This is the final installment of a 3-part essay about the current American dilemma by The Rights Factory’s Kamal Gupta, author of PLAY IT RIGHT. Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2.
Part 3: The Way Forward
The first step towards a solution is recognizing that the real battle in America is between corporations and people. It is a fight that transcends the political, racial, and geographic tensions that are being continuously inflamed by those in charge. The fight against corporatism should unite ninety-nine percent of the country, from progressives to conservatives, from the left to the right, from the coasts to the heartland, from those that adore Trump to those that abhor him, and from one end of the racial spectrum to the other. The disputes between these groups pale in significance to the real battle they need to face jointly. I am not trying to minimize the influence of race in America or the deep scars of slavery. However, I believe that we first need to deal with the gaping wound in the heart of the nation. If and when we have done that, only then will we be able to address the other challenges facing us.
Uniting the country will not be easy. Virtually every apparatus of the establishment is vested in keeping it divided and ensuring that one half of the country is at the throat of the other. Every minor skirmish between the two warring factions is instantly turned into a tool for political fundraising. Mainstream media does everything it can to keep its audience in a perpetual state of fear of the other side. And Section 230 has made sure that social media companies suffer no consequences for their role in exacerbating the problem.
As bleak as the situation appears, there is a way out of this mess. For starters, America is in desperate need of a third or even a fourth credible political party. The two parties have effectively turned into abusive parents of the American public. Every election cycle turns into rebellion against the parent that is currently in power, forcing the children to bounce back-and-forth between the Democrats and the Republicans. The only escape from this vicious cycle is the creation of new political parties. A more vibrant American democracy will also lead to less rancor and more compromise. In the 2021 German elections, the top three parties won 25.7%, 24.1%, and 14.8% of the vote respectively, forcing the formation of a three-way alliance. An alliance, by definition, requires compromise which has become a dirty word in today’s American political climate. Only by breaking the stranglehold of the two party system will compromise be possible in a deeply-divided country. One doesn’t have to be religious to understand that a house divided against itself cannot stand. We must stop seeing our political opponents as our enemy and a multi-party governing coalition would go a long way in achieving that goal.
Elections in America need to be state funded instead of being paid for by corporations if for no other reason than to foster more competition. The obscene amount of money required to fight an election today makes it extraordinarily difficult for an outsider to enter the political arena. The first amendment states that “Congress shall make no law….abridging the freedom of speech.” Restricting political ads on TV, however, is not the same as restricting free speech. You are still free to stand at a street corner and shout all you like or hand out leaflets to passersby. Print was the only form of mass media in the 18th century (when the first amendment was drafted) and the framers of the constitution could not have imagined a scenario whereby one person’s shouting would be instantly broadcast to every household in the country.
It is also imperative to lengthen the election cycle in America. A national election every two years ensures that there is never any time to govern. The country is in a perpetual state of campaigning where as soon as a presidential election ends, talk immediately turns to midterms (and vice versa). A freshly elected president, having spent the past two years as a candidate, is forced to govern with an eye towards the next election. The two-year election cycle also forces Republicans and Democrats into constant fundraising. It is far easier to raise money when you are fighting a war and not merely an election. The two sides have increasingly begun to see each other as enemies and not as political opponents, a phenomenon gleefully cheered on by mainstream media. Eliminating midterms will at least halve the wars being fought and lower the temperature of the nation.
While the election cycle needs to be lengthened, elections themselves need to be shortened. Obama launched his candidacy in February 2007, almost two years before taking office in January 2009. In contrast, campaigns in Germany, UK, and Canada only last six weeks, 60 days and 50 days respectively. A shorter campaign will result in reduced election spending which, in turn, will lower corporate influence in America’s governance.
Massive stock option grants to CEOs must become a thing of the past. Corporate chieftains need to focus on their company’s long-term business prospects and the welfare of their employees, not the day-to-day fluctuations in their net worth. Antitrust laws need to be applied vigorously to break up monopolies and to encourage competition. It has been four decades since a company of any size was broken up by the U.S. government. It is time to use this tool again, against businesses ranging from social media companies to financial corporations to airlines.
More than anything else, America needs to manufacture again, to provide dignity and well-paying jobs to those that can’t afford college or don’t wish to attend. As a young immigrant to America in the 1980s, I was struck by the fact that anyone who wanted to work could get a job and attain a decent standard of living. Thanks to three decades of corporatism, this is no longer possible. A sustained apprenticeship program will go a long way towards retrieving some what has been lost. The pandemic-related supply chain problems of 2021 can also be traced back to the decimation of the U.S. manufacturing base. Producing more goods in America will also help curtail the growing global influence of China, which is a stated goal of both political parties.
Universities should, at a minimum, expand enrollment in line with population growth and end legacy admissions. There is also no reason for their endowments to be tax-free. Drew Gilpin Faust’s signature achievement as the President of Harvard (2007 to 2018) was to raise nine billion dollars for the university endowment, a run rate of $3.2 million dollars every weekday! Not surprisingly, she joined the board of Goldman Sachs shortly after leaving the presidency.
The Federal Reserve must realize that its mandate is to foster economic growth and not to sustain the stock market. The pandemic has brought out the worst in the Fed’s senior leadership and change is desperately needed in the way it conducts business. The Fed also needs to acknowledge its role in increasing inequality in America (a decade of QE has led to sharp rise in the price of financial assets which are predominantly owned by the rich) and needs to turn its focus towards helping the average American. It would help if the revolving door between the government and private enterprise were to get jammed instead of spinning like a flywheel.
As far as the media goes, the solution is fairly straightforward; just turn the TV off. Only a total boycott of these channels will bring them to their senses. Who knows, maybe CNN will even go back to its roots and focus on reporting the news instead of the incessant blathering of “let’s discuss.”
None of this will be easy. I don’t expect political and corporate leaders to suddenly develop a conscience and start acting in the public’s interest. It is, however, impossible to find a solution without first understanding where the real problem lies.
Interested in reading more from Kamal Gupta? PLAY IT RIGHT is on sale now.