The Four Pillars of Oligarchy
Well, it finally happened, mainstream media finally used the word "Oligarchy" in polite conversation. Suddenly, it wasn't just an idea whispered in the back alleys of the internet, it finally made its way into our collective vernacular to the point that the establishment could not divert or ignore it any more, due in large part to the efforts of people like Bernie Sanders, Dylan Ratigan, Bill Moyers, and many others.
People are finally beginning to wake up to what Oligarchy is, to what makes it different from Democracy, and becoming more aware of how it could impact their lives. Have you noticed that when it's referenced, it's almost always in the future tense? "We are under the threat of Oligarchy." "We must try to avoid Oligarchy." In doing this, the subject is always presented as "something that might happen", rather than "something that's happening right now". If nearly every day we're presented with yet another example of how justice should have been served, but was thwarted by a corporation's bottom line, then what type of government do we have right now?
At what point does a Democracy become an Oligarchy? In order to answer that, we must first examine what makes a government a Democracy. In the words of political scientist Larry Diamond, democracy is comprised of four mandatory components: 1) A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; 2) The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; 3) Protection of the human rights of all citizens, and 4) A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
So there they are, arguably, the four pillars of Democracy. Let's take them one at a time, and examine them closely.
1) A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections
As election integrity activist Bev Harris and others have long shown, our vote totals in the US are tallied by a private company, and we as US voters do not have the right to track our own votes, or even know how our votes were counted. Therefore, we have no right to an open, transparent voting process. We are forced to trust this private company with our vote totals with no way to verify them. All we are left with are piles of mathematical evidence that something might have gone wrong.
Much has been said on both sides of this issue but the bottom line is this: If a voting system is shown to be a vast security liability, and years later no efforts are made to fix these problems, we can be reasonably assured that these problems are there on purpose, and that the system does not "suffer" from fraud, so much as it was designed to facilitate, hide, and monetize it. A voting system which was not designed to easily verify fraud is a system which is designed to commit it. The only other alternative is that security was not an issue in its design. At all.
I think we can eliminate that explanation.
So that's the first pillar crumbled. A private company with zero transparency, oversight, accountability, or regulation controls our vote totals.
Let's move on to the next pillar.
2) The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life
The purpose of the Democratic National Committee, or DNC, is to engage people, to grow the ranks of the Democratic party, and provide an inroad for ordinary citizens, into the world of politics.
As the currently ongoing DNC fraud case is plainly and painfully illustrating, the DNC is another private company with very little transparency or accountability, who is under no legal obligation to follow the rules of fairness laid out within their own charter. They can sabotage one candidate's campaign, while propping up another. They can decide who the party's candidate will be, without regard to popularity or any other factor. They have themselves stated that they "could have" chosen Hillary Clinton as their party's candidate with impunity, thwarting Bernie Sanders in the process "if they had wanted to" but as the wikileaks Podesta emails have proven, that's exactly what they did.
What that means for the average, left-leaning individual, is that the Democratic party doesn't need you, your opinions, or your views in determining who will best represent you in the government. They've already figured that out.
So why have primaries and caucuses at all?
We just spent a billion dollars on the last ones. Why did we do that?
The RNC and DNC are both described as "semi-private", but if the RNC is set up the same way the DNC is showing itself to have been in the curent fraud case, then the "semi" part is inconsequential at best, and an outright lie at worst.
So that's pillar number 2 down, in pieces.
Moving onto pillar number 3.
3) Protection of the human rights of all citizens
When you control a population's ability to earn and accumulate wealth, all of the other basic human rights hang in the balance. You would do that by controlling the economy, and you would do that, at least partly, by controlling the currency.
But who has the power to do that?
Congress...publicly funded, privately controlled.
Congress can create net assets in the macroeconomy, or tax them away. There are some that would argue that the problem lies with the Federal Reserve, but in spite of their secrecy and lack of regulation, their involvement is secondary. They can't affect change by themselves. That's where legislation comes in. Thanks to Citizens United, corporate lobbyists, and superPACs (and the politicians who accept them), that can be accomplished easily... EXPENSIVELY, but easily. Tax breaks for the wealthy, eliminating EPA regulations, removal of corporate oversight and restriction, all of these we can have. Universal healthcare? Impossible. $15 minimum wage? Get real. Background checks on gun purchases? No way. Get money out of politics? LOL! The administration doesn't matter, the party doesn't matter, corporate money speaks.
Beyond that, it's only a matter of which corporations you would rather have speak on your behalf. Do you think Raytheon & Haliburton are more in touch with your needs, or Monsanto & Citibank? It hardly seems worth arguing about when you think about it, unfortunately, we seem to have no right to a better argument.
When you base a society on class, then eliminate the middle class almost completely, and severely limit the lower class's access to affordable healthcare, housing, food, and education, you're basically telling the vast majority of Americans that they don't have a right to live anywhere outside of the boundaries of poverty, no matter how much they work, no matter how hard they work. When that is the case, do any other basic human rights that you may have had really matter?
There goes pillar number three.
So there's only one pillar of Democracy left.
4) A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens
Every American adult, from every political stripe, can likely recall an instance from our recent history, where justice seemed to take a back seat, elites were immune, and the only parties who seemed to have gained from it were members of the establishment. Democrats would likely say that one event fit that bill, Republicans another, and progressives yet another. At least some of them are likely correct. The unfairnesses inherent in such extreme cases of income inequality make themselves acutely felt across the board, in every facet of life. Access to justice is just another example, on the same level as access to healthcare, education, or any other necessity of life.
So it seems the deck is stacked against us, but is it really stacked to that extent in their favor? Is the game really rigged so that the richest can afford to live under what is basically a different set of laws than the rest of us?
Actually, yes it is.
And okay, at this point it should be said that, in spite of what many might assume about the arguments being made here, the main argument we should be having is not "privatize" vs "govt control", That argument is important, but the argument we should be having is "transparent vs. secret"..."regulated vs. unregulated". Yes there's a storm of controversy over whether a private or public body would be preferable, but all worries about blatant conflicts of interest not withstanding, that's not the argument being made here. We need transparency, oversight, and regulation, no matter who has their hands on the inner workings of our society.
Well that's all four of Larry Diamond's pillars of Democracy, bought and paid for.
So does that mean we're living under an Oligarchy already, or not? While the short answer is "Yes", the long answer is "Yes, but there is still hope." That is likely the reason why Bernie Sanders refers to Oligarchy in the future tense. Where the threat of Oligarchy exists, so also does the hope of its defeat, and that is what he's choosing to focus on. Visibility in any form, is crucial. We can't hope to solve problems that we can't see, when the causes of said problems are intentionally withheld from us; however, with every passing day, more is known, more is understood, and more is shared with others.
So much attention away from the dire nature of the present situation can be dangerous if people get sedentary just waiting for it to happen. The downward slope toward Oligarchy may not be steep, but it's relentless. If our struggle against corporate control can be viewed as a tug-of-war, and that is in fact similar to the type of slow, subtle war that it is, then it's time for progressives to PULL.
It's time for progressives to pull like there's no tomorrow.
The TPP, TTIP, and TiSA are the next steps, cementing corporate rule overseas. We must fight against them with all the freedom we have left.
One final thought, the current DNC fraud lawsuit, once a decision is reached, will likely be a pivotal event in American history. It will, in many ways, help us to define ourselves as a nation. Are we a Democracy, or an Oligarchy? It could be the basis for either a continuation toward complete corporate control, significantly less hindered, or the basis for real reform in this country. Naturally, I hope it's the latter.