Republican victory in 2016 would strengthen new “patrimonial oligarchy”

The hateful and reactionary ideas spewing from the mouths of the Republican Party candidates confront us with the clear and present danger we would face next November were any one of them to be elected president.

The danger will be compounded if the GOP retains majorities in the House and Senate with the possibility of several extreme right wing justices being appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The GOP also controls 31 governorships, 67 of 98 partisan state legislative chambers and has total control of governorships and both chambers of the legislature in 24 states.

The GOP extremists have used their power without hesitation to obstruct President Obama, to roll back voting and reproductive rights, to erode the labor movement, and to block efforts to address climate change while cutting taxes on the wealthy and serving up austerity budgets.

But in the last few elections the American people have faced a new development compounding and fueling this extreme right danger: the accelerated massive concentration of wealth and the re-emergence of what French economist Thomas Piketty calls the “patrimonial oligarchy.”

The wealthiest 20 people now own more wealth than half the entire population. The top .1 percent or 300,000 richest families own as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.

The mere concentration of wealth in a few hands allows these individuals to accelerate their concentration of wealth. In 2010, the top 1 percent of U.S. families captured as much as 93 percent of the nation’s income growth, according to Emmanuel Saez, a University of California at Berkeley economist.

Individual wealth concentration is reflected in corporate wealth concentration. 2015 quietly set a record for global corporate mergers and acquisitions at $4.34 trillion.

The super wealthy are not just sunning themselves on their exclusive island getaways. They are determined to hijack the political system by aggressively using their unlimited assets to fund campaigns and Super PACs to further enrich themselves.

The 2010 Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court, under its right wing majority, unleashed a torrent of money into the political arena. In 2012 presidential candidates spent $2 billion on their campaigns. That is expected to rise to $5 billion in 2016.

As Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “The U.S. Supreme Court essentially said to the wealthiest people in this country:  you already own much of the American economy.  Now, we are going to give you the opportunity to purchase the U.S. Government, the White House, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, governors’ seats, legislatures, and state judicial branches as well.”

The New York Times reported in October that 158 families provided half the early money to presidential candidates. Of that 138 supported GOP candidates. Some candidates are being promoted by one or two billionaire patrons.

The radically magnified influence in the political arena of a relative handful of billionaires is new. It greatly increases the threat to existing democratic institutions, imperfect as they are, including the right to vote which is being curtailed in many states.

The New York Times also did a recent expose of the small group of billionaires who are attempting to hijack Illinois politics, including the state’s richest individual, hedge fund magnate Kenneth Griffin. The group backed the successful election of another billionaire, Bruce Rauner, as governor in 2014.

“In the months since (Rauner’s election), Mr. Griffin and a small group of rich supporters – not just from Chicago, but also from New York City and Los Angeles, southern Florida and Texas – have poured tens of millions of dollars into the state, a concentration of political money without precedent in Illinois history,” reports the Times.

In essence these billionaires are attempting to smash the Democratic Party majority in the state legislature, including the dominating machine elements and destroy the political power of the labor movement. They want to replace it with their own oligarchic direct rule.

These developments make defeating the extreme right and their billionaire backers in the 2016 elections all the more urgent.

The most recent rise of the extreme right began in the 1970s when sections of the U.S. ruling class –  grouped around the oil, military and banking interests – launched an all out effort to undo the gains of New Deal and Great Society Programs and reassert U.S. global, economic and military domination. This coincided with the beginning of growing wealth inequality.

These forces captured the Republican Party and engineered the nomination of Ronald Reagan.

The battle against the ultra right led by a growing broad multi-class alliance which includes the labor movement and other democratic forces has been fought out in election cycles, the legislative battlefield and in the arena of public opinion since then.

While income inequality has emerged as a major issue and important shifts against the ultra right have taken place on key issues the electorate is still deeply divided, with a substantial section, misled, disillusioned and disengaged.

The extreme wealth concentration is reverberating in the Democratic Party as well, with efforts by the conservative New Democrats to undercut a shift to the left. The 3rd Way is supported by the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, banking and insurance corporations.

Extreme wealth concentration is and will continue to deepen class divisions and tensions within the multi-class coalition that works in and with the Democratic Party.

Right wing domination of significant levers of government in tandem with accelerating wealth concentration pose increased danger to democratic institutions at every level. And yet the mere concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few oligarchs, or .1 percent, creates the possibilities for the broadest kinds of coalitions and movements, unlike anything we have ever seen.

The challenge before labor, communities of color, women, youth and other democratic forces is to continue to build the biggest, broadest, most diverse and tactically mature movement possible to win in 2016 and set the stage for bigger victories ahead.

Photo: Fight Back


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.