Heather Cox Richardson is professor of History at Boston College. She does a widely-read daily blog, Letters from an American which covers current political shenanigans, as good or better than the NY Times. In her new book, How the south/north won the Civil War, she traces the struggle between Oligarchy and Democracy, from England to the colonies and on through subsequent U.S. History, right up to the coup-threatening, megalomaniac, Oligarch, Donald tRump.
The Oligarchs’ advantage is money and disproportionate influence over institutions, including, and especially the media, which they own. Democracy has the numbers, feared by Oligarchs and the target of their distorted but effective framing of the general narrative. I see this today when the range of pundits in the media, liberal to conservative, stay carefully within a pro-capitalist framework. Noam Chomsky is rarely allowed into this hallowed discussion and when he is it’s circumscribed by a shortened time frame and a hostile or controlling host.
The so-called Founding Fathers struggled with this issue, determining that white property-owning males had the vote, keeping the francise from the “rabble” who might get the idea that maybe that property ought to be a bit more equally shared. Hamilton and Madison felt that the answer to the problem was less and more democracy, respectively. The south was (is) the epitome of oligarchy with its sharp class divisions and slavery. Lincoln of course represented Democracy and his assassination was a major blow to the cause. There were great wins for democracy, the 15th Amendment for example, but it was often perversely twisted to protect corporate power and undermine unions, rather than the equality clearly stated in the act.
Another abysmal supreme court decision, the infamous Dred Scott decision, gave slave owners exactly what they wanted, declaring that African Americans were not citizens and had no rights which the white man was bound to respect. Neither could congress prohibit slavery in the territories, because the constitution required the protection of property, including slaves. Northerners were outraged and this decision led soon to the nomination and election of Abraham Lincoln.
The see-saw between Oligarchy and Democracy continues to our day, the apotheosis for Democracy probably stands as FDR and the New Deal. The calculated attempt to turn back those gains by Oligarchy reached its high water mark, so far, of course with the current, hopefully outgoing, tRump administration. Certainly it calls upon pro-Democracy citizens to organize, resist and block this force with its honed ability to exploit the prejudices and gullibility of a significant portion of our citizens.