Americans are Fed Up with Both Corporate & Political Grift: Can the Democrats & Biden Reverse that Trend?

Can the anti-grift Democrats pick up enough energy & votes to save America from a total descent into Trump’s GOP-corporate-funded Hungary-style grift?

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We’ve reached “maximum grift” in America, both in business and politics. We’re on the edge of a tipping point.

When Louise and I moved to Washington, DC we bought a Chris Craft Constellation 46-foot motorboat to live aboard (in the same marina where Joe Manchin keeps his much, much larger yacht) for the following seven years. It was built in 1986 and all the appliances were original and still worked, including the washer and dryer, stove, and refrigerator.

Try buying appliances today that will last 35 years: they don’t exist. Since we’ve moved back to Portland, we’ve gone through four toasters in the past five years, although one of my brothers still has my mom’s from the 1950s. And don’t get me started on dishwashers.

Largely thanks to Ronald Reagan’s suspension of enforcement of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and other similar legislation, the entire American economy has become one giant 40-year-long grift. 

Every company, it seems, is trying to hustle us. Pretending they care about customer service or making/selling quality products as a corporate mission statement has become a rude joke. It’s all a grift.

So why should it surprise us that our post-Reagan politics have also been dominated by grifters for 40 years?

As I documented in gruesome detail in The Hidden History of Monopolies: How Big Business Destroyed the American Dream, when Reagan and conservatives on the Supreme Court adopted Robert Bork’s idea that monopolies were a sign of economic success rather than a crisis, everything has gotten more consolidated and, thus, more expensive.

Cell phone service that costs $15 a month in France or $12 a month in Australia bills out at an average of $61.85 per month in the United States. High-speed broadband that’s a bit over $31 a month in France or $36 in Germany (for higher speeds and better reliability than almost anywhere in the United States) averages nearly $70 per month in the US.

Similar metrics are found with pharmaceuticals, airfares, health insurance and medical costs, among dozens of other product and service categories. They’re all grifting us, and getting rich doing it.

The average American family pays around $5,000 a year more for the general necessities of life than the average European, Japanese or Australian family. And things are steadily getting worse as monopolistic corporations and cartels tighten their grip on every American industry from banking to telecom to energy and food.

It’s all a grift, making stockholders and executives rich while impoverishing working people.

We pay more for pretty much everything and, as a result (along with stagnant wages for 40 years from Reagan’s War On Unions) more than half of America is stuck in something close to (if not deep within) a type of debt-driven poverty from which escape is nearly impossible. 

Meanwhile, conservatives on the Supreme Court told us that those same rip-off corporations are “persons with constitutional rights” and their “money is First Amendment-protected free speech.”

Thus, businesses and billionaires can now buy and sell politicians as easily as they buy and sell companies. Five conservatives on the Court nailed down this new grift in 2010, over the loud and frankly shocking objections and dissents of their colleagues, with their Citizens United decision.

So now corporations are people, and when they want to talk to politicians or voters they do it with their money. It’s a whole new grift.

But when corporations kill people — like PG&E did when they were convicted of burning 84 people to death in 2018 and are now facing charges of murdering 4 more people last year — they don’t get the death penalty or even have to send their decision-making executives to prison.  They just reduce slightly the payouts to their stockholders to cover the fines so they can keep on making money and, from time to time, killing people.

And we just accept these grifts.  

Few California politicians dare stand up to PG&E any more than national politicians are willing to stand up to any other corporation: the resources of even middle-sized national and transnational corporations are more than adequate to destroy — or put and keep in office — any politician from the Town Clerk to the United States Senate. Just ask Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema.

A recent column in The Washington Post asked the question: “Why is Washington so dysfunctional?”  The author interviewed two former members of Congress (a Democrat and a Republican) and a reporter whose beat is Congress.  Not a single one identified the obvious and simple answer to the question: the giant grift driven by money in politics, adopted by literally every Republican in Congress and more than a handful of Democrats, courtesy of the Supreme Court.

It’s as if big-money grifting in politics has become so normalized since Reagan that it just doesn’t occur to people inside the beltway that it’s at the core of our problems.

This is not complicated and voters are figuring it out. 

It’s why in Joe Manchin’s West Virginia, Bernie Sanders carried all 55 counties in the 2016 primary and almost beat the unbeatable Clinton machine nationally, with the entire weight of the institutional Democratic Party behind it.

It’s why Bernie and Elizabeth Warren gave Joe Biden a run for his money in 2020. 

It’s why a sizeable portion of Bernie’s 2016 primary voters pulled the lever for Trump once Sanders was off the ballot, including the half-dozen or so active-duty military folks I knew in DC who voted the same way as over 12 percent of Sanders’ primary voters who later went for Trump in the general election. 

Both Sanders, Warren and Trump ran on anti-grifting platforms. Although Trump’s “drain the swamp” rhetoric was a lie, people were so desperate for a politician who wasn’t in somebody else’s pocket that they suspended their disbelief and voted for him.  

Americans are fed up with both the corporate grift and the political grift. 

Not knowing what else to do, many are rebelling “against the system” they know is so corrupt, and that rebellion is showing up in all sorts of weird ways from Covid denialism to violent political polarization.

Sensing the rebellion in the air, the slick front-men and -women of rightwing media and the GOP offer white voters a whole new grift by pointing them to an easy villain: Critical Race Theory and dark-skinned immigrants.  

Corrupt Democrats are just slightly more sophisticated: when Oregon Democratic Congressman Kurt Schrader voted to block Medicare from negotiating prescription drug prices a few weeks ago, he said he did so because he had a better way to accomplish the same thing.  Increasingly, his own voters aren’t buying his grift.  Any more than Democrats in Arizona think Kyrsten Sinema is “doing the people’s work.”

There’s a definite movement in American politics to reject the Supreme Court-facilitated grift that’s handed our political system over to the same billionaire grifters who got conservatives on that Court via legal grifting groups like the Federalist Society. 

I remember doing a fundraising event more than a decade ago for the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the only group of members of Congress who generally refuse to participate in the grift or take corporate PAC money. It was a small affair with a half-dozen politicians (including its then-chair, Rep. Raúl Grijalva) and around 100 activists. 

Today, because Americans are waking up to and rejecting widespread DC corporate-funded grifts with names like “Problem Solvers” and “No Labels,” the Progressive Caucus has grown into one of the largest and most vibrant caucuses in DC.

The Republican Party, meanwhile, has embraced a Trumpian grift Viktor Orbán pioneered in Hungary with his crony neofascism (CPAC has said they’ll hold next year’s convention in Budapest).

In Hungary, virtually all the media and all major industries and businesses are now owned by Orbán’s buddies, the courts are stacked with his loyalists, and dissent is crushed: I laid it out in detail last month here.

Perhaps because of their embrace of Orbán’s grift — or maybe because Americans are repelled by open racism and anti-American attacks on our Capitol and our government — the GOP is shrinking in membership.

Meanwhile, outside of a small handful of outliers, Democrats are moving back to their FDR/LBJ social democracy roots with surprising speed.

All but a tiny handful of grifter Democrats, for example, support President Biden’s Build Back Better reconciliation package, which will help out American families and begin the challenging process of stopping climate change.

The question is whether the Democratic Party’s anti-grift trend-line can pick up enough energy and votes over the next three years to strengthen their majority in the House and Senate to save America from a total descent into Trump’s GOP-corporate-funded Hungary-style grift. 

And that depends on us.

Make sure everybody you know is registered to vote, and check your own registration to make sure a Republican Secretary of State hasn’t purged you from the rolls (now that, in the 2018 Ohio case, five conservatives on the Supreme Court legalized such purges).  

This may, quite literally, be our last chance to rip the grift out of our republic. And if we succeed, we can elect politicians who will do the people’s business, and get corporations back to making products that last while restoring the ideal of customer service.

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