An economy in shambles with persistently high unemployment; wide income inequality; increasingly belligerent saber-rattling by political parties; street demonstrations accompanied by vandalism and violence on the part of both demonstrators and police; legislative grid-lock; polarized elected officials unable to work together; political campaigns funded by the super-rich; hate-mongering, scapegoating and name-calling in the press and media. Sound like modern life in America? It’s also a description of Germany in the late 1920’s and ‘30’s during the rise of Fascism.
Adolph Hitler began his political career surrounded by a motley crew of thuggish and uneducated supporters, but went on to gain the financial support of Germany’s wealthiest industrialists, major bankers and leading businessmen. In addition, support from foreign businesses with interests in Germany, many of them American, helped fuel the growth of Nazi Party influence and power. Had such financial support not been available, it’s unlikely Hitler would have risen to power and unleashed his particular brand of deadly havoc and bloodshed across Europe. IBM and its German division, for example, designed and built an early “punch-card” computer system which helped the Nazis manage information about the Jewish population in Germany.
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has opened the floodgates for unlimited unregulated campaign contributions by America’s wealthiest industrialists, major bankers and leading businessmen, our democracy has been almost completely perverted. It’s predicted that Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson may contribute $100 million to the Romney campaign. Proportionate to his total estimated wealth of $25 billion, this sum represents merely $360 to the average American family. Adelson is far from alone among the wealthy seeking political influence; we may never know the full details since super PAC contributions are unregulated, but expenditures for this presidential election will certainly top one-billion dollars.
Those who make such campaign investments expect something in return, and it appears they get it. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase with a yearly pay package of $23 million, recently appeared before the Senate Banking Committee to testify about the more than $2 billion dollars Chase lost on a bad bet. In total, Chase has contributed over $400,000 to the members of that very same committee during the past five years, and that bought Mr. Dimon nothing but easy “softball” questions from the very committee charged with industry oversight. The entire system of American governance has been compromised by big money.
In one his final speeches, Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican President from 1953 through 1960, famously warned America of the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.” He understood that when the wealthiest elements in society gain undue influence over government policy and decision-making society is endangered. As General, Eisenhower led the invasion of Europe by Allied forces, and saw first-hand what happens when financial interests and state interests converge into a single entity. It is not simply a matter of corruption and profit that drives such danger; rather, it is the narrow interests of the few directing the destiny of the many.
It is a sad commentary that our national elections are increasingly less relevant to daily life, and such lack of relevancy has bred citizen disrespect and disengagement from politics overall. America is primed for the ascendance of a well-funded demagogue able to tap into the anger and frustration people feel. It is worth remembering that in such an atmosphere and with the help of the super-rich, Adolph Hitler rose to power.