Many Americans recognize that the United States is neither a genuine democracy nor a real republic in which elected officials actually represent the people. Instead, the United States is a corporatocracy in which Americans are ruled by a partnership of giant corporations, the extremely wealthy elite, and corporate-collaborator government officials. There are at least three major pieces to the puzzle of transforming corporatocracy tyranny into something closer to democracy. First, it is necessary but not sufficient that Americans be informed about the truths of corporatocracy rule. The good news is that despite the corporate media’s failure to reveal many important truths, polls show that the majority of Americans—either through the independent media or their own common sense—know enough about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Wall Street bailouts, and health insurance rip-offs to oppose corporatocracy policies here.
Second, in addition to awareness of economic and social injustices, it is also necessary to have knowledge of strategies and tactics that oppressed people have historically used to overcome tyranny. Third, a routinely overlooked piece of the puzzle is overcoming the problem of demoralization. There are a great many Americans who have been so worn down by decades of personal and political defeats, financial struggles, social isolation, and daily interaction with impersonal and inhuman institutions that they no longer have the energy for political actions.
Polls Reveal the Myth of U.S. Democracy
Americans, for quite some time, have opposed the U.S. government’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but We the People have zero impact on policy. A March 10-13, 2011 ABC News/Washington Post poll asked, “All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, or not?”; 31 percent said “worth fighting” and 64 percent said “not worth fighting.” When a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll on December 17-19, 2010 asked, “Do you favor or oppose the U.S. war in Afghanistan?,” only 35 percent of Americans favored the war, while 63 percent opposed it. For several years, the majority of Americans have also opposed the Iraq War, typified by a 2010 CBS poll which reported that 6 of 10 Americans view the Iraq War as “a mistake.”
The opposition by the majority of Americans to current U.S. wars has steadily increased for several years. However, if you watched only the corporate media’s coverage of the 2010 election between Democratic and Republican corporate-picked candidates, you might not even know that the United States was involved in two wars—two wars that are not only opposed by the majority of Americans but which are also bankrupting the United States.
How about the 2008 Wall Street bailout? Even when Americans believed the lie that it was only a $700 billion bailout, they opposed it. Their opinion was irrelevant. In September 2008, despite the corporate media’s attempts to terrify Americans into believing that an economic doomsday would occur without the bailout of so-called “too-big-to-fail” corporations, Americans still opposed it. A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll in September 2008, asked, “Do you think the government should use taxpayers’ dollars to rescue ailing private financial firms whose collapse could have adverse effects on the economy and market, or is it not the government’s responsibility to bail out private companies with taxpayers’ dollars?”; 31 percent of Americans said we should “use taxpayers” dollars while 55 percent said it is “not government’s responsibility.” Also in September 2008, both a CBS News/New York Times poll and a USA Today/Gallup poll showed Americans opposed the bailout. This disapproval of the bailout was before most Americans discovered that the Federal Reserve had loaned many trillions of dollars more to financial firms, other giant corporations, and foreign central banks (which, if this had been known, would certainly have upset even more Americans).
What about universal health insurance? Despite the fact that several 2009 polls showed that Americans actually favored a “single-payer” or “Medicare-for-all” health insurance plan, it was not even on the table in the Democrat-Republican 2009–2010 debate over health insurance reform legislation. And polls during this debate showed that an even larger majority of Americans favored the government providing a “public option” to compete with private health insurance plans. But the public option was quickly pushed off the table in the Democratic-Republican debate. A July 2009 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll asked, “Do you favor or oppose having a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare-for-all?” In this Kaiser poll, 58 percent of Americans favored a Medicare-for-all universal plan, and only 38 percent opposed it—and a whopping 77 percent favored “expanding Medicare to cover people between the ages of 55 and 64 who do not have health insurance.” A February 2009 CBS News/New York Times poll reported that 59 percent of Americans said the government should provide national health insurance. And a December 2009 Reuters poll reported that, “Just under 60 percent of those surveyed said they would like a public option as part of any final healthcare reform legislation.”
The Corporatocracy in Control
In the U.S. corporatocracy, as in most modern tyrannies, there are elections, but the reality is that in elections in a corporatocracy, as is the case in elections in all tyrannies, it’s in the interest of the ruling class to maintain the appearance that the people have a say, so more than one candidate is offered. In the U.S. corporatocracy, it’s in the interest of corporations and the wealthy elite that the winning candidate is beholden to them, so they financially support both Democrats and Republicans. It’s in the interest of corporations and the wealthy elite that there are only two viable parties—this cuts down on bribery costs. And it’s in the interest of these two parties that they are the only parties with a chance of winning. In the U.S. corporatocracy, corporations and the wealthy elite directly and indirectly finance candidates, who are then indebted to them. It’s common for these indebted government officials to appoint key decision-making roles to those friendly to corporations, including executives from these corporations. And it’s routine for high-level government officials to be rewarded with high-paying industry positions when they exit government. It’s common and routine for former government officials to be given high-paying lobbying jobs so as to use their relationships with current government officials to ensure that corporate interests will be taken care of.
The integration between giant corporations and the U.S. government has gone beyond revolving doors of employment (exemplified by George W. Bush’s last Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, who had previously been CEO of Goldman Sachs; and Barack Obama’s first chief economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, who in 2008 received $5.2 million from hedge fund D. E. Shaw). Nowadays, the door need not even revolve in the U.S. corporatocracy. For example, when President Obama earlier in 2011 appointed General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt as a key economic advisor, Immelt kept his job as CEO of General Electric (which paid no federal taxes on over $14 billion dollars in profits last year).
The United States is not ruled by a single deranged dictator but by an impersonal corporatocracy. Thus, there is no one tyrant that Americans can first hate and then finally overthrow so as to end senseless wars and economic injustices. Revolutions against Qaddafi-type tyrants require enormous physical courage. In the U.S. corporatocracy, the first step in recovering democracy is the psychological courage to face the humiliation that we Americans have neither a democracy nor a republic, but are in fact ruled by a partnership of giant corporations, the extremely wealthy elite, and corporate-collaborator government officials.
Psychological and Cultural Building Blocks
Activists routinely become frustrated when truths about lies, victimization, and oppression don’t set people free to take action. But as a clinical psychologist who has worked with abused people for more than 25 years, it does not surprise me to see that when we as individuals or a society eat crap for too long, we become psychologically too weak to take action.
Other observers of subjugated societies have recognized this phenomenon of subjugation resulting in demoralization and fatalism. Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Ignacio Martin-Baró, the El Salvadoran social psychologist and popularizer of “liberation psychology,” understood this psychological phenomenon. So too did Bob Marley, the poet laureate of oppressed people around the world. Many Americans are embarrassed to accept that we, too, after years of domestic corporatocracy subjugation, have developed what Marley called “mental slavery.” But unless we acknowledge that reality, we won’t begin to heal from what I call “battered people’s syndrome” and “corporatocracy abuse.” A vitally important piece of the solution is overcoming the problem of demoralization and fatalism and creating the “energy to do battle.”
There exist solid strategies and time-tested tactics that people have long used to battle the elite. However, these strategies and tactics by themselves are not sufficient. For large-scale democratic movements to have enough energy to get off the ground, certain psychological and cultural building blocks are required.
Historian Lawrence Goodwyn has studied democratic movements and written extensively about the Populist Movement in the United States that occurred during the end of the 19th century, what he calls “the largest democratic mass movement in American history.” Goodwyn concludes that democratic movements are initiated by people who are not resigned to the status quo or intimidated by established powers, and who have not allowed themselves to be “culturally organized to conform to established hierarchical forms.” Goodwyn writes in The Populist Moment: “Democratic movements are initiated by people who have individually managed to attain a high level of personal political self-respect…. In psychological terms, its appearance reflects the development within the movement of a new kind of collective self-confidence. ‘Individual self-respect’ and ‘collective self-confidence’ constitute, then, the cultural building blocks of mass democratic politics.”
Without individual self-respect, people do not believe that they are worthy of power or capable of utilizing power wisely, and they accept as their role being a subject of power. Without collective self-confidence, people do not believe they can succeed in wresting power away from their rulers. There are many battlefields—from schools to the workplace—on which self-respect can be either won or lost and it is in the interest of the elite to make sure that their opponents lose sight of these multiple battlefields. If we don’t recognize a battlefield, we can lose an opportunity to create those cultural and psychological building blocks necessary for democracy.
People seeking democracy, in addition to individual self-respect, must also have collective self-confidence—the belief that they can succeed as a group—if their goal is to be achieved and sustained. They must have faith that, though imperfect in their decision making, they are capable of creating a freer and more just society than one organized and controlled by the elite. Thus, in this battle against the corporatocracy, human relationships are vitally important. It is in the interest of the elite to keep people divided and distrusting one another. It is in the interest of people working toward democracy to build respectful and cooperative human relationships across all levels of society.
The Energy to Do Battle
Whether one’s abuser is a spouse or the corporatocracy, there are parallels when it comes to how one can maintain enough strength to be able to free oneself when the opportunity presents itself—and then heal and attain even greater strength. This difficult process requires:
Honesty that one is in an abusive relationship
Self-forgiveness that one is in an abusive relationship
A sense of humor about one’s predicament
The good luck of support, and the wisdom to utilize this good luck
It is a waste of our precious energy to beat ourselves up for having succumbed to corporatocracy abuse. Our energy is better spent redefining ourselves as human beings who have beliefs and values that define us more than our fears and greed (which the corporatocracy exploits to control us). We need to redefine ourselves as worthy of respect and capable of effecting change. And then we can use our energy to provide respect and create confidence in others, which will produce even more energy for ourselves. This is part of “liberation psychology,” in which critically thinking people can regain morale, discover the various ways people are energized, learn how to combat social isolation and build community, and understand how we can forge alliances among anti-authoritarians.
Critical to healing from “battered people’s syndrome” and “corporatocracy abuse” and gaining strength is a liberation from one’s fatalism, which has become an internal oppression. External oppression, left unchallenged, results ultimately in fatalism, which makes it less likely one will challenge oppression. One way of extricating from this fatalistic vicious cycle is through what Freire, Martin-Baró, and others have called conscientizacao or “critical consciousness.” With critical consciousness, an individual can identify both external oppression and self-imposed internal oppression—and free oneself from self-imposed powerlessness. Critical consciousness cannot be learned in a top-down manner. It is essentially a self-education process among equals. Liberation from fatalism and powerlessness is a process in which participants are not mere objects of instruction or of treatment. Instead of being acted upon, they are taking actions, learning, and then taking even more powerful actions.
Recent History and Realistic Hope
The lesson from history is that tyrannical and dehumanizing institutions are often more fragile than they appear, and with time, luck, morale, and the people’s ability to seize the moment, damn near anything is possible. We never really know until it happens whether or not we are living in that time when historical variables are creating opportunities for seemingly impossible change.
Until shortly before it occurred, the collapse of the Soviet empire seemed an impossibility to most Americans, who saw only mass resignation within the Soviet Union and its sphere of control. But the shipyard workers in Gdansk, Poland did not see their Soviet and Communist Party rulers as the all-powerful forces that Americans did. And so Polish workers’ Solidarity, by simply refusing to go away, provided a strong dose of morale across Eastern Europe at the same time other historical events weakened the Soviet empire.
Arrogance by oppressive authorities makes them miscalculate the fear and greed variables, important in keeping people passive. In the case of Hosni Mubarak, his greed and arrogance resulted in him not spreading enough of his loot around with enough thugs, so not enough of them cared about his fall from power. Once Egyptians lost fear and took action, they found even more courage. Arrogance of oppressive forces makes them a lot more fragile than they appear.
And in the United States, when it appeared to the elite that American workers and their supporters had become completely pacified, once again, arrogance by corporate-collaborator government officials resulted in miscalculation. In Wisconsin, for example, public employees had actually agreed to eat considerable crap, accepting a major increase in how much they would pay toward their pensions and healthcare benefits. But even those major concessions were not good enough for Wisconsin’s governor, who continued to demand the elimination of collective bargaining in key areas. Eliminating collective bargaining rights on health insurance, pension, and work safety is a blatant attempt to completely crush a union. By this “union death threat,” workers and union leaders were put in a position of having virtually nothing left to lose in terms of retaining a meaningful union. And when people feel they have nothing left to lose and let go of their fear, watch out.