Over the last 40 or so years, ordinary working Americans have progressively lost many of our freedoms and most of our rights. Most of us are worried about the future. Most of us worry about money, the environment, about whether or not we can ever afford to stop working and pursue our dreams.
According to Jane Mayer, New York Times political reporter and author of a newly published book called Dark Money: the Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, the Koch family and their extremely wealthy cohorts have contrived to transform America from a place where democracy was just starting to look like a real possibility (in the 1970s) with an end to segregation, to an ultra-right wing haven for Libertarian anarchist billionaires. Mayer studied the fascinating and disturbing history of the Koch family and the origins of their wealth, family culture and values. Their fortune was built on the fossil fuel industry. After exhausting opportunities to make money with the Soviets, patriarch Herman Koch even met with Hitler and provided petroleum refining services for the Third Reich, allowing the Nazis to fuel their war planes against the Allied forces. Although Koch was not a member of the Nazi party, he was a member of the John Birch Society, a group with far-right political leanings. Later, to raise his four sons, he hired an outspoken Nazi nanny, who raised the boys with sadistic techniques, while their mother was busy developing her socialite connections and their father was away for business. Their first five years formed in this strange atmosphere, it is not a great surprise that empathy was not the strong suit of at least two of the Koch brothers.
When the brothers grew up, two of them joined together to forge relations with other billionaires. Their goal was to pursue their father’s vision – to radically oppose the movements towards civil rights, freedom of women to pursue careers, social justice, by moving behind the scenes to transform America into a country whose politics leaned to the far right, with policies beneficial to only the very wealthy. The Koch brothers have indeed manipulated our entire financial and political system. They run secretive club-like reunions of the uber-wealthy, and they fund countless organizations disguised as think tanks and philanthropic societies. Research in many areas of science and industry are funded by “dark money”, pretending to come from legitimate sources. The “dark money” is disguised and legally uses government loopholes to manipulate local, state, and federal law to support money-making agendas of interested sponsors, while claiming to be independent research or charitable contributions. One example would be legislation covering most of the 50 states giving employers the right to fire employees with no reason. These states are misleadingly called “Right to work states”. The donors of this “dark money” care nothing for the environment or for human and animal rights. Mayer claims that the Koch brothers have contributed billions of dollars towards the devastation of our environment, to sustain their own business interests, which depend on the continued proliferation of fossil fuels.
Mayer talked about her book during her interview with Dave Davies, substituting for Terry Gross on NPR show Fresh Air. It sounds like a fascinating read, and I, for one, am eager to discover more about how Americans have been deceived into losing nearly all of our rights as workers and any government benefits we once received from the taxes that we pay.
I have been living in the United States for 12 years, after living in France for nearly 18. What strikes me, as an employee here in America, is how and why employees never stand up for their rights when an injustice is being committed against them. Americans seem to be very stoic, willing to accept more and more restrictions on their liberties, less and less sick leave, vacation time, paid holidays, retirement benefits, and proper health insurance. I have one friend who does not even get a paid holiday for Thanksgiving or Christmas. People seem to accept that they should indeed be subsidizing the wealthy and even possibly feel sorry for them. Basically, the average American worker has the mentality of an indentured servant, if not a slave. This attitude of passive servitude is very strange, given that American culture is supposed to be one that promotes love of freedoms and individualism. How did this happen?
When I compare America and Americans with French people, I do see many differences. But one difference stands out. French people like to complain. They are reserved, but when their rights are trampled upon, they speak up. Americans are pressured to not show real emotions in public. To be vulnerable is to expose yourself to the rapacious competitive wolf who is your neighbor, your coworker, even your friend. To trust others is dangerous. But this does not explain the stoicism, the passivity. In the United States, you are expected to work hard, to not ask for special treatment. You need to always appear to be strong, self-sufficient, to not need anything from anyone else. Extreme right wing Libertarians run our corporate world, which in turn runs our entire government on all levels, behind the scenes. These people greatly benefit from this stoicism. They confidently and easily manipulate us, because they know what strings to pull. There is no end to what will be taken away, because there is no end to greed. Yet many Americans do not seem to see or understand this reality. The proof of this last statement is seen by the success of Donald Trump’s campaign. How could a billionaire claim to represent what he calls “the silent majority”? Are the majority of Americans under-represented billionaires today? Not that I’ve noticed. More like silent and misguided sheep!
I heard the other day on the radio that workers should pay higher copays to prove that they are responsible citizens. That we should not get something for nothing. God forbid that we actually get something back for all of the money that we are handing over to health insurance industry. Hey, I thought, what are you talking about???!!! I pay hundreds of dollars every month for insurance I can’t even use. The insurance does not allow me to see the doctors I want to see, and the doctors they offer don’t provide the services I need. On top of that, if I do go to the doctor, I have to pay huge copays, co-insurance, and deductibles before the insurance even kicks in! My health is suffering, and I know a lot of people must agree with me. But no one complains. No one says “Stop!”, “Enough!” Every American seems, by their silence, to be saying, yes, take more from me . I can handle it. The corporate world can constantly coerce us to give up more of what should be our rights as citizens, and convince us that we will be better people for supporting the very wealthy.
Libertarians have destroyed America, and we, as citizens, have allowed them to create the great social inequality which threatens to bring down our entire way of life. The French have preserved much of architecture of social justice in their government and the way business is run because people are not afraid to complain. The French demonstrate in the streets. They still have strong labor unions to counter the forces of big business and big government. Civil liberties and social justice are important values in French culture. More than individualism, though that is very important in France too.
The lesson that France has to teach America is the one that Bernie Sanders is trying to convey in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for the 2016 presidential elections. He speaks of a social revolution, comparing it to the one launched by the New Deal under FDR so many years ago. What he means by political revolution, is that ordinary Americans have to step up, speak up, and demand social and financial equality for all. Democracy doesn’t happen all by itself. We have to be part of the process and be vigilant at all times. Like the French, we need to complain when things are not going right for us. We need to do it every day, and not wait for poverty and withdrawal of our social protections by captains of industry. If we want sustainable businesses to dominate our economic landscape, we need to stand up and make our desires heard. Democracy requires investment and it requires personal accountability.
Libertarians and corporate CEOs want us to believe that we are lazy and selfish if we “take handouts”. We are working and paying taxes, and they are not. If our government uses part of the taxes we pay to bring us social security – health care, time off for vacations, help raising our children, protection for our environment, this is our collective right. The right-wing billionaires want us to believe that they are the most responsible of all citizens, when in fact, they don’t pay their share of taxes, and they have manipulated our system to allow them to be above all laws so that we may serve them until total poverty engulfs us. I don’t see how that attitude is responsible. Is is responsible to destroy the environment so that current and future generations are forced to endure the results of extreme toxicity in our food and water supply? Is it responsible to treat people and animals like inanimate widgets with no feelings or desires? The truth is, the wealthy Libertarians are taking handouts by stealing all of the wealth, the result of our hard work. They are not being held accountable. It is our job to hold them accountable. That is what Democracy is, and that is what Democracy does.
We, the people of the United States of America, need to take back America. To restore our country to one where people can enjoy dignity and peace of mind. Where people can dream and pursue their passions. It is my hope that Bernie Sanders will be the leader who can inspire American citizens to step our of the passive stoicism of servitude and step into a lively role of opposition when necessary. To complain is sometimes a very positive action. The French prove it by the progressive social democracy in which they live. It may not be perfect, but it is a country where the majority of people enjoy a high quality of life.