Over the past 40 years — my lifetime — American society has been duped into embracing a new Age of Exploitation. The foundational myth of the age has been that ‘capitalism’ defeated communism in the Cold War, thereby giving free reign to the sacrosanct entrepreneurs supposedly at its core. In fact, no such thing ever happened; capitalism never triumphed. Proactive government investment, good governance and the steady if plodding pursuit of just social and environment policies by political elites (in the face of competition from Communist systems) won the Cold War. Much like in Ancient Rome after the defeat of Carthage and Macedon, the elite subsequently splintered in order to chase new opportunities for enrichment and power.
Pro-power, anti-compassion Republicans led the way, taking their party far to the right and subjecting it to the domination of a small cabal of reactionary, self-interested billionaires. In the process, they dedicated themselves to an anti-American ‘greed is good’ philosophy formerly to be found only on the Libertarian fringe (small hint: greed is never good). Their economic policies — the real raison d’etre of the party — are so unpopular that they have needed to stoke fear and resentment on ‘emotive issues’ (abortion, gun rights and, more than anything, race) in order to mobilize and mislead the masses, while simultaneously corrupting the voting system and slandering good government to abet minority rule. Supposedly concerned with ‘freedom,’ they have in fact doggedly sought only the freedom of the elite to exploit the common man, removing protections put in place during the previous, more enlightened Age. They’ve plundered the benefits of previous generations’ public investments, repeatedly turning public goods to sources of profit and creating a system whereby billionaires’ can exploit the common man with few limits and limited repercussions.
Democrats, for their part, have been no less enamoured of falling down at the altar of money, becoming dependent on the patronage of liberal, compassionate, but anti-labor billionaires. Unable or unwilling to stand up to the bullshit propaganda coming from their now extremist former partners in government, they have sought to cling to a myopic view that competence would win without moral underpinning, allowing them to benefit from the policies of greed while trying to offset the more obvious evils at the margins with wonky policy. The 90’s Democrats sold out their own bases in labor and among minorities, repeatedly relinquishing their right to rule by majority to a more aggressive foe, benefiting themselves in the meantime and turning a blind eye to their own moral dubiousness.
So here we find ourselves in 2019: our political system is more unstable, unfair and corrupted than at any time since the late 19th century. Inequality of both wealth and opportunity are likewise at Gilded Age proportions. The few remnants of good governance from the Cold War period are being actively dismantled for the benefit of a reactionary, white few. Greed triumphs, poorly masked as righteousness by the religious right. The right pollutes our society unchecked, spewing forth divisive propaganda, while the press and opposition fills the public with a fake equivalency, covering over the shift of the right to extremism. The system is volatile and cannot endure, and we all fear what may come next, that very uncertainty gnawing at the foundations of democracy as we have been blessed to know it. As if that were not enough, Republican hypocrisy, bloated by reactionary patronage, denies the fact of climate change, exposing our planet and species to an existential crisis the likes of which we have not witnessed on a global scale.
We need a new lens with which to make sense of the world, and that lens is ‘exploitation.’ To be further explored…