by C. A. Matthews
If you’ve ever wondered what people were talking about when they say something like, “The US is essentially an oligarchy,” then welcome to the club. All those “ten dollar words” some insist upon using can be downright confusing and make one feel lost in the conversation. Never fear! The following brief explanations and illustrations will have you using those sophisticated-sounding, ten dollar words like a pro in no time.
A public incident this past week brought up a excellent example of this word. Everyone on my Twitter feed couldn’t get enough of Mitch McConnell’s second big blank-out moment at a press conference.
According to Wikipedia: “A gerontocracy is a form of oligarchical rule in which an entity is ruled by leaders who are significantly older than most of the adult population. In many political structures, power within the ruling class accumulates with age, making the oldest individuals the holders of the most power.”
Whenever you hear the US being called a gerontocracy, realize that it is people like McConnell, Diane Feinstein, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden that make it so. Our Supreme Court justices are also good examples of a gerontocracy, as they are able to hold their positions of power until they keel over, such as in the case of Justice Ruth Ginsburg.
The downside of life in a gerontocracy has nothing to do with ageism as much as it has to do with a concentration of power stagnating in the hands of a few elderly individuals who won’t retire timely and pass their positions of control onto others. Ideas of how to run a country can become very stale and, frankly, old-fashioned and out-of-touch with current reality when persons in their 80s or 90s refuse to step down. If we allowed young’uns in their 30s, 40s and 50s to step up and try newer, more timely ideas, a lot of society's problems could be cured.
In other words, being labeled a gerontocracy isn’t exactly a compliment for any nation. It means you’re stuck in your ways for the worse, not for the better. And all because of the next word on our list—
I must have heard this word a thousand times, thinking I understood exactly what it meant, before I looked it up in a dictionary and realizing that I didn’t.
In an oligarchy, power rests with a small number of people. Wikipedia states that “These people may or may not be distinguished by one or several characteristics, such as nobility, fame, wealth, education, or corporate, religious, political, or military control.”
Whenever I hear someone say or write, “The government of the US is an oligarchy,” I have to stop and think hard about what they’re saying. It doesn’t make sense at first. After all, we aren’t being ruled by a military junta or a monarchy. What small group of people could they mean when they accuse the US of being ruled by “oligarchs” or actually being an oligarchy?
Look at the definition above for gerontocracy and you’ll see one such small number of people, the elderly, in power. Consider some of their other defining characteristics in this group… Could it be they’re all quite wealthy? Yes, they most certainly are. Does this small group of wealthy, older persons exercise political power or run huge multinational corporations where they can exercise power over the lives of billions of others? Yes, they do.
To easily gain and maintain positions of power and control in American society, one can’t be dirt poor or without the connections that can only be gained by attending elite schools such as Harvard and Yale. If you do a little research, you’ll understand that those in the highest positions of power in the US government and Big Business belong to a very small club, and you’re probably not a member of it—unless your mommy and daddy left you a sizable fortune and hooked you up with other powerful people in their networks.
Sorry to say, but even if a person of relatively meager means makes it big in American politics (or business), by the time they retire from office or their corporate position (if they ever do), their net worth will have been multiplied by many factors of ten. Web sites such as Open Secrets can show you just how much our elected officials are taking from corporate lobbyists for passing favorable legislation and how much their private bank accounts have grown.
A recent example of a president who went from "rags to riches" is Barack Obama. When Obama entered the White House, his family's net worth made them barely millionaires at $1.3 million. When he left office eight years later, his net worth had skyrocketed to $70 million. American presidents only make $400,000 per year. Looking at his increased net worth, do you really think Obama wasn’t influenced by small group of persons who possessed great wealth and corporate power who "gifted" him for his hard work for them? Looking at the number of bombs dropped during his administration and his nickname of “O-bomber,” can you understand how Obama was influenced by the military-industrial complex and the power of these corporations while in office?
That’s what is meant whenever the US is labeled an oligarchy. The small number of wealthy, powerful people (the oligarchs or billionaires) who ultimately determine political policies don’t necessarily have to be elected to office—they just have to “own” (bribe) the people they do allow to be elected to office. How hard is it to resist promised millions of dollars just to act as the oligarchs’ puppet?
The answer is I don’t think any politician really can resist that temptation. They just take the money and do as their corporate owners tell them to and smile as they lie to their constituents. It’s easier that way.
Sometimes you’ll hear the word plutocracy used instead of oligarchy when it comes to labeling what sort of government the US has. It is a more specific term, and it has nothing to do with the former ninth planet, Mickey Mouse’s dog, or the Roman god of the underworld.
The Wikipedia definition simply states that, “A plutocracy or plutarchy is a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth or income.”
As previously mentioned, the concentration of power in the US is in the hands of mostly older (mostly white male) individuals who are wealthy and act as puppets of even wealthier oligarchs. These oligarchs/billionaires usually own or run huge multinational corporations. They like having their friends in government on their side, especially when it comes to them being able to pollute land, sea, and air freely and engage in other morally ambiguous activities. Consider how the US government allowed the billionaire Sackler family of Purdue Pharmaceuticals to claim their opioid OxyContin wasn't addictive, leading to thousands of overdoses and deaths of ordinary Americans. The Sacklers haven't spent one hour in jail to this day.
So, one could say that the US government has elements of a gerontocracy, an oligarchy, and is a plutocracy as well. Rich, older (generally white and male) persons tend to hold the most positions of power, in both elected positions in government and appointed positions in corporations. Which leads us to our next term—
“Corporatocracy is an economic, political and judicial system controlled by business corporations or corporate interests. The concept has been used in explanations of bank bailouts, excessive pay for CEOs, as well as complaints such as the exploitation of national treasuries, people, and natural resources.” —Wikipedia
This makes perfect sense. The small number of powerful and wealthy individuals who run things in the US are controlled by business corporations and corporate interests. The Open Secrets web site can fill you in on the specifics. It’s no secret that since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that “money is speech” and “corporations are people.”
At the end of the day, we ordinary people have to face facts: We don’t have enough money to matter to the politicians. All the politicians do what they’re told by those who hand them suitcases stuffed to the gunnels with lobbyist cash. (Learn more at the Move to Amend web site.)
The famous and often quoted Princeton University Study shows this to be true. Average citizens’ appeals are routinely ignored. Corporations and corporate interests are routinely catered to.
Repeat after me: “Money is speech. Corporations are people.” Very, very important people indeed.
Which leads us to our next term that explains how this has come about so completely in a mere blink of an eye.
“A kakistocracy is a government run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens.” —Wikipedia
Do you know any “worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens” who have been installed into high office? Neoliberals will yell, “Orange Man bad!” or Donald Trump. Neocons will yell, “Biden Crime Family!” and not be far off the mark, as more details regarding the payments made by the Ukrainian corporation Burisma Energy to Hunter Biden are revealed in court.
When it comes down to it, there’s nothing new or special about the lack of morality with either Trump or Biden. Unscrupulous people have been elected or appointed to office for over two centuries. Pick up a history book and read about the illegal dealings going on in the cabinets of presidents Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Warren G. Harding, and Ronald Reagan. Read the recent headlines about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni taking luxury vacations, property, and other payments from billionaires. Taking political office, either elected or appointed, is rightfully seen as one big con-job by many Americans.
We almost expect our politicians to be crooks in the US. Look at Richard Nixon. He’s not seen as being unworthy of high office in 2023 as much as he was back in 1974 when he resigned after the Watergate Scandal broke. Nixon was just stupid enough to get caught is how most see him today. Most politicos have better lawyers nowadays and will get off without even a jail term.
If you think it’s odd that the corporate oligarchs, who choose their politician-puppets for their corporations’ benefit, would employ criminals and morally weak individuals to do their bidding, think again. Who else would put the billionaires’ welfare above that of the ordinary citizens’?
A person with a well-developed sense of right and wrong wouldn’t let ordinary Americans with no health care suffer and die like our current lot of politician-puppets do in order to please their Big Pharma donors. A person with a well-developed sense of right and wrong wouldn’t let people sleep in the streets, homeless, when there are more empty houses and apartments currently than there are homeless individuals. A person with a well-developed sense of right and wrong wouldn’t just ignore what the US military-industrial complex is doing around the world with their grabbing of natural resources and then installing “friendly regimes” that will continue to “do business” with American corporations.
A person with a well-developed sense of right and wrong probably wouldn’t be allowed to live long or serve if they actually did get elected to the presidency. The oligarchs/billionaires would make doubly sure of that. This makes our last term that much more poignant.
“Democracy is a system of government in which power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or through freely elected representatives.” —Britannica
If the US is an oligarchy, a gerontocracy, a plutocracy and a kakistocracy, can it be a democracy at the same time? I would say no. Is the power actually “vested in the people” or is it vested in the oligarchs and their corporate interests? Do we “freely elect representatives” if candidates representing alternative viewpoints from alternative parties (third parties) are regularly railroaded right off the ballot by the establishment party/parties that take billions of dollars from corporate donors to do their bidding?
While living in an actual democracy might be a nice dream to have, it’s not the political reality of the twenty-first century United States of America. And that’s why we have to learn what all these “ten dollar words” mean so we can have meaningful conversations with others on how to go about undoing all the harms this small group of mostly aging, white male oligarchs have done to our country. Because to do nothing and to pretend we’re living in a democracy is essentially to give up and give in to the billionaires/oligarchs and their environmental and societal destructive agenda.
Give up? I don’t know about you, but them’s fighting words. I say, "Power to the people—not the corporations!" (And the billionaires and their lackeys don't count as "people," either.)
Related Articles and Interesting Links
Mitch McConnell’s Flash of Humanity https://consortiumnews.com/2023/09/01/caitlin-johnstone-mitch-mcconnells-flash-of-humanity/
Don't Ignore Politics, Just Ignore The Fake Kind
Making a Killing: The US Opioid Epidemic https://www.commondreams.org/views/2022/01/03/making-killing-us-opioid-epidemic
Presidents' Net Worth, Before and After Taking Office https://blog.cheapism.com/what-presidents-are-worth
The Number of Bombs Dropped by the US in Each of the Last 15 Years https://247wallst.com/special-report/2022/03/05/the-number-of-weapons-the-us-released-every-year-since-2007/2/
Move to Amend https://www.movetoamend.org/amendment
Study: Congress Literally Doesn't Care What You Think https://act.represent.us/sign/problempoll-fba/
Open Secrets https://www.opensecrets.org
New Filings Reveal More Luxury Trips and Opaque Payments to Clarence Thomas' Wife, Ginni https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2023/09/new-filings-reveal-more-luxury-trips-and-opaque-payments-to-clarence-thomas-wife-ginni/
Sitting on the Dock at the Hague https://bernie2016.blogspot.com/2022/03/sitting-in-dock-at-hague.html
GoFundMe Go To Hell https://www.racket.news/p/gofundme-go-to-hell
Opposing The Empire Means Widening Our Circles Of Compassion
Tracking Orwellian Change: New Meanings of "Deep State" and "Working Class" https://www.racket.news/p/tracking-orwellian-change-new-meanings
Living on a War Planet https://scheerpost.com/2023/08/30/living-on-a-war-planet/
US Victim of Own Propaganda in Ukraine War
Another Regime in ‘French Africa’ Is Toppled https://consortiumnews.com/2023/08/30/another-regime-in-french-west-africa-is-toppled/
Shocked By Niger Coup, Victoria Nuland Appeared ‘Desperate’ During Africa Tour https://scheerpost.com/2023/08/30/shocked-by-niger-coup-victoria-nuland-appeared-desperate-during-africa-tour/
UN Strengthens Children’s Rights To Fight Climate Change In Court https://popularresistance.org/un-strengthens-childrens-rights-to-fight-climate-change-in-court/
After Wildfires, Native Hawaiian Farmers Resist Attempt To Shift Blame https://popularresistance.org/after-devastating-wildfires-native-hawaiian-farmers-resist-attempt-to-shift-blame/
Colonialism And Capitalism Are Decimating Our Forests
Wave of Actions to End Fossil Fuels https://www.acttoendfossilfuels.org
California Becomes Largest Economy to Back Fossil Fuel Nonproliferation Treaty
The Climate Crisis Will End When Capitalism Ends https://popularresistance.org/the-climate-crisis-will-end-when-capitalism-ends/
We Still Have a Dream https://scheerpost.com/2023/09/03/we-still-have-a-dream/
UK May Block Assange’s Attendance at Appeal to European Court of Human Rights https://truthout.org/articles/uk-may-block-assanges-attendance-at-appeal-to-european-court-of-human-rights/
Seen on the formerly known as Twitter:
What the hell is this? Why are people like Biden, Feinstein and Mitch McConnell still in positions of power and leadership roles when they are literally malfunctioning? What is this? Why are these people making decisions about our future when they're mental unfit? This is a mess! https://t.co/GpD7Ar61c3— ✊🏾🇱🇷MisFitBlackGirl💁🏿♀️LIB_QN32☭ (@LibQn32) August 31, 2023