Sundin column: The United States — a divided nation
Not since the Civil War has our country been as deeply divided as it is now — with the possible exception of the “robber baron” era (1876-1900). That was a period in which there was little difference between the Republican and Democratic parties’ platforms, the majority in the Senate alternated between the two parties, and no president had a majority of his own party in both houses for his entire term.
The robber-baron era started with Rutherford B. Hayes (R) stealing the 1876 election from Samuel J. Tilden, who won the popular vote by a quarter of a million votes out of a total of 8.223 million votes cast — a margin of about 3 percent, comparable to Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote majority. The next 20 years was characterized by a succession of weak presidents, none of whom was elected to a consecutive second term. The result was over two decades of a disinterested, ineffective and corrupt Congress.
The robber barons created monopolies controlling steel mills, mining industries, railroads and banks. They dominated the presidents of both parties and controlled who got elected to the Senate, thereby expanding their wealth and power. Neither the robber barons nor the government showed any concern over the exploitation of the working people and farmers, who rightly felt that they were being neglected by their government.
Today we are again seeing a growing division between the haves and the have-nots in our society, with an obscene redistribution of wealth — the pyramiding of income to the top 1 percent, and even more to the top one-tenth of that 1 percent, while the incomes of the vast majority of American workers are either stagnant or losing ground.
Our political parties are also becoming increasingly divided. The chasm between the Democrats and Republicans has grown so large that Congress can no longer govern effectively. In addition there are deep divisions within both parties. The Republicans are confronted with the “tea party,” which showed up in 2009 with its obstructive tactics and has even shown a willingness to shut down the government to get its way.
In many cases we are seeing our senators and representatives more loyal to their party, the corporations and the wealthy than to their country and the people they were elected to represent. In the 2016 election campaign, Democrats were deeply divided between the populist candidate, Bernie Sanders, and Clinton, the establishment candidate.
The acrimony displayed in the 2016 election is evidence not only of the divisions between and within the political parties, but also a lack of faith in the government’s interest in serving the people. There is a growing division between the American people and their government, which many see as being a lackey of corporate interests that have the money and power to get what they want from the government. Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump gained enormous voter support by playing on this theme.
But it’s looking like Trump was merely conning voters, because he has put together a combination of business interests and government that is even more “establishment” than the establishment both of them berated. To prove that to both those who voted for and against him, he is proposing to cut funding for education, health care, food stamps and the EPA by up to 30 percent so the wealthy can get billions of dollars in tax cuts.
In the split between the haves and have-nots, there is an unfortunate tendency to blame the poor for their poverty. Sure, there are loafers who would rather be on the dole than work, but there are millions of people who can’t find a job that pays a living wage or can’t even find a job. Many taxpayers complain about supporting other families with their hard-earned dollars instead of blaming the employers who are creating the problem by not paying a living wage. So, the government has to come to the rescue with supplemental income payments and food stamps, essentially subsidizing the employers with our tax money. This is really corporate welfare.
To many welfare is a dirty word, but read the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” (Note the capital W.)
Hal Sundin’s As I See it column appears on the first Thursday of the month.
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