The idea that America is heading into an all out revolution may be absurd and to some extent unthinkable to most of us. Never the less, the factors that could ignite such an event are quietly coming into place, and although not imminent, they are plausible. Especially if the trends that are creating them are not reversed. At any rate, the possibility is worth examining – along with hopeful reasons why such an event may be deterred.
(Author’s note: Please be aware I am not proposing, advocating, suggesting, or encouraging the actions described below; this diary is designed for commentary and discussion)
The causes of most revolutions are historical, well known, and provable. It virtually is always a rebellion against an elite, defined by excessive concentration of power and wealth. In the United States, to a great extent, wealth is power, and America’s wealth is now already incredibly concentrated, and getting more so.
As history in recent centuries has shown, events such as the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution, and even the Arab Spring was a rebellion against an extreme (often despotic) concentration of power and wealth. Then, of course, we had our own Revolution, which again was a protest against a powerful adversary who embodied a concentration of power leaving Americans with little voice in the conduct of their own affairs. Revolutions are not unique or rare events.
In America today, we have created a large underclass of a disadvantaged population. Politically, their voice is muted through gerrymandering and lack of lobbying voices in Congress. Equally important, elections in our country today are driven by money. Now, more than ever, with the advent of the Citizens United SCOTUS decision, money strongly influences elections, and the poor have no resources to contribute. Add to this recent voter suppression laws, and the underclass may find it easier to act outside the election process to protest. What they do have is power in numbers.
Today, the concentration of wealth in America has already reached uncomfortable proportions. Currently the top 1 percent of Americans own about 40 percent of the wealth; the top 20 percent own 85 percent – leaving the bottom 80 percent of Americans to share 15 percent of the nation’s wealth. According to Forbes, four hundred families now own 50 percent of the personal financial net wealth of the United States – an astounding $2 Trillion – more than the annual GDP of our neighbors Mexico and Canada. Moreover, the trend is for even greater concentration, and as that occurs it is fertile ground for discontent and worse. During the last decade, the income (different than “wealth”) of the top 1 percent grew 10 times greater than the bottom 90 percent. If this is not a “red” flag, it is clearly a yellow one of caution.
Worldwide, of 134 industrialized countries, the U.S. ranks 95th in distribution of wealth, with only 39 other nations having greater income inequality; and those nations do not have strong records of stability. And finally, also describing this disturbing trend in concentration of income and wealth, in 1960 the CEO pay to that of an average worker was 41:1; today it is over 300:1.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with growing rich – it is part of the American dream (although, lack of income for the poor is does not make for healthy Capitalism which depends on consumer demand). However, there are a number of problems with this disparity of wealth and income. A central one is that the poor and highly disadvantaged have little to lose if their anger and despair should reach critical levels. Once the feeling of becoming disenfranchised sets in (as it can and likely will), anger bubbles up into action. We have seen that already with riots in Los Angeles, Detroit, and other cities, as well as other significant populist protests throughout our history. It does not take too much to ignite such uprisings which can easily feed on themselves and grow into something larger.
The bottom line of all this is that we are on a bad path; one that could lead to enormous discontent, and rebellion led by that 50 percent of the population which has virtually no wealth, limited income, often meager food, and little to lose. An uprising here (perhaps called a “revolution”) may not overthrow the government in the classic sense, but could and would create enough havoc to severely damage our economy and create fear around the world as to America’s stability. Further, potential riots and other volatile events, would be devastating in the cost of lives and property.
Now, on a positive note. This not need take place – if we have the foresight to ameliorate it. On the side of reason, we have had over 200 years of democracy in America, and have faced challenges before from a great Civil War, to multiple depressions, the peaceful resignation of a president (plus several assassinations), natural disasters, and more. That is hopeful, but no assurance of solutions or success. Having said that, I would quote from Francis Bacon who stated during the Age Of Reason:
“Above all things good policy is to be used so that the treasures and monies in a state be not gathered into a few hands… Money is like fertilizer, not good except it be spread.”