Humans are an advanced species of social primates and, as such, have always sorted themselves into hierarchies, first by physical attributes and skills such as strength, hunting and combat, and then — as civilizations became more sophisticated — by wealth.
Even nobles needed money to maintain their positions of power and privilege, otherwise they were just titled paupers.
Today, we live in an economic jungle where wealth not only affords security and protection from the vagaries of life, it also buys privilege. America has the best justice, the best health care and the best higher education that money can buy — you just need the money.
Without it you can be left at the side of the road.
Not too far down in our collective unconscious we all know this is the reality. It is the source of the angst that haunts so many Americans and provokes them to scramble for money any way they can — and then find someone or something to blame when they fall short.
Given this reality, it doesn’t shock me that wealthy felons receive light sentences for years of heinous criminal activity while folks much lower down the economic food chain receive much more severe sentences for similar or even lesser crimes.
It doesn’t shock me that virtually no bankers responsible for the massive fraudulent activity that precipitated the Great Recession were not punished. That some executives of big pharmaceutical companies misled doctors and the public in order to sell tons of lethally addictive drugs doesn’t shock me.
That some very wealthy folks have been getting their kids into premier universities by bribery and fraud doesn’t shock me either.
Saddened, disgusted, angered? Yes. Shocked? No.
One of the questions that keeps being asked in the wake of the college admissions fraud, is why do folks who are already so wealthy feel compelled to have their progeny attend elite universities? Many of these kids will have family wealth for a lifetime and don’t really need an advanced degree, and many would qualify for admission to less prestigious universities.
So why spend small fortunes to cheat them into big-name universities?
Status and snobbery. Basically, we are now monkeys with money and some of us are driven to move as high up the tree as possible to let the other monkeys know that we are among the top bananas.
Wealth or perceived wealth purchases not only privilege, but also deference. That is why the symbols of wealth — your address, your car, your clothes, the schools you attend — are so important to some people.
Rich people generally get treated better most everywhere in life, and they expect to be. They develop a sense of entitlement that can include immunity to social mores and the law — those are for the “little people.”
The people who cheat to get their kids into college, prey on society for profit, and expect and receive preferential treatment based on their wealth are among the forces of greed that have corrupted so much of America, transmogrifying free-market capitalism into predatory cannibal capitalism, and capturing government to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with their avarice and privilege.
As a constitutional democratic republic, American government was established to promote the general welfare by defending and maintaining the founding principles of liberty, justice and equal opportunity for all. Obviously, it could be functioning a lot better.
For the forces of greed, constitutional democracy can be an obstacle that must be circumvented. That circumvention is facilitated when Americans are so distracted by and caught up in idiotic ideological conflict that they don’t notice how they are being misled and exploited by the forces of greed and privilege.
Those forces have captured government by subverting democracy through perfidious devices such as gerrymandering, unlimited and anonymous campaign financing, voter suppression tactics, and venal, unethical arrangements with lobbying interests.
Those interests are subject to regulation, but are often appointed to do the regulating. They are also allowed to modify or even write legislation to favor them.
This happens because those elected to serve the best interests of all their constituents are persuaded by financial incentives to serve the best interests of their benefactors instead. How do so many elected officials become rich while in office?
Much of American government is corrupted. That must be addressed to keep our constitutional democracy healthy and serving the general welfare — the eternal vigilance thing.
In the new 116th Congress, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives made its first order of business to address the corruption by introducing HR-1, the “For the People Act,” which specifically deals with gerrymandering, voter access, election integrity and security, campaign spending and ethics for all three branches of government.
Most Republicans oppose the bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., won’t even allow the full Senate to vote on it. Now, here is where a reform is sorely needed. Why do we allow one person to prevent the nation’s elected representatives from voting on a piece of legislation?
Publicly, Republicans argue that HR-1 is an unconstitutional violation of states’ rights and of free speech. In private, however, their concern with such reforms — facilitating voting, ending partisan redistricting, eliminating dark money and shady super PACs — would undermine their ability to unfairly win elections.
While America has never been a perfectly egalitarian society, and may never be, it can get closer to that ideal by making government responsive to the many rather than to the few. To do that requires reforms that restore democratic principles.
HR-1 reforms and those proposed by the RepresentUs organization should be demanded and supported by all Americans who believe we are all equal under the law no matter where we sit on the wealth hierarchy.
— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at email@example.com, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.