The Constitution of the United States proudly begins with “We the people.” This cherished document was written in 1787 by educated men who had wealth and position. But they had the foresight to frame a government in this charter that was unique in a world dominated by kings and queens.
The Founders eschewed control by a monarchy so they created a representative legislature and provided for a president who answers to the people. They fashioned the Bill of Rights designed to prevent an oppressive government that would stifle descent and impose a state religion.
These freedoms enabled the nation to grow and expand west in the first half of the 1800s. Transportation became critical for the efficient movement of goods and people so railroad tracks were laid from north to south and from east to west. Great cities grew as the population swelled with immigrants and commerce boomed. And when they reached the limits of the land, buildings had to reach for the skies, making steel a critical commodity.
In the first two decades of the twentieth century, railroad companies, steel companies and oil companies became the dominant entities. The men running these corporations like Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt, were called “Robber Barons” as they amassed great fortunes by ravaging the country’s abundant natural resources, including its people.
Certainly these men get credit for helping to develop this great nation. But corporations are formed to enrich their shareholders. They have no soul or conscience and there is nothing altruistic about them. We know from numerous experiences that corporations cannot be trusted to do the right thing, either with the land or the people.
This fact was recognized during the early 1900s by Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt. He believed that government must be involved in protecting the nation’s natural resources and its citizens from corporate abuse. When Teddy became President Roosevelt he established the national park system; and he championed antitrust laws to curb the excesses of the powerful monopolies that were being formed.
The website ushistory.org provides an excellent summary of the 1920s when America was experiencing a boom after World War I. Businesses were making record profits and expanding at a rapid rate. Unregulated banks were making loans to reckless investors who were “playing” the stock market. Although corporations were rolling in cash, worker’s wages grew at a pitiful pace. The richest one percent owned one-third of the assets.
At the beginning of President Herbert Hoover’s first term in 1929 Republicans held a significant majority in both chambers of Congress. Due to the concentration of wealth at the top it is probably safe to assume that Congress was controlled by corporate America. But the economy had become a giant bubble.
When the stock market crashed in October 1929 the United States and Europe were plunged into a deep, long-lasting depression. Mr. Hoover’s minimalist approach to government intervention did little to spur the economy. Yes, many banks closed their doors permanently and some corporations went under; but the real victims were the nation’s workers who suffered from massive, 25 percent unemployment.
In 1933 newly elected president, Franklin Roosevelt, pushed through ground-breaking legislation called the “New Deal,” which permanently altered the relationship between the government and the populace. In 1935 he championed the Social Security Act to aid the elderly, the unemployed and the children. And in 1938 the Fair Labor Standards Act to regulate child labor in factories and mills was finally passed. Republicans loathed this government intrusion in business.
It took World War II to finally end the Great Depression. Again, America prospered after the war as Europe struggled to rebuild. Labor unions were strong because of Roosevelt but so were U.S. manufacturers. Still, there was more to be done to alleviate poverty. So in the 1960s social programs to aid the elderly and less fortunate like Medicare and Medicaid were enacted. This legislation gave added security to a large middleclass.
Fast-forward to 2017 with Republicans back in control of the government. Due in large part to the Citizens United decision by a conservative Supreme Court in 2010, corporations and “dark money” are again controlling Congress. The share of assets owned by the wealthiest one percent of Americans has grown to over 40 percent. While corporate profits have soared, wages have stagnated. Since the “trickle-down” economics of President Ronald Reagan’s administration the middleclass has been slowly disappearing.
Now Republicans in Congress are eagerly eliminating safety and environmental regulations and are pushing to deregulate the banking industry. They want to open up federal lands for mining and drilling; and they will cut federal budgets for agencies that protect both our citizens’ health and our national parks.
The GOP Obamacare replacement would put millions of Americans back on the uninsured rolls and cut billions from Medicaid funding. But that is just the beginning. Soon Republicans in Congress will propose cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, privatizing Medicare with a voucher system and cutting Social Security benefits.
When they are properly informed, the majority of Americans do not support these policies. The people, however, hardly matter to these far-right conservatives. They owe their allegiance and reelection to special interests and dark money. And those Americans who aren’t rich — well, they will have very little voice in their government.
Welcome back to the 1920s.