If we are to judge from the supporters of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders it would appear that if there is anything that the American public agrees on is that the system—political and economic—is rigged against the little guy.
And I agree. If there is anything to be learned from the recent history of corporate greed and the economic harm suffered by Americans because of that greed, whether from jobs lost through trade agreements or homes lost through mortgage fraud, it is that corporate America has the interests of corporate America at heart, and none other.
Wall Street titans have always been an integral part of the American political scene but now, in the few short years since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision—which granted corporations virtually unlimited ability to influence political elections—we can regard the Congress, whether Republican or Democrat, as a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America.
However, this may be the only thing that Americans agree on. Otherwise we are divided on who can use what bathroom, who can and cannot be Americans, and a myriad of other highly emotionally charged issues that do not lend themselves easily to peaceful reconciliation. It is these things that we disagree on that prevent us from forming any kind of meaningful front to tackle what we do agree on.
Following the economic meltdown of the American and world economies caused by world-class hucksters and charlatans otherwise known as corporate leaders, many Americans lost their retirement savings, their homes and their jobs.
Now, just a few years later, the financial sector, which was to blame for most of the depredations on American society, is asking Congress to roll back the restrictions that were put in place to guard against the risky investment and financial practices that caused the meltdown in the first place. This puts us in danger of living the bad dream all over again.
Now, pausing to reflect on this, the second greatest economic catastrophe in modern times, can you name any one individual responsible for the meltdown who was punished? Can you name anyone who did jail time for it?
Think of it: there was investment in risky financial instruments like credit default swaps, there was massive fraud in the mortgage industry, and—it bears repeating— millions of individual Americans were effectively robbed of their life savings, and no executive went to jail.
Contrast that to the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s where there were over 1,000 felony convictions of executives responsible for a financial crisis that is virtually insignificant when compared to the Great Recession.
That alone tells the tale of the power that financial institutions have enjoyed with both the Bush and Obama administrations and with Congress.
While much anger has been mistakenly levied against the notion that there are corporations “too big to fail,” there is a reason they cannot be allowed to fail and that is because their failure would throw their workers and the nation’s economy to the wolves.
But even if there are corporations that are too big to fail, there is no corporate executive too big to go to jail. But instead of prosecution the corporations have been bailed out and the same malfeasants allowed to remain in charge.
It’s time for Americans to stop accentuating their differences of opinion and consolidate their efforts on what they do agree on—and that is, in a nutshell, that the system is rigged and that it is the responsibility of politicians to “un-rig” it.
Jim Elliott is a former chairman of the Montana Democratic Party and a former state senator from Trout Creek.