By Ralph Nader
Democratic Party loyalists are always complaining about the big-money fat cats behind the Republican Party’s candidates and platform. Over the last few election cycles, the Democratic Party has lost most state legislatures, governorships, the US Senate, the US House of Representatives and the White House. Republican control of the Senate is also leading to control of the US Supreme Court. It is time for Democrats to up the ante big time!
Instead of complaining constantly about the Koch brothers’ zillions pouring into the political system, the Democrats need to start asking what their billionaire supporters are willing to do in the era of the authoritarian Trumpsters. Democrats have their fair share of affluent supporters, such as George Soros. Besides their routine campaign contributions, and expressing among themselves a sense of dread over the fate of our democracy, why aren’t the pro-Democratic super-rich harnessing their resources to address the impending crisis they foresee, a crisis all the more likely to be provoked by the power-concentrating Trump regime?
It is not difficult to see what they could be doing. The first step is a strategy session to determine what civic and political resources could lead to the creation of new action institutions and thousands of energetic organizers toiling at the grassroots level in preparation for the 2018 elections.
A few billion dollars astutely distributed to achieve several long-overdue reforms, and replace lawmakers beholden to unsavory corporate interests and rampant militarism with legislators who will serve the people, could readily dispel the depression and discouragement that that is felt by liberal and conservative Americans alike. Policy precedes action, says political writer Bill Curry. You have to have something to fight for before you begin organizing. As I’ve pointed out in my book, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left/Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, many major policy reforms have long enjoyed substantial left/right support, and organizing such consensus could spark an unstoppable political movement. Millions of Americans of all political stripes back such causes as full Medicare for all, living wages, cracking down on corporate crime, eliminating crony capitalism, action on climate change and other critical environmental degradations, protecting the commons, developing robust civic skills in primary and secondary education, rationalizing the tax systems, expanding access to justice, protecting consumers and reforming criminal justice (to name just a few).
The enlightened super-rich citizens who want to make change and civic leaders must come together at the national and community level. Each has the critical assets for one another to get things done. They know of each other but rarely gather to maximize their combined dedication. Financial support linked to know-how can produce action.
Making the civil society stronger by expanding the good work of existing organizations, and starting new ones to tackle unaddressed challenges, is essential. From that heightened level of advocacy can spring a new politics with a fresh perspective and honest candidates for public office.
The progressive super-rich know each other. People like Nick Hanauer in Seattle, a champion for raising the minimum wage, and Michael Moritz in San Francisco, a generous patron of higher education, have shown the benefits of supporting important initiatives. Over 130 super-rich have signed up for the Buffett/Gates pledge to give away at least half their wealth to “good works.” Of the pledgers, there are at least three dozen who grasp the difference between charity and justice and seek the latter both structurally and programmatically.
As for the leading civic action groups from Washington to the state and local level, it is not enough for them to see more money coming in after the November selection by the Electoral College (see www.nationalpopularvote.com). They must reach out and organize small gatherings with wealthy people who recoil at the thought of handing our country to the next generation without trying to reverse course from the downward, unraveling conditions domestically and the nation’s destructive impact abroad. Financial support for civic infrastructure should be generous and ongoing.
The opportunities need not start from scratch. A few weeks ago, dozens of outdoor businesses, such as Patagonia and REI, signed a full-page newspaper ad directed to the Trump regime’s antagonism toward the public lands. The message was very clear: hands off the federal lands and stop your efforts to sell them off to private companies. Taken together, these companies represent billions of dollars in annual sales. They could create a powerful lobbying organization focused on Congress with majority public opinion support back home and stop this sell-off of our common wealth.
There is the group that calls itself Patriotic Millionaires that is a group of high-net worth Americans who are committed to building a more prosperous, stable and inclusive nation. They can maximize their impact and enlarge their ranks by increasing funding of action groups all over the country.
Why all this hasn’t scaled up to momentous proportions of resistance, recovery and reform is more than a failure of imagination or a sign of collective defeatism and despair. It reflects the historical asymmetry between the forces of greed and tyranny which, by definition, organize out of self-interest and the forces of justice and democracy which have to mobilize by choice for the public interest.
This difference in fervor can be overcome by an elevated sense of urgency, now and for posterity. Just reflect on the greatest advances in US history when people organized to beat back and overcome the forces of darkness.
It has never been easier to challenge abuses of power than now, using modern technology and communication, with a pittance of available discretionary wealth on behalf of the great and crucial common good.