Have we been sold a bill of goods throughout US history? From affirmative action to one-man-one-vote, to waging war to make the world safe for democracy, and then examining the creation of the Electoral College, and the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence are there not some contradictions between national rhetoric and the historical record? More aggressive critics wonder whether citizens have been “hoodwinked, flimflammed, or bamboozled” when it comes to comparing what is said to what is done. Mythology abounds.
Knowing history helps. The people who set the rules, interpreted national principles, and established the laws have been primarily White propertied men. Women, non-Whites, and unpropertied people could not even participate in governing or political decision-making for almost 100 years after “the beginning.” The minority elite was definitely protected; affirmative action was affirmed for the privileged; and as an added safeguard assuring minority rule, those of African descent were only counted as 3/5th of a single vote for Congressional representation by an early Constitutional compromise between the Northern and Southern states. Consider the mental gymnastics involved in establishing a model democracy on the backs of a slave culture! Africans who supplied the forced labor and the means for this nation to survive were chattel, property, politically each one worth sixty percent representation in the House of Representatives. Broadening political and economic equity, even citizenship, has been realized for people on the margin only through insistence, protest, and war.
The split in Congress is one easy means to demonstrate the entrenchment of privilege and power. The Senate contains wealthier elected members who remain in office for six years, and there are only one hundred of them, two from each state – no matter the size of state population. On the other hand, the members of the House of Representatives “of the people” win election every two years based on real population numbers determined by a national census every ten years. Having only a brief term, these congressional representatives must launch their re-election campaigns while taking their oaths of office. High school civics classes explained this version was modeled on the British Parliament’s Houses of Lords and Commons. It assures a minority privileged Senate theoretically has equal, or arguably more power, in the legislative and budget process. To appease those drafting the Constitution who challenged this parliamentary rationale, the Electoral College was the “bone” offered to placate the House. It gave this College the final decision in determining who would be the President; and majority votes by the electorate were not binding in the final outcome. Once again the ultimate choice of directly electing a President could be legally usurped from the citizen majority, reducing the possibility of “mob” rule.
Today things have changed, or have they? What percentage of the eligible population actually votes? What percentage of the electorate puts the sitting Congress in their seats? A minority certainly drives elections, yet those elected claim they have a national directive. Some are leaning towards a multi-party or parliamentary system where coalitions would have to be forged rather than this bi-modal approach to political life. Currently, a political minority has negated compromise, considered to be the art of politics. Some say this minority has become more intent upon defeating the President in the next election than addressing existing critical economic and social problems.
History shows the US is a nation that frequently buries its head in the sand. In the late 18th century and well into the mid-19th century all the political “gentlemen,” the minority rulers, agreed not to discuss slavery on the floor of Congress, so they walked around and over the elephant in the middle of the room. Not until Kansas and Missouri pointed and began tugging at the creature did it have to be recognized and addressed. That refusal to tackle slavery resulted eventually in the Civil War. Everyone knew it was coming – Black (for sure), White, and all. The only question was when. “Back in the day” the minority thought they could control this divisive problem; it turned out they could not — not forever.
In the history of economic well-being, other lessons wait to be learned. For example, is it effective economic policy to tax everyone but the wealthiest one percent and cut services for everyone else? How does a nation benefit from an approach some call piracy? People who advocate for little or no tax increase except through sales taxes, argue that, after all, this is a nation of consumers. Subsidies, tax brakes and price supports help maintain advantages for a select constituency. The hope might be that someday with “pluck and luck,” the Average Joe can become part of the elite. So said author Horatio Alger in the age of Robber Barons. Or could it be a case of Stockholm Syndrome where the victim identifies with the captor for survival?
Have we been “conned?” This might be the hustler’s sales pitch. Hyperbole? Maybe. Exaggeration or not, census figures declare 25 percent of US children are living in poverty. Roads, bridges – old infrastructure – are deteriorating. Unemployment has not altered significantly in several years; and the middle class is shrinking, in some cases becoming the working poor, if indeed they are fortunate to have jobs.
Banks at the expense of the tax payer were bailed out unconditionally, and now feel no obligation to return the favor by freeing up their hoarded capital. Across the country people gather in protest to express frustration and anger at “Wall Street,” the minority who control the economy with impunity. Merchants and advertisers hyped “Black Friday” on every available media network, urging people in the George W. Bush tradition to consume for the sake of the economy – ignoring the fact that this would tend to deepen personal debt.
There is a new phrase coined by pundits, “the minority majority.” It became popular as results of the 2010 Census were disclosed. What it actually means is hard to precisely define. Maybe it is the statistical admission that the privileged minority function as the ruling class. Perhaps it is the recognition by the ruling class that its power is slipping into the hands of those they have always considered to have little influence in our society. Polls indicate that Congress has a less than 10 percent approval rating.
We hope this awareness increases because the tables need to be turned. We need to stop playing by minority rules that allow the minority to rule. If we do not demand through political action that compromise and decisions occur for the benefit of all in this nation, then we are on the fast track to economic chaos and social upheaval.
Leaders in the “kitchen” need to release the steam before the kettle boils over and/or the pot is burned. After all, the past speaks for itself. Learn from it, folks. Get busy.