We Must Thwart The Rising Oligarchy In The United States

As legislators move to support democracy abroad, we cannot ignore the leaders and policies corroding our politics at home.
01/03/2018 11:39 am ET
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Not far from the state of Texas, a fraudulent election was very recently held and stolen. The Honduran electoral commission recently certified that Juan Orlando Hernandez became President after widespread reports of irregularity and fraud. It was the culmination of a trend decades in the making in Honduras, one final and dramatic blow to democratic governance that came on the heels of decades of worsening inequality, increasing concentration of corporate power, and creeping authoritarianism. The Organization of American States is right; we need a new election in Honduras. But more than that, in the United States have to acknowledge that we are seeing our future when looking at the political climate in Honduras, if we don’t recognize the early warning signs and do something about it.

Honduras has become a deeply unequal society. According to an analysis by CEPR, more than 63 percent of Hondurans are either unemployed, underemployed, or working for less than the minimum wage. But that didn’t just happen overnight; it came after decades of rubber-stamping legislation by the Honduran government giving away windfall profits to massive corporations at the expense of most working people. It was a systematic takeover of government by the wealthy, and an intentional effort to make life harder for the poor in order to secure more for the rich. Labor unions were dismantled, and corporations wrote the laws. The tax fight this week showed us that the United States is clearly on that same course. A single family ― the Walton family ― owns as much wealth as the bottom 40 percent of Americans combined. Wealthy elites write our laws, own our newsrooms, and seek to use their influence to secure even more in profits.

That economic reality is deeply tied to why a right-wing politician was able to override the will of the people in Honduras. Only when such a vast gap in power and influence exists between most people and the uber-wealthy in any society, can the one percent ram through legislation that deeply harms the lives of most people in that society. Over the past few months, it has become clear just how many Americans deeply oppose the tax bill passed by Congress this week. Still, because of the sheer economic and political power that’s wielded by the wealthiest one percent in our society, legislation that harms the overwhelming majority of people in the United States was passed. That should frighten us all, because the fundamentally undemocratic exercise of power by the wealthiest to override the will of the majority is exactly what just happened in Honduras.

Representative government rests on the premise that government serves the people. When that stops being true, and when the powerful can override what most people want, the potential for undemocratic abuse is absolutely immense. In Honduras, at least 22 demonstrators have been killed, mostly by state security forces, since the election. Police and military kill their own neighbors without consequence. That’s because undemocratic oligarchy has become the norm, and has convinced those in power in Honduras to believe they are rulers, instead of servants.

In Congress, we are speaking up loudly and clearly against U.S. support for the Honduran regime, as we have since the coup, because the futures of our two nations are deeply tied. In March, I helped lead the reintroduction of the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, H.R. 1299, sponsored by Rep. Hank Johnson, which demands an immediate suspension of all U.S. security aid to Honduras and requires the U.S. to vote no on loans from multilateral development banks for the police or military of Honduras. But we’ve also got to recognize the creep of oligarchy against democracy here at home, and fight against it by outlining a bold, forward-looking vision for our future that includes everyone. I’ll do that with renewed vigor in the year to come.

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