In The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy from the Ruling Class, Thom Hartmann recounts three periods of increased hegemony of oligarchs in American society. He posits that with the inauguration of Joe Biden as president on Jan. 20, 2021, we citizens have work to do to reclaim our democracy from the control of wealthy Americans.
The history of increased influence of wealth in the United States is becoming well known. Stories about it appear frequently in newsletters, on radio and television, and in books and other publications. In this book, Hartmann adds a needed layer of historical context to the discussion.
Readers may be familiar with the Powell Memo, Citizens United, the rise of dark money interests coordinated by Charles and David Koch, and the power they wielded to take control of our government, including the judicial, legislative and executive branches. Donald J. Trump’s presidency is a logical extension of these influences. We left democracy behind and become an oligarchy ruled of, by and for the rich, Hartmann said. The next step is tyranny if democratic values don’t return to dominance.
“The United States was born in a struggle against the oligarchs of the British aristocracy,” Hartmann wrote. “Ever since then the history of America has been one of dynamic tension between democracy and oligarchy. And much like the shock of the 1929 crash woke America up to glaring inequality and the ongoing theft of democracy by that generation’s oligarchs, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has laid bare how extensively oligarchs have looted our nation’s economic system, gutted governmental institutions, and stolen the wealth of the former middle class.”
Hartmann lays out his argument in plain, easy to understand terms and gets to the crux of it quoting former President Jimmy Carter, “So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election is over…. The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who’s just a challenger.”
More simply put, Al Gore said in his 2013 book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, “American Democracy has been hacked.”
The book quickly works through the origins of oligarchy in America from the invention and wide use of the cotton gin, the rise of industrial robber barons, and the Reagan revolution. Hartmann’s focus is not only on reminding us of history.
In the final section Hartmann details a dozen ways to break the hegemony of the oligarchy. They include addressing media, taxing the rich, restoring election integrity, and rebuilding a progressive Democratic Party. While readers can’t do everything alone, the book serves as a roadmap for where progressives can go from here to combat the oligarchy.
Like Hartmann’s other Hidden History books, this one is a quick but important read for people who are engaged in progressive politics and seek a change from the power of moneyed interests and concentration of wealth among the richest Americans. The Hidden History of American Oligarchy is a must read. It will be released on Feb. 1, 2021.