FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Descent of a Nation

by RALPH NADER

Before the electoral year of 2012 slinks into history, it is worth a comparative glance back to the electoral year of 1912 to give us some jolting perspective on how degraded our contemporary elections, voter performance and election expectations have become.

One hundred years ago, workers were marching, picketing and forming unions. Eugene Debs, the great labor leader and presidential candidate that year, spoke to outdoor labor rallies of 100,000 to 200,000 workers and their families gathered to protest low wages and working conditions.

Farmers were flexing their muscle with vibrant political activity in progressive parties and organizing farm cooperatives, through their granges, and pushing for proper regulation of the banks and railroads.

On the presidential ballot were Republican incumbent William Howard Taft, Democrat Woodrow Wilson, and the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party’s choice former president Theodore Roosevelt. Taft would be repudiated for being far too populist and too critical of corporations by today’s Republican Party. He favored national, not state, charters for “national corporations.”

The Democrats were committed to their platform of 1908 which asked “Shall the people rule? Is the overshadowing issue which manifests itself in all the questions now under discussion.” The context was shaped by the giant corporations (“called the trusts”) and their lobbies in Washington, which had to be curbed. The Supreme Court in 1911 had just ruled to break up the giant Standard Oil trust.

Women’s suffrage, abolition of child labor, workers’ compensation; states adopting the initiative, referendum, and recall; the eight-hour work day, minimum wage laws (Massachusetts was the first in 1912), taxing corporate profits and the “inheritance of fortunes,” were some of the many hot issues of 1912.

Taft, Wilson and Roosevelt fought over who was the most progressive. Theodore Roosevelt in an August 1912 speech declared that “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”

While Wilson repeatedly said that the country’s “salvation required the dissolution of the evil partnership between the government and the trusts.”

Apart from how deeply these candidates believed in what they said, they repeated their campaign pledges again and again because the people were rising and breathing down their necks with demands.

Fast forward to 2012 to the far greater grip of big business on government and elections. So much so that both major parties offer no solution to the “too big to fail” perch of the giant banks and additional corporate behemoths, other than to continue bailing them out with taxpayer dollars and under-regulating them to boot.

Entrepreneur, lawyer, shareholder advocate, and author, Robert A. Monks wrote recently that “American corporations today enjoy an absolute reign. They and they alone have the power to control the rules under which they function. Corporations, and the most powerful CEOs acting through them, have effectively seized authority over the United States without assuming any of the responsibilities of dominion.”

Was corporate domination the theme of the recent Republican and Democratic conventions? Only to the extent to which hospitality parties put on by the drug, banking, insurance, energy and other industries had the best booze, food and other allurements.

The Conventions, and their scripted speeches off the PAC-greased election trails, were congealed, b.s.

The leader of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, was trotted out for a few minutes before a nationwide television audience to ignore mentioning both his own priority of legislating “the card check” for union organizing and the needs of 30 million American workers making less than workers made in 1968, inflation-adjusted, due to a frozen minimum wage. Eugene Debs, one of Trumka’s heroes, not only made establishing the minimum wage one of his clarion calls, but he indefatigably ran for president in 1912 on the Socialist Party ticket garnering 900,000 votes (equal to about 5 million votes today) and pushing the major candidates and parties from the grass roots.

In 2012, third-party candidates were blocked from the debates, given virtually no media, obstructed from access to the ballots and otherwise harassed by officialdom.

The two major parties were like corporate lapdogs fed daily with corporate cash to shut up about corporate crime, corporate tax evasion, corporate control of government, corporate abuses of consumers, toxic chemicals and fossil fuels jeopardizing air, water, soil and the climate, corporate abandonment of American labor to fascist and communist regimes abroad, facilitated by the global trade agreements, drafted by their corporate lawyers, corporate corruption of electoral campaigns integrity, corporate fine-print contract servitude, corporate closing of courtroom doors to individuals wrongfully harmed, and the draining corporate-bred military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address.

The Democrats from Obama to the Congressional leadership and candidates took corporate oaths, they wouldn’t even raise the minimum wage issue to “catch up to 1968” for 30 million Americans and their impoverished families laboring for Walmart, McDonald’s and other low-wage companies.

Meanwhile, the clenched teeth Republicans with their vacuumed brains nominated Mitt Romney who, for years, led the Bain Consulting Group to, in Monk’s words, “reap untold millions in profits by using borrowed capital to buy companies, then sucking them dry, leaving the remains for bankruptcy referees to sort through, and stashing vast profits in off-shore tax havens.” In 1912, such an aspiring oligarch would have been laughed away.

Let’s face it, our country is in crisis and wallowing in disgust, discouragement and despair won’t turn it around. Nor will apathy, accepted powerlessness or preoccupation with those weapons of mass distraction we hold in our hands or watch on our screens just about everywhere.

Only together can we make the difference, with far better modes of communication and transportation than our poor forebears, who still managed to rise up and show up more than 100 years ago to make their country better for them and us. (See www.seventeensolutions.com for my take on this patriotic mission of immediate renewal as well as respect for future generations.)

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition

 

 

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail