“There is a specter haunting Europe,” began Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto,” published in the midst of the 1848 revolutions across Europe, “the specter of communism.”
Today too, there is a specter haunting America. The specter isn’t communism (although judging from Republican rhetoric, you might think that) but rather a consciousness of class.
Class has remained a dormant issue in American politics since the Nixon years, largely because of how successful the New Deal was at ending open class warfare in the United States. The wealthy, despite initial attempts to undo the New Deal, eventually acquiesed to the new order of things and accepted paying high income tax rates, recognized labor unions as equal partners in building up the United States and even went into public service themselves, a sort of noblesse oblige.
Things started changing in the 1970s. Faced with an economic crisis, the wealthy and well-connected conservative activists grabbed hold of the Republican Party and used it as a vehicle to undo much of the New Deal. The postwar truce between labor and business was torn apart – unions were no longer partners, but rather enemies and “radicals,” evoking the sort of rhetoric that first cropped up in America during the Gilded Age.
American manufacturing was so passé, as was paying the high tax rates that allowed us to build dams, the Interstate Highway System and put a man on the moon. Income tax rates had to be slashed, jobs shipped elsewhere and corporate profits pushed to unbelievable levels. Public service became a route to even fatter profits and dividends as the wealthy purchased politicians and destroyed regulatory safeguards.
For many Americans, the damage being done was masked by concern over other issues – affirmative action, abortion, same-sex marriage – all these things moved front and center, creating interesting bedfellows in the new political coalition that emerged from the rubble of the 1970s.
And yet, all of that seems to be slipping away. Americans are beginning to wake up and see the wealthy, economic elite for what they are – predators tearing up our social fabric to make another dollar.
The specter haunting America is the specter of an awakening. President Franklin Roosevelt called the people at the top “economic royalists,” and that title seems fitting today. What we need in this country is a little economic democracy.
Column by Devin Griggs, opinion editor. Devin serves as vice president of finances for the Murray State College Democrats.