An insidious ideology propagated by the morbidly rich has stopped progress dead in its tracks
Ronald Reagan painting (Edalisse Hirst/Flickr)

Americans aren’t getting what a majority of us want, even when we show up in majority numbers to vote.

The problem is that we’ve trusted the rich to run things here in America for 42 years now since the Reagan Revolution, and it’s not working.

The morbidly rich and their political and bureaucratic factotums, along with the media and a considerable retinue of hangers-on, are converging on Davos, Switzerland this week for a conference themed around “History at a Turning Point.”

At this meeting 42 years ago, Henry Kissinger warned about the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons and the first serious rumblings of neoliberal “free trade” policy were rolled out, arguably bringing America today’s offshored jobs and supply chain crises.

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Political scientist Samuel Huntington coined the term “Davos Man” to disparagingly describe its attendees, although the group played a positive role in ending apartheid in South Africa and preventing a war between Greece and Turkey, if media reports from the time are to be believed.

From rock stars to heads of state, the global elite appear to believe they have it all figured out.

After all, doesn’t their wealth prove their brilliance? And doesn’t brilliance at busting unions and destroying competitors translate into the right stuff for guiding the fate of nations?

For example, Elon Musk, who’s the richest man in the world on some days, has announced that he’s tossing in with the GOP, tweeting that:

“In the past I voted Democrat, because they were (mostly) the kindness party. But they have become the party of division & hate, so I can no longer support them and will vote Republican. Now, watch their dirty tricks campaign against me unfold."

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Cynics argue it was a preemptive tweet so he could claim the sexual harassment allegations that he knew were soon coming out against him were just “dirty tricks” from the party he’d spurned. But I’m inclined to believe Musk really does heart the GOP; after all, they’re the party of union-busting, privatizing NASA, and a 3% top functional income tax rate for billionaires.

Bill Gates is invited onto talk shows to pontificate about education or infectious diseases, when his main claim to fame is having bought a computer operating system for a song and turned it into a near-trillion-dollar enterprise.

Howard Schultz tried to become President of the United States, but is now back to ordinary billionaire union-busting at Starbucks.

Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos, occasionally the world’s second richest man, is tweeting about politics, too, prompting some in the media to wonder out loud if he’s on the verge of following other morbidly rich men like Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, and Mike Bloomberg into politics.

Whether it’s the Kochs and DeVos’s of the world content to sit quietly in the background and pour money into politics, a hobby the Supreme Court handed them on a platter with its Citizens United decision legalizing political bribery, or hedge fund/private equity multimillionaires like JD Vance and David McCormick actually running for elective office this year, more and more wealthy people are jumping into politics with both feet.

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And Americans — unlike Europeans who still have an echoing memory of the horrors of 1000 years of feudalism when a tiny class of very rich people literally owned and ran everything — seem to love it.

Even when it means we don’t get what we want, we still embrace wealthy people in politics and tolerate politicians who are openly owned by particular wealthy industries.

How can that be?

Ever since the first warlord kings used brutality and armies to seize lands and enslave their people, the rich and powerful have claimed that their right to rule comes from God.

In most cases, they also proclaim that the privileges they’ve seized for themselves must roll over to their children and grandchildren, whether through birth, class, or caste.

Many British coins have the inscription “ELIZABETH II : D G REG : F D” on them, an abbreviation for the Latin Dei Gratia Regina Fidei Defensor which roughly translates to: “She rules [Britain] and defends the faith by the grace of God.”

The American version of this comes via the followers of the 16th century protestant reformer, John Calvin, who fled European religious persecution and populated the east coast and Michigan in the 17th and 18th centuries. Central to the precepts of Calvinism are the doctrines of “total depravity” and “unconditional election.”

Calvinism asserts that because we are each born out of a woman’s womb, we’re all “dead in sin” (totally depraved) and unable to save ourselves. Instead of salvation coming from confession or good works, Calvin taught, only his god could decide (unconditionally elect) who would be saved and who would eventually rot in hell…and that was determined before we were born (predestination).

This solved a big problem for many of the royal families of Europe in the Middle Ages: how to use Christianity (denial of which was then a capital crime) to justify their absolute rule over their subjects.

If Calvin’s god decided who was to be saved and who was to burn even before birth, how then could mankind separate the “saved” good people who really should rule the land from the “sinners” and the born-wicked who aspired to political positions?

The answer was simple, Calvin’s followers concluded: the outward sign of God’s election or salvation was wealth.

Since his god controlled everything and man was without agency, then through “irresistible grace” (the fourth of five Calvinist doctrines) Calvin’s god was telling us all who he’d preordained for political power.

People were rich and in charge, many Calvinists believed, because they were blessed by God and, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:4–6 and Calvin loved to quote, chosen by Him “before the foundation of the world.”

God determined the order of succession in Calvin’s mind; more modern day conservatives would replace the role of God with science.

William F. Buckley and George Will advocate a secular version of Calvinism: instead of a distant god determining who should rule, DNA would do it.

The smart should be in charge while the dumb should keep their mouths shut and, preferably, not vote or participate in politics at all.

And how do we know who’s so incredibly smart they should run the government either directly or through the politicians they own?

Those who have the most money are the smartest, best, most wise, and moral…as are their heirs!

Herbert Spencer, in his 1842 treatise The Proper Sphere of Government, made essentially this argument, suggesting that while happiness and safety in society were the goals of political activity, governments had to be guided by people who had the best DNA. (He also argued in the same treatise that government should never provide poor people with education or health care because of their inferior genes: Spencer was a conservative ahead of his time.)

Spencer’s ideas led directly to Francis Galton’s invention of the word eugenics in his 1869 book Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into Its Laws and Consequences. Eugenics held that sterilizing or even killing “defective” or “substandard” people would clean up our gene pool and improve the overall intelligence and fitness of the human race for both current and future generations.

Eugenics was enthusiastically adopted by Winston Churchill, who tried unsuccessfully to make it law in Great Britain in 1912.

As I write in The Hidden History of the War on Voting, American President Woodrow Wilson picked up the mantle and promoted it heavily in the United States during his presidency, leading every state in the union to put compulsory sterilization laws or policies into effect.

Adolf Hitler, of course, picked up Churchill’s and Wilson’s slogans almost verbatim and applied them to Jews, Gypsies, the mentally disabled, and homosexuals (in that order of aggression), leading Germany straight to the Holocaust.

But even the Holocaust didn’t dissuade America’s political right from asserting that governance should be the exclusive realm of the wealthy because of their superior genes, proven by the size of their money bins.

George Will has argued, for example, that if voting is easy and widespread we’ll experience a sort of reverse social Darwinism causing people of poor quality and intelligence to vote and thus screw things up. As he wrote in an article for The Washington Post in 2012, “As indifferent or reluctant voters are nagged to the polls—or someday prodded there by a monetary penalty for nonvoting—the caliber of the electorate must decline.”

We’ve come a long way from believing gods want the wealthy to rule over us, although that sentiment and Spencer’s conflation of poverty (and race) with “bad DNA” ripple as a persistent undercurrent through conservative American politics.

This nation was founded, however, on the rejection of hereditary aristocracy, and we’d be wise to return to the precept that the will of the people — rather than the will of the rich — must determine public policy.

For governing our nation, I’ll take a Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders over a Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk any day of the week, as the old saying goes.

Wisdom, insight, experience, understanding of the consequences of policy, a deep grounding in the history of the United States and of democratic institutions around the world: I see almost none of these things in most of our nation’s morbidly rich who aspire to public office.

America’s “General Welfare” and the will of the people must again become superior to the will of organized money, like they were here before the presidency of Ronald Reagan stopped America’s progress dead in our tracks.

That pre-Reagan time is when we created Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, federal aid to education, debt-free college, our national highway system, NASA, modern nonprofit hospitals, quality public schools unrivaled anywhere in the world, and a unionized middle class where working-class people could take an annual vacation, buy a car and a home, and save enough for a decent retirement.

Only when American government is again run by politicians who put working class Americans first can popular policies like a national healthcare system, debt-free college, well-funded public schools, and a clean environment — all supported by more than half of Americans but opposed by the morbidly rich — become American realities.

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