One hundred and twenty-five years ago, the United States faced a similar political conflict between populists and the ruling elite as we experience today.
Just after the 1896 election between the victor, establishment Republican William McKinley and Populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan, Mrs. Henry Cabot Lodge, wife of the Republican Senator from Massachusetts, wrote:
“The great fight is won, a fight conducted by trained and experienced and organized forces, with both hands full of money, with the full power of the press – and the prestige – on one side; on the other, a disorganized mob…”
The influence of money and power on the 1896 election and the obsequious attitude of the press towards the powers-that-be, stand in stark similarity to the current condition of America’s body-politic.
Then, like now, ordinary Americans sought to wrest control of their democracy from an oligarchy, which is, as Lewis Lapham described in his book “The Wish for Kings”:
“that 2% of the population who own the media and the banks, manage the government, operate the universities, print the money, write the laws and, every four years, hire a President.”
The arrogance of Washington, D.C. has not abated, but has only gotten more and more brazen creating a permanent and corrupt political establishment fueled by crony capitalism, as Lapham noted:
“The politicians dress up the deals in the language of law or policy, but they’re in the business of brokering the tax revenue, and what keeps them in office is not their talent for oratory but their skill at redistributing the national income in a way that rewards their clients, patrons, friends and campaign contributors.”
And then there is the hypocrisy and mendacity defining the current state of American journalism.
Strangely enough, one of the leading voices in the U.S. on the subject of Journalistic Standards and Ethics is the Society of Professional Journalists. The Preamble to its Code of Ethics proclaims:
“…public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.”
Unfortunately, the actual practice of journalism in America today bears no resemblance to the official portrait; again, described by Lapham:
“it is because the media, together with their owners and political overlords, find it convenient to pretend that the free and courageous voice of conscience defends the American people against the darkness of tyranny and injustice. The media does nothing of the kind, but the disguise is as flattering as it is profitable, and it conceals the function of the media as the first and foremost of the nation’s courtiers. The big media identify themselves with wealth and privilege and the wisdom in office.”
The twenty years following the 1896 election were marked by protest and reform in nearly every sector of American life. Old political leaders were replaced and the political machinery was overhauled. Economic institutions and policy, monopolies, the political power of corporations, all came under scrutiny. Social relationships, the impact of the urbanization, the flood of immigration, inequalities in wealth, the growth of class and ethnic divisions, were thoroughly examined.
Then, like now, the immediate problem was to get control of political machinery which was corrupted by the power of private money and privilege. Payment was not always in the form of outright bribery. It also involved political advancement, contribution to political campaigns, contracts to relatives or friends of legislators or lucrative legal business to attorneys. Whatever form it took, it was effective in delaying reform.
The question then, like now, was why did the country seem to be going in the wrong direction? The problem was not just economic. The American dream was not being fulfilled. Americans were better off than many in other countries, but they were worse off than they should have been.
The fraudulent 2020 election may provide an opportunity for a new period of reform. The corruption of our political process, the alienated electorate, the economic stagnation of the Middle Class, the growth of an underclass, the seeming moral confusion, and the rise of an unaccountable transnational corporate state may all be manifestations of the same underlying stress which existed along the political fault lines over a century ago.
The status quo represented by the Republican and Democrat parties and their media accomplices can no longer prevent the coming tremor which is both inevitable and necessary.
The oligarchy has declared war on the American people. Let us return the favor.
To steal a line from the movie Apollo 13 “Power is everything.”
Like our adversaries, power must be aggressively sought and held by those wishing to sustain our constitutional republic
Exit the political hacks, a biased media, the “money-laundering” lobbyists and a self-serving, wasteful and non-representative government.
Enter the “disorganized mob.”
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is retired from an international career in business and medical research with 29 years of service in the US Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. He is a member of the Citizens Commission on National Security.
The views expressed in CCNS member articles are not necessarily the views or positions of the entire CCNS. They are the views of the authors, who are members of the CCNS.