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The Slow Coup De Gras

By       Message Tom Aiken     Permalink
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In their new book "13 Bankers" authors James Kwak and Simon Johnson assert that the genesis of today's corporate domination of public life lies buried in the 1970s:

"... business interests in all sectors organized a takeover of political power that pushed organized labor and other groups protecting middle-class interests to the sidelines and made possible decades of policies that enriched the super-rich at the expense of everyone else, including the merely affluent. Finance was simply the biggest and most profitable of these sectors... the one best able to hold the government hostage in a financial and economic crisis."

In a 9/13 column in Truthout entitled "Do Not Pity The Democrats" author Chris Hedges cites a conversation with Ralph Nader as to the actual corporate agenda:

"The corporate state is the ultimate maturation of American-type fascism. They leave wide areas of personal freedom so that people will confuse personal freedom with civic freedom -- the freedom to go where you want, eat where you want, associate with who you want, buy what you want where you want... If people have given up on any civic or political role for themselves there is a sufficient amount of elbow room to get through the day. They do not have the freedom to participate in the decisions about war, foreign policy, domestic health and safety issues, taxes or transportation. That is its genius."

Something is wrong here. And if you're willing to dig, the answers are just beneath the surface. And they're initially discouraging ones.

While I agree with both Kwak and Johnson's assertions in "13 Bankers" I would also argue the process extends back to the progressivism of the early 20th Century, the Gilded Age and, perhaps, even as far removed as Alexander Hamilton and the aristocratic pretensions of his clique. Since the beginning of this government's history business and the well-off have fought tooth and nail with the rest of the country -- the so-called "proletariat" -- over what might be termed "their fair share."

The current corporate configuration owes its existence to Theodore Roosevelt's battle with the trusts in the eary 20th century. Disgusted with a situation mirroring our own, Roosevelt set out to destroy the pre-corporate power structures then crippling the country. And while, to some degree, successful, the campaign inaugurated what might be called a "rebellion of the rich," the ignition of a sociopathology born of greed and the thirst for power so endemic to the over-privileged. Temporarily repulsed, the burgeoning oligarchy retrenched after WWI and slowly but surely maneuvered the country into the 1929 stock market crash, the idea being to consolidate capital into the hands of the few at the expense of the many -- "The Gilded Age" all over again.

Herbert Hoover, the Republican tasked with somehow softening the blows, foundered in persuading the American public the aristocrat's "let them eat cake" stance was somehow a genuine American virtue. After four years of misery, indecision and contempt Hoover was cast from office in favor of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, fifth cousin of the venerable Theodore. His counter-attack on corporate interests only strengthened the upper crust's resolve and a series of epic battles were fought in determining who, indeed, was actually in power.

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Such was this determination that the 2nd act of the Slow Coup De Gras seemed positively nihilistic in comparison to the first. Called "The Business Plot," a consortium of industrial interests had approached well-respected army general Smedley Butler asking him to lead a parade of 500,000 veterans to Washington to seize the government from Roosevelt and install a dictator of said consortium's choosing. Butler balked and revealed the plan to the authorities, prompting a showdown behind closed doors. The conspirators, chastened but unbowed, walked while Roosevelt gained enough power from the undocumented victory to press through a number of "New Deal" reforms with minimal resistance. Nonetheless, the economy was again faltering by 1938 until it was arguably saved by WWII and its consequent bounty to industrial and commercial interests. The corporations were sated for a time. But they weren't done.

The Post-War Era found the corporate interests playing their cards close to the vest, injecting vitriol like McCarthyism where and when they could, but generally prepping for the next step. Eisenhower, by the end of his presidency, had grown rueful of his own participation in the submerged corporate state and warned of allowing such interests to become active in the actual governance of the country. He conveyed this to incoming President John F. Kennedy who consequently called off a potentially disastrous corporate invasion of Cuba and initiated steps to dismantle the oligarchy's designs on Southeast Asia as well when he was assassinated. Act 3.

His successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, cut an arrangement with the victorious corporate conglomerates where he acquiesced -- "You can have your damn war" -- in exchange for social programs and liberal reforms much in the spirit of Nader's remarks per personal and civic freedom. Defeated by the very war he'd agreed to start, Johnson stepped aside to allow a weak candidate, Hubert Humphrey, run against former Eisenhower VP and loser in the close Elections of 1961, Richard Nixon.

In the interim a Tea Party-like movement of monied "libertarians" had coalesced around Arizona uber-conservative Barry Goldwater in an inglorious bid for presidency under the banner of a less than obliging Republican Party establishment. Trounced by Johnson --and the surreptitious corporate cabal he'd come to represent -- by embarrassingly wide margins, the loose confederacy of business interests and the rich again stepped back for a more appropriate opening.

Nixon was supposed to be that opening. And he did indeed have Middle America captivated, justifying the unjustifiable with a somber sincerity no doubt born of countless hours of mirror-bound rehearsal. But Nixon was too interested in constructing own unique personal legacy above and beyond his handler's expectations that he became a liability... and he knew it. His justifiable paranoia became his undoing and his subsequent impeachment heralded Act 4 of the Slow Coup de Gras -- outlined in the aforementioned Kwak and Simon's "13 Bankers," the consolidation of corporate and monied interests acting in concert to achieve today's borderline fascism.

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So how did we get here? Other, less media-saturated societies would have been in the streets a generation ago, with far more serious intent than American weekend radicals looking to score a little weed and maybe get laid. Austerity burdened Greece is the latest example of the true street anger brewing behind the facade of corporate "normalcy."

According to Mark Smith in the comments section of Hedge's "Do Not Pity The Democrats" -- "It's the voters who watch tv and are too dumbed down to think for themselves" who are responsible for our present plight. Indisputably true, with solid facts supporting the contention. However, as is my want, I still think there's more to it, succinct as Smith's conclusion may be.

Much of this situation comes courtesy of Sigmund Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays. An innovative marketing specialist, he pioneered subliminal advertising technics -- called propaganda by some -- designed to influence the victims (consumers) subliminally, touch emotions and impulses heretofore ignored or overlooked by large retail operations and the various corporations supporting them. It was as if Benays could peer inside our own collective malaise, preventing us from acting upon that angst by the distraction of focus.

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Tom Aiken is a writer based in Austin, Texas. He has written for numerous publications including The Village Voice, Heavy Metal amd M'Zine (RIP). Mr. Aiken also has a spanking new blog -- AikenLand -- for publication of his more unpublishable work. (more...)

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