To understand the recent U.S. elections (2016 and 2020), one must examine the deep-level contradictions in the country's social structure and economic reality.
As its population increases, the real growth in the U.S. economy in the past two decades has not been fast enough. In essential health care, housing, education and socio-economic opportunities, most Americans feel that they are worse off, particularly since the financial tsunami of 2008.
At the same time, the country's economic and financial benefits have gone to the super-rich minority and big business interests (collectively, the "Big Money"). As a result, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has grown and has produced mounting dissatisfaction. Elected officials have generally failed to address the substantive issues or solve the pressing problems for the people.
Democracy that serves money, not people
Beginning approximately 15 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed unlimited amounts of money to legally participate in election campaigns and lobbying activities. Since then, Big Money has held the lion’s share of political influence, even though it is in the minority.
U.S. democracy today is money's democracy, not people's democracy. Elections resemble auctions for Big Money to buy power and influence. Political lobbying is a huge and growing industry, routinely directing what the government would do.
Under the Supreme Court rulings, Big Money propped up the price for elected office. Politicians cannot afford their election campaigns unless they are backed by sufficient financial resources. They have to go to Big Money. In effect, a political party and its electoral candidates are pre-sold and beholden to Big Money contributors.
The interests of the have-nots are marginalized. Like in the sharing of a cake, after Big Money and special interests get their slices, the common people are left with a disproportionately small piece. Everyone feels disgruntled. But instead of targeting the rich and powerful, they are being manipulated by media forces and other brain-washing tools to blame and fight against each other. This has led to deep and never-ending divisiveness in the society.
Composition of Big Money
The major groups comprising U.S. Big Money are the following.
1. Military-industrial complex — With an annual federal defense budget in excess of US$750 billion (and more if the country is at war), the privately owned military contractors have a vital stake in who heads up the presidency and Congress.
2. Cyber barons — The world's strategic resource today is cyber networks and the data universe. The largest technology companies are wielding unparalleled power and are vying for global domination. They possess the essential tools for Big Money to control politics.
3. Industrial oligarchs — These are the big traditional industrialists (such as the Koch brothers) in oil, chemicals, health care and pharmaceuticals, etc., that are critically affected by political decisions and government regulatory policies.
4. Wall Street — The major financial groups on Wall Street not only control the global money markets, they also manage the wealth of the rich people, the pension funds and other institutional money. Directly and indirectly, they control the major Big Money entities and their affiliates, and determine their valuations and financial prospects.
5. Mind control — Big Money monopolizes and conditions the establishment media, Hollywood, private and quasi-governmental think tanks, and the academic and research institutions. They make sure that public opinion and the experts' recommendations are "politically correct." Otherwise, funding will not be made available.
6. Political machinery — Electoral engineering in America today operates through a complex web of political action committees (PACs) and super-PACs, with entrenched party delegates and super-delegates. There are also numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) created to champion specific causes. They are funded and backed directly or indirectly by Big Money.
The U.S. democratic system was originally designed with checks and balances in order to prevent dictatorship, and to allow opposing forces to work out compromises. As the population grew, and society became more complex with industrialization, the system evolved into a pluralistic one. Different interest groups are typically in the minority. Their goals are satisfied through mutual bargaining for support and, conversely, blocking of each other's demands until a compromised balance is reached.
But with money's democracy, pluralism becomes increasingly biased. Minorities of Big Money can get what they bargain for, by horse-trading exclusively with each other. The general population is excluded from the bargaining process. As a result, the people and their nation have to get by with more debts, with none the better off.
(The author is a retired international investment banker and certified public accountant. He graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor's degree in international relations and Columbia Business School with an MBA in finance.)