The Unwinding of America · Trump · US Politics

America’s Broken Democracy

This is a review of the Project Syndicate article America’s Broken Democracy by Jeffrey D Sachs.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, is Director of Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development and of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. His books include The End of Poverty, Common Wealth, The Age of Sustainable Development, and, most recently, Building the New American Economy.”

In this article Sachs says that Trump’s recent withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Accord is more than just the ravings of a simplistic, uneducated, racist, narcissistic fool.  He says it is also an indicator of a major problem in America.  This problem is that some of the largest US corporations and a few of the most wealthy Americans have purchased American democracy via the corrupt Republican Party.

Sachs says that Trumps ravings are “a reflection of the deep corruption of the US political system, which, according to one recent assessment, is no longer a ‘full democracy.’ American politics has become a game of powerful corporate interests: tax cuts for the rich, deregulation for mega-polluters, and war and global warming for the rest of the world.”

Sachs says this problem originated long before Trump, that American Democracy has been deteriorating since the 1960’s.  “Those of us living in the United States know first-hand that America’s democratic institutions have deteriorated markedly over the last several decades, beginning perhaps as far back as the 1960s, when Americans began to lose confidence in their political institutions. US politics have become increasingly corrupt, cynical, and detached from public opinion. Trump is but a symptom, albeit a shocking and dangerous one, of this deeper political malaise.”

He says that Trump’s policies are the same policies that Republicans have backed for years.  These policies are the ones that “slash taxes for the rich at the expense of programs to help the poor and working class; increase military spending at the expense of diplomacy; and allow for the destruction of the environment in the name of “deregulation.”

And of course these policies are just what Trump and the Republican party are trying to pass in the US congress right now.  The Republicans are currently ” trying to rush through legislation that would deprive more than 20 million people of health care, in order to cut taxes for the richest Americans. Trump’s newly proposed budget would slash Medicaid (health insurance for the poor), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food for the poor), foreign assistance (aid for the world’s poorest), funding for the United Nations, and spending on science and technology. Trump would, in short, gut the federal programs for education, training, the environment, civilian science, diplomacy, housing, nutrition, and other urgent civilian priorities.”

And these policies are not what the American poeple want, not even close.  A majority of Americans want “to tax the rich, maintain health coverage, stop America’s wars, and fight global warming. According to recent polling data, Americans overwhelmingly want to stay in the Paris Climate Agreement, which Trump has pledged to leave. Trump and his cronies are fighting public opinion, not representing it.”

And, says Sachs, Republican politicians are doing this for one reason.  They are doing it for the money.  They are being paid very well to keep America’s big corporations in power.  And Trump has taken this process one step further.  Big companies no longer even need to lobby to pass the bills they want passed.  “Today, companies like ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, Continental Energy, and other mega-polluting companies no longer need to lobby; Trump has handed them the keys to the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Energy Department. They also hold senior congressional staff positions.”

A lot of this big  corporate money can be traced, but a lot of can’t be.  This is the dark money that the public never sees.   And this is mostly because of the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court.   “Supreme Court justices who themselves were frequently wined and dined by corporate donors gave the green light to keep these corrupt flows secret in their infamous Citizens United decision.”

The investigative journalist Jane Meyers wrote a book about this flow of dark money in the US Government.   As she “has documented, the largest source of dark money is the tandem of David and Charles Koch, who inherited the highly polluting Koch Industries from their father, a man whose business history included building a major oil refinery for Germany’s Nazi regime. The Koch brothers, with a combined net worth of some $100 billion, have spent freely for decades to take over the US political system, mobilizing other right-wing corporate interests as well.”  Here is a link to Jane Myer’s book Dark Money in Kindle Books.  This is a great book that I highly recommend.  The book is a direct route to understanding the details of exactly how big corporations and the super wealthy have come to own the American government.

Sachs says that “When it comes to tax policy and climate change, the Republican Party is almost completely in the hands of the Koch brothers and their oil-industry cronies. Their immoral aim is simple: to cut corporate taxes and deregulate oil and gas, regardless of the consequences for the planet. To achieve these goals, they are prepared to try to remove millions of poor people from health-care coverage, and even more shockingly, to put the entire planet at dire risk of global warming. Their evil is chilling, but it is real. And Trump is their factotum.”

Before Trumps recent foreign trip 22 Republican Senators sent Trump a letter asking him to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.  Almost all of of these senators receive huge campaign funding for the oil and gas industry.  “Most of them probably depend directly on donations from the Koch brothers and the lobbying organizations that they secretly finance. As the Center for Responsive Politics, a public-interest group, has shown, spending by oil and gas companies on federal candidates in the 2016 election totaled $103 million, with 88% going to Republicans. This of course includes only the funds that can be tracked to particular donors.”

Sachs says that the rest of the world needs to understand what is happening in America.  that “Behind the formal structures of a once-functioning democracy is a political system run by corporate interests with the cynical aims of cutting taxes on the rich, selling weapons, and polluting with impunity. In Trump, they have found a shameless frontman and TV personality who will do their bidding.”

Given the small Republican majority in the Senate, (52-48), the whole republican conspiracy could be derailed with the entire democratic vote plus just three honest Republicans.  (It takes 51 votes to pass a bill in the US Senate).  So the questions becomes, are there three honest republicans in the entire senate?   Unfortunately, it is very hard to come up with three honest Republicans.  The Maine Senator Susan Collins is the only one I can come up with off the top of my head.

With half of the US Senate corrupt, what hope is there for democracy in America.

I’ve known about the economist Jeffrey Sachs  for quite awhile.  Twenty-five years ago I thought he was something of an admirer of conservative, market economics.  I seem to have been wrong.  I didn’t have a clue he was such a liberal until I read this essay.  It is a very pleasant surprise to find out what a courageous and outspoken liberal he actually is.  Kudos to Mr. Sachs.



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