From the beginning of history, Empire’s rulers have maintained their power by sowing fear, mutual suspicion, and division to prevent those who bear the burdens of their rule from uniting against them. Currently, on the political right, anger is directed against government. On the political left, it is directed against Wall Street corporations.
Each blames the other for America’s decline and the economic distress of working families, thus diverting attention from the deeper truth. Corporate money, perks, and the revolving door between Congress and lobbying firms have corrupted the political process. As a consequence, Wall Street and Washington are both running out of control and united in the pursuit of agendas that grow the power and privilege of the few at the expense of the many.
Whether the blame lies more with Wall Street or with Washington is largely beside the point. The bottom line is a Wall Street–Washington axis that has stolen our money and country, denies us our rights, undermines national security, and threatens the future of all our children, irrespective of political orientation.
Two events following the 2008 financial meltdown so focused attention on the power and dysfunction of the Wall Street-Washington axis that the establishment propaganda machine that keeps us divided came near losing control. They demonstrate the potential for a broad popular transpartisan political alliance.
One was the government bailout of Wall Street. Virtually no one outside of Wall Street was happy about government taking money from struggling taxpayers in order to give it to Wall Street bankers so they could reward themselves bonuses for crashing the economy.
The other was the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission that gave corporations carte blanche to buy elections. Follow-up polls reported that the Supreme Court’s decision was opposed by 80 percent of Americans, including 76, 81, and 85 percent of Republicans, Independents and Democrats, respectively—a truly extraordinary consensus in this time of political division.
I come from deeply conservative roots and distrust any concentration of unaccountable power. As the author of When Corporations Rule the World, my view of the unconscionable abuse of corporate power is on public record. I also recognize the profound truth of Paul Hawken’s observation in The Ecology of Commerce that it is big business that creates the need for big government to constrain the excesses and clean up the messes. What we now have, however, is big government aligned with big business to facilitate the excesses and reward those who create the messes. It is a disastrous arrangement against which the vast majority of conservatives and liberals should be united.
Conservatives are correct on a key point liberals tend to overlook: the federal government is too big and intrusive. The Patriot Act, which passed with a large bipartisan majority, is an abomination against democracy and foundational American ideals. We do have a public spending problem. The public debt owed to foreign nations and Wall Street bankers is unsustainable and a threat to national security.
Taxing the poor to pay for subsidies to powerful corporations and squandering our national treasure on unwinnable wars that have no point other than to fuel corporate profits is unconscionable. Health insurance programs designed to benefit insurance and pharmaceutical companies need to be restructured to reduce costs and improve services.
We spend too much on safety net programs that would not be necessary if we rolled back ill-conceived trade agreements that facilitate outsourcing and the global bidding down of wages and benefits and required corporations to pay employees a living wage with basic benefits. It is absurd to tolerate the Federal Reserve giving Wall Street banks virtually free money to loan back to U.S. taxpayers at a market interest rate.
There is good reason for outrage against both big business and big government. We must respond, however, from a place of love, national unity, and sense of possibility rather than a place of fear, anger, and division. When consumed with anger, our reptilian brain takes control. Our capacity for nuanced critical thought is diminished and we easily succumb to manipulation by propagandists and advertisers. Note the ease with which Wall Street billionaires feed and manipulate the anger of Tea Party members to mobilize them in support of campaigns that support Wall Street interests at the expense of their own.
If those on each side of America’s deep political divide could see the merit in the arguments of those on the other, we might come together as a powerful citizen alliance. We could break up concentrations of corporate power, get money out of politics, end senseless wars, achieve an equitable distribution of wealth, downsize government, and hold politicians accountable to an authentic popular will. That is an agenda that principled conservatives and liberals should all be able to get behind.