws to make it easier to fire employees, we also see divorce rates skyrocket at the exact same time, according to data compiled by Dr. Randal Olson, Lead Data Scientist at Epigenetics, Inc. The financial instability created by the economic and political strategies employed by these conservative groups that exist to benefit corporate interests seems to have had a direct impact on the divorce rates in this country. Instead of two-parent households, we now have a lot of one-parent households. Among the two-parent households, most consist of both parents being forced to work to maintain a middle-class lifestyle. This results in less supervision of children, less focused parenting due to exhaustion, and more behavioral problems among today’s children.
Conservatives tend to blame the breakdown of the American family on the sexual revolution and call for returning to more traditional, Christian values as the solution to the problem. Yet, if we look at our European counterparts, we do not see the same issues and the single-most glaring factor that exists is financial stability, or instability in our case. Europeans are largely secular and areligious, yet that has little to no effect on compromising the family unit among them.
When we examine the breakdown of the American family, we also must examine the unique case of black American families. Coming fresh off the heels of the Civil Right Acts, black families were largely intact, yet their socioeconomic position in society was well below that of their white counterparts with many living in abject poverty. The reason for this, of course, was 350 years of being viewed as subhuman and the century of legal discrimination that followed emancipation via Jim Crow laws, necessitating the passage of the Civil Rights Acts. In addition to continued discrimination against black people in the employment and housing markets even after the passage of the Civil Rights Acts, there were two factors that directly contributed to the destruction of the American black family: the prison industry and the drug industry.
In 1996, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Gary Webb, wrote a multi-part piece published by the San Jose Mercury News titled, “Dark Alliance.” In his investigative piece, Gary Webb connected the dots that demonstrated that the CIA colluded with Contra drug cartels to introduce crack cocaine into black neighborhoods in the early 1980s, initially focused on South Los Angeles and Oakland, but quickly spreading to black communities across the country. The money made in this endeavor was used to fund the US proxy army in Nicaragua to overthrow the Sandinista government that took power in a coup over the Somoza family dynasty in 1979. Despite the stunning admission of US President Ronald Reagan in the covert and illegal Iran-Contra affair, despite the testimony of one of the key operatives of that mission, Oliver North, and despite the publication of a story in the New York Times on November 19, 1993 highlighting that members of an anti-drug unit of the CIA were caught shipping one ton of cocaine in 1990 from Venezuela to the United States, the journalistic community excoriated Webb and his piece. He was ridiculed, discredited, and demonized, and ultimately killed himself in 2004. Yet, according to a Huffington Post article published on October 10, 2014, members of that operation have come forward to discuss what they were involved in, including CIA operatives.
The introduction of crack-cocaine into primarily black neighborhoods was a lucrative enterprise for both the CIA-backed Contras, and for the private prison system. The introduction of highly addictive drugs into black neighborhoods swiftly decimated the American black family. Crime increased, sexually promiscuous behavior increased, gang membership increased, and gun violence increased.
Examining the private prison industry, its creation led by the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) in 1983, coincided directly with the introduction of crack-cocaine into black neighborhoods. One of its founders was Robert Crants, a Republican Party chairman. For some reason CCA recently changed their name to the benign sounding CoreCivic, but they are still alive and well, along with other for-profit prison corporations.
To add insult to injury to black Americans, who at this point comprised the majority of those who were drug-addicted and serving prison sentences, Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994, which included a mandatory life sentence for repeat offenders convicted of a third crime, aka three strikes. As a result of these CIA activities, a vast number of black families across the United States became single-parent homes, which just perpetuated the cycle. Mothers had to work, supervision was limited, father-figures were sought within gangs, leaving black children particularly vulnerable to lives of drug addiction, crime, poverty, and lack of direction.
The breakdown of the American family, and especially the breakdown of the black American family, can be directly attributed to the policies of the US government, and particularly that of the Republican government, in the deterioration of our society and core values.
Then we have the health care industry. America is the only developed nation on the planet that has for-profit health care. According to a 2017 study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund, a US-based philanthropic foundation that seeks to improve health care in the United States, the United States ranks the lowest among all developed nations in most areas. Our broken health care system has resulted in medical debt as the leading cause of bankruptcy, according to a CNBC article from 2013. With longevity in jobs diminished, fewer employers offering affordable group health care options, and the clear corporate interests of the very federal agencies created and tasked to protect public safety in the 20th century, the overall health of Americans has diminished, along with our access to health care. This reality impacts the financial health of the family unit, which, as we discussed earlier, is the leading cause of divorce in the US.
Democrats are not innocent. Democratic politicians have also been complicit in the failure of the American experiment. From their early days of racism prior to the mid-20th century implementation of the Southern strategy, to their current predilection for enacting legislation and policies that provide greater benefit to their corporate lobbyist friends, including Wall Street and the health care industry, among others, than it does to the American public. While there is currently a rift between the progressive wing of the Democratic party and the more centrist wing of the party, there are very few among our Democratic politicians, both progressive and centrist, who have declined to receive PAC money or refused to meet with corporate lobbyists. The predominant industries courting the Democrats are the health care industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and the oil and gas industry. In fact, a former Democratic Senator from Alaska, Mark Begich, joined a lobbyist group after leaving Congress, started his own consulting firm, and has advocated for offshore drilling and interests for the gas and oil industry both when he served in the Senate, and since leaving in his role as a lobbyist and consultant, according to a recent article in the Huffington Post.
During the 2016 Presidential campaign, we saw Hillary Clinton make the statement that universal health care is impossible, even though she promoted universal health care as first lady in 1993. Interestingly, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was the Heritage Foundation’s response to what was deemed “Hillarycare” in 1993. Hillary’s ties to Wall Street and the Health Care and Pharmaceutical lobby are a poorly kept secret.
And while the progressive wing of the Democratic party stands for objectives and policies that are beneficial to Americans, such as overturning Citizens United, campaign finance reform, moving toward universal health care, and instituting gun reform, all of which could potentially reverse the damage that has been done, they have been completely tone-deaf when it comes to issues such as protecting America’s borders, eliminating programs that put American workers at a disadvantage such as NAFTA, WTO, and TPP, and putting American citizens first. The immigration debate has been one of their most tone-deaf issues and we find Latino and black citizens siding with the Republican party based on the stark reality that there are limited resources in this country in the form of jobs and places to live, and they happen to be the majority suffering. I don’t think any of the progressive candidates has ever taken the time to discuss immigration with the residents of South Los Angeles, or any other predominantly black neighborhood. If they did, they would find that the majority of those residents support border enforcement. And in the same regard, the progressive wing’s biggest flaw has been the promotion of identity politics, despite it being justified in many instances. In doing so, they have pushed the white, blue-collar workers, who are the largest voting bloc in America, toward the Republican party. While equal rights and fighting injustice against targeted groups is absolutely necessary and worthwhile, it must be done with a message of inclusion for all people or certain people who feel ignored will be lost. And as we learned today, the Russians will utilize the identity divide to interfere with and influence our elections.
What we are left with is a fractured Democratic party with one side inadvertently promoting the perception of excluding white, blue-collar Americans, and the other side that is still beholden to corporate interests.
Another symptom of American dysfunction is the fact that billionaires, on both the left and the right, can use their money to influence our government. While all money they spend is not necessarily nefarious, it seems wrong that a single person or family can wield enough power to influence our government or policy. When it is possible for people like George Soros, Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, the Mercer family, Tom Steyer or Bill Maher to donate millions of dollars to candidates or to influence legislative policy, it is a strong indication that our system of government has failed miserably.
Then we have the advent of cable television, a medium of communication that was initially not overseen by the Federal Communications Commission, because the cable networks did not have to purchase licenses. Though started in 1948 to bring broadcast channels to remote, rural areas, cable television expanded in the 1960s and 1970s, with most households having access to cable television by the end of the 1970s. Cable television’s unrestricted programming, coupled with the rescinding of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 by Reagan FCC appointee, Mark Fowler, who was also responsible for de-regulating the telecommunications industry, changed the landscape of television news forever. People were now able to tune into one network or another and only hear the news from the slant decided upon by the corporation that owned the network. This single event did more to destroy the public’s ability to discern fact from fiction than any other event.
And finally we have the issue that prompted me to compose this indictment of the American experiment; the gun lobby, which deserves its very own examination. The National Rifle Association was founded in 1871, shortly after Samuel Colt was passing out guns as gifts to politicians. Its stated reason for existing was to promote gun enthusiasm, improve marksmanship, and advocate gun safety, and according to Politico, that’s exactly what it did for a century. According to this article, the second amendment had never been viewed by the public or by politicians as an endorsement for the average American’s right to own a gun. The term “bearing arms” historically referred to a military capacity and not ownership. Then, as the Republican party was wreaking havoc on America in the 1970s with the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Correctional Corporation of America, and ALEC, a group called “Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms” stormed the annual NRA convention in Cincinnati, Ohio and took over the leadership of the NRA. At that point, the mission of the NRA changed to what it’s become today, another cog in the wheel of a concerted Republican effort to drastically change the fabric of America and maintain unequivocal power. A Republican party that once endorsed strict gun regulations changed its platform in 1980 and now we have Americans staunchly defending their right to own an AR-15, a semi-automatic weapon used strictly for assaulting human beings, despite the fact that there have now been hundreds of parents and loved ones who have had to bury their children and family members due to mass shooters who utilized this weapon, and did so with guns they purchased legally. In viewing the timing of this Republican push within the NRA, it’s very interesting how it coincides with the 1971 law providing all US citizens of 18-years of age the right to vote.
While many believe Dwight D. Eisenhower’s ominous warning to the American people of the rise of the military-industrial complex referred to the relationship between the US military and defense contractors, logically so since at that point in history America had already participated in coup attempts and the overthrow of leaders worldwide, I believe his message was meant to be taken far more broadly. I believe the word “industrial” applies to any industry that attempts to influence the US government for their own greed and objectives. I believe it also refers to lobbyists who would use their influence and abilities to personally enrich US politicians in exchange for meeting their legislative and policy objectives.
Dent and Atwater’s Southern strategy showed us how easily it is to use people’s personal prejudices to promote fear and use that to manipulate the public into supporting their policy objectives, even when those objectives are against the public’s interests. Fox News’ entire business model is fashioned in this manner. As the public becomes less educated due to the stark increases in college tuition and their ever-decreasing ability to obtain accurate and unbiased information from our news programs, and as they grow more desperate while struggling to afford health care, make house payments or rent, and provide for their families, they are more easily deceived. People don’t have the energy or time to conduct their own independent research on statements made by talking heads or politicians when they’re tired from just trying to survive. Authoritarianism 101 requires the creation of a bogeyman or men to take the attention away from their own evil deeds. Republicans have been convinced to blame their struggles on immigrants, poor people, black people, Jews, Muslims and “the deep state.” Democrats have been convinced to blame their struggles on Republicans, the “Jewish lobby,” and the “illuminati.” Both parties have been successful in their deflections.
Unless the American public can come together and understand how they’ve been deceived and demand an end to the chipping away of our democracy, I do not have high hopes that America will ever recover. And perhaps this is our karma for the original sin under which we were founded.