Why America can’t have “nice things”

Some time back a woman living in Sweden, “Caroline” @SweResistance on Twitter, posted a thread that said: “I live in Sweden. We have social security, affordable health care, strict gun laws, 5 weeks paid annual leave, 1 year maternity leave, etc.  And no, we’re not a communist country, and not even strictly socialistic but socio-democratic. And our freedom is not inhibited.

“For example, health care can cost a maximum of around $130 per year for visits to health care centrals etc., hospital nights costs $12 per night with a $175 roof per month. Prescription drugs have a yearly roof of $250.”

Sweden is a democratic republic that practices an economic system often referred to as “democratic socialism” or “social democracy.”  Although Karl Marx popularized the word “socialism” in 1848 to describe his proposed utopian economic/political system, outside of the realm of Marxists and right-wing cranks, Marx’s system is usually today referred to as “communism” and “socialist” is the modern tag used to describe countries like Sweden.

As such, it’s describing an economic system made possible by the political system of democracy.  Swedes have what they have because the majority of their population has repeatedly voted for politicians who promised to put democratic socialism into place.

And it’s not just Sweden. Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland have remarkably similar systems in place, and the rest of the European Union isn’t far behind.

Nobody in any of those countries, including the entire EU, will ever, for example, go bankrupt because of medical debt, something that happens to over a million American families every single year.

Nobody who has the ability and wants to go to college or trade school is turned down and, outside of a few private universities, education is not just free or very cheap in most all of Europe but many countries pay a subsidy or monthly stipend to students to cover the cost of rent, food and books.

Swedes and the residents of most of the rest of Europe have voted for democratic socialism because their political system is largely open, voting is not restricted, and wealthy interests find it much harder to corrupt politicians than here in the US.

As the Nordic Council of Ministers notes on their website about, for example, Sweden: “Everyone who is entitled to vote and who is registered in the Population Register in Sweden is automatically included on the electoral roll (röstlängden) and receives a voter card by post.”

This is true of all the Nordic countries and most of the rest of Europe: if you’re a citizen you’re automatically enrolled to vote when you turn 18 and voting is super-easy whether it’s done at a polling place or by mail.

Here in America, the majority of people would very much like an economic system like Europeans have, particularly the Scandinavians.

By a 66% to 30% ratio, all Americans told CBS pollsters recently that they’d like a “Government health insurance program for all.”

A recent Harris poll asked, “Do you support a proposal that would make public colleges, universities and trade schools free for all and cancel all student debt?” Americans said “Yes” by a 58% to 42% margin.

Europeans enjoy higher wages and radically less income and wealth inequality than Americans for two main reasons:

First, workers in those countries have unionization rates that sometimes approach 90% and most also maintain high minimum wages.

Second, taxes in Europe in general, and Scandinavia in particular, are often above 50% on the morbidly rich and many countries have an added annual wealth tax on the billions those same people have accumulated.

We’d like that here, too.

When the Gallup polling organization asked Americans if they’d like to join a union, six out of ten said, “Yes.”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll last year found that fully 64% of all Americans agreed with the statement: “The very rich should contribute an extra share of their total wealth each year to support public programs.”

So, if the majority of Americans want Scandinavian/European healthcare, schools, unions, wages and taxes-on-the-rich, why don’t we have these things?

Why, instead, do we have the highest childhood and maternal death rates in the developed world, the lowest taxes on the very rich, $1.5 trillion in student debt that’s collapsed an entire generation’s hopes and dreams, and Jeff Bezos shooting himself into outer space instead of unionizing his workers or paying his damn taxes?

The answer is actually pretty straightforward: “Conservative” billionaires and the Supreme Court they created.

Ever since Lewis Powell wrote his 1971 Memo on how the morbidly rich could seize total political and cultural control of America—and Richard Nixon put him on the Supreme Court the following year—right-wing billionaires have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get their people on the Supreme Court, elect “conservatives” to Congress and in state legislatures, and influence public opinion.

In 1976, Powell’s Supreme Court in Buckley v Valero ruled that when billionaires pour so much money down the throats of individual politicians that they essentially own them, that’s not bribery or corruption as we’d thought of it since 1776—instead, it’s First Amendment-protected “free speech.” Two years later, in First National Bank v Bellotti 1978, the court ruled the same was true of corporations, and doubled down on both decisions in 2010 with Citizens United.

By the Reagan Revolution of 1980, the GOP had been entirely subsumed by the money of the morbidly rich and big corporations, and in the 1990s quite a few elected Democrats joined their ranks (and continue to support them by opposing ending the filibuster, for example).

As President Jimmy Carter told me of this post-1980 world he watched come into being: “[These Supreme Court decisions] violate the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.”

“Conservative,” though, doesn’t just describe people who want to use their riches to own politicians who will, in turn, keep their taxes low by depriving the American people of the “nice things” we’d mostly all like to have.  It also describes racist white supremacists both among the conservative billionaire class and the Republican base.

It was “conservatives” who fought against the abolition of slavery prior to the Civil War, and who fought every attempt at Reconstruction or Civil Rights legislation from 1865 to today.  They did so in the name of “conservative principles,” which white supremacists have fought to preserve since the founding of our republic.

And one of the main ways they maintain their political power is by using a system unique to America, started after the failure of Reconstruction in 1872, of “selectively registering” voters, “purging voter lists,” and putting up barriers to reduce voting by anybody who’s not white.

To maintain white supremacy post-1872, most states developed elaborate systems requiring “undesirable” people to jump through multiple hoops to register to vote, to vote, and even to ensure their votes are counted and they can stay on the voter rolls. This Jim Crow vestige of Confederate ideology now pollutes our ability to vote in most of our states.

No European country has anything that even vaguely resembles this byzantine labyrinth people must navigate to become eligible to vote and have their vote counted.

While Europeans take voting for granted, we now have police intervening in electionsprivatized corporate voting systems, and a massive voter suppression campaign to prevent elderly, young, and non-white Americans from being able to vote.

Meanwhile, as Lee Fang reported, Republican politicians and the billionaires who own them are now dropping any pretense at all to caring about the fate and future of our country’s fiscal health, so long as they get their tax cuts now.

Conservative billionaires, who know if we can all vote we’ll soon raise their taxes and give ourselves healthcare, education and good pay, are funding voter suppression efforts in every state in the union as well as challenging voting rights at the Supreme Court.

This is also why they fund right-wing TV & radio networks and “news” websites to freak out white people about “Black Lives Matter and Antifa” so the white majority in America will be so terrified of Black and Brown people they’ll keep putting corporate- and billionaire-shills into office.

The right-wing justices who conservative billionaires paid tens of millions in “dark money” to put on the Supreme Court through groups like the Federalist Society and the Judicial Crisis Network ruled just last week that it should be easier for billionaires to influence both politicians and elections with secret “dark” money.

Most Democrats in Congress, impeded both by Republicans and a few of their own members who’ve sold out to these dark-money interests, are trying to break the stranglehold conservative billionaires have on American politics through their dark money.

The For The People Act takes a good first step in this direction, although reshaping the Supreme Court itself is probably going to ultimately be necessary to break dark money’s stranglehold on our political system.

If we ever want to have the “nice things” enjoyed by average Scandinavians and Europeans, it’s going to take one huge lift to break the filibuster and get legislation like the For The People Act into law.

Modern democracy began in 1789 in America, but “conservatives” have fought a truly multiracial democracy every step of the way, particularly as low-wage workers and racial minorities have struggled to gain equal representation and equal rights.

It’s a tragic commentary that countries like Sweden that initially emulated us have now become more “free” than we have…just because right-wing billionaires here have so successfully mobilized racism as a political strategy.

Americans deserve better, and the only thing standing in the way is a group of billionaires who’d rather shoot themselves into outer space than let unions into their workplaces or pay reasonable taxes…and can pay politicians and stack our courts with racist judges to keep it that way.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of The Hidden History of American Oligarchy and more than 30 other books in print. He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute and his writings are archived at hartmannreport.com.