Cynics have suggested that America is run by the Golden Rule, namely that he who has the gold makes the rules. Nevertheless, one doesn’t have to be a cynic to believe that this is true to a large extent. If human history shows anything, it shows that elites rule societies, and that commonly elites wield their clout through concentrated wealth.
This is a reality which doesn’t sit well with general American opinion. Our national mythology holds that all of us in this democratic republic would have more or less equal clout in deciding the laws and rules of our society. After all, didn’t one of our leading founders, Thomas Jefferson, declare that all men are created equal?
The problem with this viewpoint is that it is indeed mythology. In point of fact, Jefferson only said that we are equal in terms of our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But as far as the right and capacity to rule, he believed that there was a “natural aristocracy” among men, which made some more fit than others to rule.
This is indeed hard to deny, for common experience shows that some people simply seem to have more innate ability than others. And commonly this means that they will achieve social, political, and economic dominance. In point of fact, our American Founders were a social and monetary elite.
Nevertheless, our national mythology isn’t all myth. In fact it conveys an essential core of truth, proven through our history. While commoners, one on one, can never attain the power of elites, they can still stand up for their basic rights and dignity and not suffer total subservience to their rulers.
Following the Civil War, the economic elites launched an unprecedented drive for power. Then as now, they promoted mass immigration to suppress wages, which helped to weaken the political and economic influence of average Americans. At the same time the elites used their growing wealth to buy the political system. But citizens fought back through the populist and labor movements. They scored significant gains, in part because at least some of the elites then shared with them a common identity as fellow citizens.
A kind of stand-off compromise ensued until around 1970. The elites still ruled, but the average American had a stake in society, a decent piece of the economic pie, and some political influence.
Sadly, during the past forty years or so, elites have renewed their drive for dominance. Consequently, the nation has suffered erosion of the middle class, an increasing wage gap, and a growing sense among Americans that their votes really don’t change anything. One policy, which seems to unite America’s rulers, Republican and Democrat, is unfettered mass immigration, legal and illegal.
In 2002, the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations conducted a national poll to determine views on immigration among elites and average Americans. It found that 60 percent of the general public viewed the level of immigration as a “critical threat to the vital interests of the United States.” Only 14 percent of those in elite positions agreed, a gap of 46 percentage points.1
And during the past few decades, what the wealthy and well-connected have wanted on immigration and other issues, they have usually gotten. As The New York Times reported, “A recent survey by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page examining 30 years of opinion surveys and policy decisions by the federal government found that, ‘When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. The average voter has little influence on government, the study found, but the well-to-do hold tremendous sway.”2
To illustrate the power of big money on immigration, consider that a dozen multi-billionaires are ardently promoting their versions of immigration “reform,” including amnesty for 12 million illegal aliens, a significant increase in legal immigration—already at the highest sustained level in our history, and more guest workers to take American jobs, even as millions of Americans struggle to find work.
These individuals, and their activities and ties, are the subject of this issue of Social Contract. These men are diverse in background, motivation, and personal character. Nevertheless, there are some common traits that at least several or more of them share. Except for Carlos Slim, a Mexican, all are American citizens. But another commonality, at least for a couple (and maybe another), is that their citizenship is perhaps more in name than anything else.
The first two, George Soros and Sheldon Adelson, distinguish themselves as leaders among the billionaires in their nominal citizenship. Soros, an immigrant and naturalized citizen, seems to have little real attachment to his adopted country, or one might say to countries period. Most his of prodigious work and funding have gone to further his vision of a global society where national sovereignty counts for very little.
Adelson, on the other hand, seems to have a strong sense of patriotism, but from some of his statements, one can conclude that his allegiance, primarily, is to the state of Israel. Significantly, he owns a newspaper in that country, which calls for immigration control to protect Israel’s identity. Quite a contrast that is with his agenda for U.S. immigration policy. Another billionaire on the list with a strong affinity for Israel is Paul Singer, though not apparently so much as Adelson.
In general, however, the U.S. billionaires seem far more detached from their country than overtly disloyal, or divided in loyalty. Their allegiance is to abstractions about America and abstract ideology, rather than to the historic flesh and blood country of Americans. With fabulous wealth it’s easy to live in a world of one’s own.
Thus we have the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, who view the world through the lens of libertarian dogma. To libertarians, America is simply one store in a global marketplace where atomized individuals seek their self-interest as they go to buy and sell. Family, community, culture, heritage, and religion—the real sinews of a nation—simply aren’t visible through this lens. Consequently, it really doesn’t occur to most libertarians that mass immigration may harm their countrymen.
Indeed, to people who see only consumers and producers, the very notion of countrymen is not easy to grasp. And to the extent they do grasp it, they may incline not to embrace it too closely. After all, strong ties to a particular national community and its culture might slow down the smooth flow of capital and labor across borders—and that’s really all that matters.
Another flight of some billionaires’ fantasies is the Emma Lazarus intoxication. To them, America is a “nation of immigrants” far more than it is a nation of Americans. And they will never allow any practical concerns or changing conditions to intrude on their cherished sentimentality. One, it seems, is billionaire David Gelbaum, who paid the Sierra Club never to mention the rather obvious link between rapid population growth in the U.S., largely propelled by immigration, and stress on our environment.
Being a billionaire means never having to experience the cultural bedlam, lowered wages, and other varieties of diverse “enrichment” derived from immigration. It never means having to have any empathy or concern for fellow Americans who are not so fortunate. Living in bubbles of opulence, our billionaires can nurture all kinds of delusions of moral and intellectual grandeur. Soros has even likened himself to God, despite the sleazy career of currency speculation that enabled him to amass his billions. He and others affirm the divine right of money to rule.
So what are Americans to do about their designs to purchase the Land of the Free and its destiny, not just with regard to immigration policy, but every other facet of our social, political, and economic life? Once again, it is impossible for an average citizen ever to equal a plutocrat’s influence on government. And indeed, it is dangerous to indulge the democratic myth that this can be so.
The main advantage average citizens have is their numbers, not as isolated individuals, but as an organized and united force of opposition. That in turn will require a renewal of community spirit and national spirit, now sadly weakened by self-absorption and hedonism. The billionaires fear such unity, which is why they promote the division of diversity and multiculturalism through immigration.
The history of our populist movements can give provide guidelines as to paths of action to follow, as well as lessons of pitfalls to avoid. Most necessary is a labor movement worthy of the name, to replace the current travesty that we call organized labor. Another possibility is a renewal of the progressive movement of a century ago, which had immigration restriction as one of its objectives. This time around, however, citizens will lack the advantage of a ruling class with at least some patriotic sympathy for their concerns.
If Americans don’t rise to the challenge of
plutocracy, as our ancestors did, money will buy our political system totally.
At that point, we should cast away any notion at all of government of the
people. It will cause us unnecessary grief to nurture such illusions, as we
accept our new status of serfdom under the Golden Rule.
1. Elite vs. Public Opinion: An Examination of Divergent Views on Immigration, Center for Immigration Studies Backgrounder, Steven Camarota and Roy Beck, 12/2002.
2. Do the Rich Call the Shots?, The New York Times, The Opinion Pages — Room for Debate, 4/21/2014.