At the time of its inception, the United States of America founding fathers concept of self government of the people, by the people, and for the people, even given their flawed stance of considering equality and self government pertaining to only to white men; their vision was astonishing for its time when rule over countries was based on wealth, birthright, and religion. Understanding the uncharted territory the founders were taking the fledgling nation, George Washington famously dubbed their vision the “Great Experiment.”
In light of Trump’s unprecedented shunning of the NATO alliance and embracing of Russian oligarch Vladimir Putin in his infamous Helsinki press conference, we are seeing of reversal of equality being self evident as our founders intended. In compromising the NATO alliance of democratic self governing countries and embracing an oligarch that has endeavored to dismantle it his entire life, Trump is signaling that he shares Putin’s world view, that governing and leadership should remain in the hands of a select wealthy few.
This is not the first time that our country has reverted to this notion of rule by a select few by birthright and wealth. In fact, it has happened 3 times before.
In the 1850s, wealthy southern slaveholders compelled the argument that the founders were wrong, that all men were not created equal. Some men were clearly better than others.
Southern congressmen cast most people as “mudsills,”, supporting their superiors just as the sills of a house were driven into the earth to support a house. The mudsills in their view were society’s menial workers, unambitious with no vision and only useful for creating wealth for better, civilized people with educations, wealth, and connections they would use to advance the economy and society.
So convinced that mudsills should not vote or hold government office, the southern slave owners banded together to start a war to make their own country in line with their world view. As we well know, the southern slave holders lost.
In the late 1890’s, the argument resurfaced as industrialists like Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, and John D Rockefeller were stewards of the nation’s wealth and their limited workers had no right to complain about wages or working conditions and organize to improve them. The argument once again fizzled out as the progressive era ushered in labor unions and regulation to offer protection for workers and reign in monopolies that held 100% control of given industries.
The 1920’s for the third time brought back the argument that contradicts the vision of our founders that culminated in the great crash of 1929. FDR overcame this trend once again as he brought the American people a New Deal, offering the common citizen social safety nets, regulating business, and investing in infrastructure projects. This brought immediate push back from wealthy men who viewed the New Deal as socialism with the taxation necessary to drive it being unfair wealth redistribution from the haves to the have nots. Although most historians recognize the New Deal state as the foundation of our stability and prosperity since WWII, today’s Republicans are determined to destroy it and they found the perfect man to help them do it.
Trump’s attacks on our democratic allies and NATO play right into Putin’s hands. However there is more to Trump’s friendliness to the Russian oligarch than meets the eye. In Putin and Russian, Trump sees a system that he wants to be the head of, a government run by a few wealthy men who should not be hindered by regulations or human rights because only they know better than the rest of the 98% how to manage the economy, the government, and society as a whole.
Somehow, he has an unwavering base that cheer him on as he takes our nation ever closer to oligarchy each day he is in office. Make no mistake, this is indeed the 4th great challenge to our democracy and our Great Experiment. Let us all hope that the American people and our institutions will once again win the day to protect government of the people, by the people, and for the people.