The average person may be forgiven for thinking that the South won the Civil War. Despite a brief experiment in interracial democracy during the Reconstruction years, for much of its history the region has upheld a regime of brutal racial subordination. In the late 19th century, after the overthrow of Reconstruction, many of its state governments disenfranchised Black men, instituted racial segregation, condoned racial terrorism and violence, and kept a majority of Black and white Southerners economically bound through sharecropping, debt peonage, convict lease labor, and tenancy.
By the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt called the South the nation’s No. 1 economic problem, resistant to unionization and social policies. Even today it leads in indices for poverty and weak educational systems. The Jim Crow South was upended by the civil rights revolution. Yet even in defeat, its language of oligarchy and its opposition to progressive political and economic policies through an appeal to racism has been adopted by the modern Republican Party.
Throughout American history, the forces of oligarchy and democracy have been involved in a mortal struggle for the nation’s future. Oligarchic America, however, has always triumphed.
From the outset, the American idea of freedom was exclusive: It was for property-owning men only and was based on the enslavement of people of African descent. The Virginian founding fathers solved the problem of inequality by simply enslaving a racially outcast working poor and at the same time elevating the status of all white men, slaveholders and non-slaveholders alike.
The American paradox is a bit different: racism and democracy are opposing forces rather than constitutive of each other. In fact, the history of the United States is a history of the conflict between democracy and oligarchy. American oligarchy has always rested on combining elite domination with racial and economic inequality. The American republic has always allowed its elites to conflate “class and race,” thereby give them “the language to take over the government and undermine democracy.”
At many points in American history, oligarchy—from the slaveholding elite to the robber barons of the Gilded Age—has had the upper hand. But repeatedly, ordinary Americans, especially those who were disenfranchised, like women and African Americans, have pushed back, leading to the triumph of democracy with slavery’s abolition, women’s suffrage, and the enactment of the New Deal and civil rights legislation.
The Republican Party has helped reinvent the South’s language of oligarchy with an appeal to individualism that overlays a reactionary commitment to racial hierarchy and opposition to a welfare state. The struggle between the free North and the slaveholding South was essentially a struggle between people and property, as exemplified in the antislavery free labor ideology of the original Republican Party, which valorized workers over capitalists.
When understood as a conflict between oligarchs and democrats, the Civil War, Emancipation, and Reconstruction represent the victory not just of democracy but also of the working classes over the slaveholding oligarchy. It also marked, a victory for big government. As a result of the war, the federal government implemented a progressive income tax, land-grant colleges, the Homestead Act and money for railroads (which came at the expense of Native populations), and federal protection for Black rights in the postwar South. In response to this new egalitarian federal government, the opposition of Southern elites to Reconstruction was often couched—almost always disingenuously—in the language of local governance and opposition to corruption and taxation.
Southerners opposing African American citizenship invoked the image of a corrupt federal government usurping their rights to promote Black equality. Racism has become a way to protect the political and economic prerogatives of a Southern oligarchy no longer in control of the national government and, in many cases, state and local governments as well. The language of race became a potent weapon wielded against efforts to address inequality, which would supposedly benefit people of color and dependent women at the cost of white men.
But history doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes.
There is now a new phase of American oligarchy in the 21st century.
The rise of conservatism, as personified by Barry Goldwater in his 1964 presidential campaign, has come to embody a new vision of an oligarchic America. The new oligarchy’s triumph—one that combined economic domination with racial inequality—lay in a political alliance between the South and the West with the Republican presidencies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, the Bushes, and finally Trump.
There is now a new generation of oligarchs. After the second world war there was a huge in flux of immigrants in the US – different from previous immigrants. Unlike their African predecessors, they were White immigrants of ‘choice’. These new immigrants – fleeing Hitler’s persecution – had very high levels of education, changed their surnames to blend in with American whites and have risen, despite some resistance, to become new Oligarchs in America.
Initially marginalized by previous generations of Christian oligarchs, Jewish Americans have slowly but systematically dominated US industry – to a point where they now own over 65% of US assets. And with this they have developed tremendous political clout.
The combination of American empire, religious affiliations, racism, and state violence has reinvigorated oligarchic tendencies in the United States to create a crisis of unchecked proportions. The world today looks on aghast as the American republic, with a criminally incompetent and kleptocratic oligarchy hell-bent on undermining democracy, self-combusts amid a global crisis, supporting other Oligarchs in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Russia to name a few.
The US now has developed policies in Washington that has steadily, systematically increased the concentration of 75% of US industries into the hands of these oligarchs.
Several key industries have experienced dramatic increases in concentration: communication, banking, insurance:
US now has 6 communication companies that control 90% of America’s information diet. 30 years ago, 50 companies controlled 90% of the media. (This statistic by the way includes internet media).
The US has 12 Mega-banks that control 70% of US assets. We went from 14000 banks in 1992 to 5000 today!
Insurance Premiums have gone up from $1.6 Trillion dollars in 2008 to 2.6 Trillion in 2019, but the number of firms in every category of Insurance has dropped dramatically. For example, Life Insurance from 2300 in 1990 to 750 in 2020; from 3800 property and casualty firms in 1990 to 2500 in 2020.
Meanwhile, the US has gone from 574,000 lawyers in 1990 to 1.4 Mn Lawyers in 2019! By all accounts, from an ethnicity perspective, most major law firms are controlled by a minority that are approximately 2% of the US population. The US migrated from 60 billionaires in 1995 to 600 billionaires in 2020. 240 of these new billionaires are from one ethnicity that again comprises roughly 2% of the US population.
Trump talks about immigrants, but there are now 4 million LEGAL, dual national Israeli Americans among these 600 Billionaires, who have greater loyalty to Israel than the U.S. – for whom the U.S. – its industries, its government etc. is virtually, totally under their control! We even have a US citizen – Sheldon Adelson – whose wealth is totally controlled by his much younger Israeli wife, who splashes lavishly on Republican politicians in Washington.
US economy grew from 1 Trillion in 1970 to $21 Trillion today. The top 2% (Oligarchs) have dramatically increased their net worth, while middle Income Americans find themselves with a huge drop in income, and a much smaller slice of the pie dropping from 75% share of aggregate incomes to 40%.
Average Americans have gotten substantially poorer.
Our politicians have sold out to these new, corrupt oligarchs that control every aspect of this country.
The taking down of prominent Confederate statues and symbols in 2020 might mark the beginning of the end of the slaveholding South’s oligarchic vision for the future of the American republic. But we have a new American oligarchy, that while embracing racism and the Confederacy on Fox News to get elected has in fact turned White Americans into economic slaves.
These new Oligarchs – are typified by the Kushners – who travels the globe on behalf of Trump’s Whitehouse peddling US foreign policy for his self-interests as a real estate developer. You know exactly who they are. They have a greater loyalty to Israel, than the U.S. They are all about leveraging their power base in the US to push for policies promoted by Israel rather than US national interests. One key policy question reveals them quickly: US policy vis-à-vis Iran. They portray a small country on the other side of the world, with a military budget under $13 Billion per year (i.e. 1% of US and its allies) as the greatest threat to America!!! Why, because their Israeli masters say so. Not because its in the US national interest. These same Oligarchs would gladly sacrifice American blood and treasure for the benefit of Israel or Saudi Arabia.
This new oligarchy has a strong commitment to antidemocratic values and economic elitism and should remind everyone of the South’s slaveholding aristocracy. Look at Trump’s pardons and election shenanigans and you know precisely where this ruling Oligarchy’s heart lies. Pardons for Blackwater employees that murdered innocent civilians (that incidentally is owned by Eric Prince, Betsy Devos’s brother [who is US Education Secretary and a huge Trump campaign donor]).
These new Oligarchs, like the old Oligarchs have no allegiance to the rule of law or democracy. We are in a new struggle.
The Black Lives Matter movement, that has demanded democratic change from its platform on the streets, and protested police brutality and racial inequality now needs to recognize that there is a new oligarchy riding high under Trump that has taken control of America. BLM must understand that this new Oligarchy has taken the place of former Slave Owners that ruled America (even after the Civil war). And that this new Oligarchy has marshalled the forces of white supremacism to gain power at the ballot box i.e. is leveraging racism to maintain their control – to win, to impoverish, to dominate, to undermine.
There are some very deep and sinister forces behind Washington that must be defeated. And it is about time that we consign these forces, like the Confederacy, to the dustbin of history.