A picture of America, showing a path to political reform

Summary: As we start a New Year and end this series about resolutions, here is a summary of American politics as I see them. It points the way to reform and a better future, if we are willing to pay the price.

American Power


Time has disproved most of Marx’s economics, but it has validated much of his sociology. As income inequality has returned to the peak of the Gilded Age (and still rising), the class structure has returned.

Marx’s schema of the classes accurately described 19th century society, but George Orwell gave us a model of a class structure that better fits modern America. There is the bourgeois, the top few percent who own most of America (the 1% own over a third; the top 3% over half). There is the inner party, the highly paid senior leaders of our political, non-profit, and business institutions. There is the outer party of managers, small business-people, and professionals. There are the proles, America’s workers, and the underclass.

Our elites

The bourgeois and inner party are America’s insiders. They have a common interest in preserving the political and social systems that have given them so much, so most are conservative in the literal meaning of the term. They might like to tinker on a small scale, shifting America to the Left or Right — but not radical change. They have leisure time, autonomy, security, and agency (the ability to influence events), which gives them a perspective on the world radically different than that of the lower classes (everybody else).

People in the upper classes prefer to marry within their class, just they did in the 19th century (see Pride and Prejudice). The professional and managerial classes call it “associative mating“. The rich marry each other; they call it “good sense”. That is why Elizabeth Bennet could not marry Mr. Darcy (nor could your daughter). Like their Gilded Age forbearers, they live on a scale almost unimaginable to the lower orders. Bill Gates’ palace is 6,000 sq ft larger than Hearst Castle.

The middle class

Our political system makes the outer party potentially powerful. Jefferson (and later Jackson) saw farmers, merchants, and craftsman of America as the foundation of the Republic. Those classes were wiped out during the Gilded Age. The outer party is their politically impotent remnants. As employees the Outer Party lack the economic independence that Jefferson believed made them indomitable and wise, unlike the equally liberty-loving but feckless mobs of Paris. The routines of their lives keep them busy. The 1% see that they are fragmented into tribes of Left and Right.

The lower classes

The proles and underclass are uninterested in politics, unless aroused and channeled by the elite’s institutions. Political machines and unions made them powerful in our past; only shards of these remain today.

Why we love fake news

Most media firms target the outer party – the large body of people interested in current events and with the income to either pay for it or to attract advertisers. To survive they must understand what the outer party wants. The media provide a mirror in which we can see ourselves.

The outer party wants simple stories that explain events in terms of good guys and bad guys. Cheer our team! Thrill at tales of the bad guys’ dastardly deeds! They want stories that provide entertainment and catharsis plus a sense of belonging to a community (a virtual tribe). Politically ineffectual, they want to believe themselves engaged. So they consume information (becoming well-informed) and write posts or comments (21st C letters to the editor).

This explains American’s odd disinterest in experts’ past record of failed predictions and bad advice (e.g., Paul Ehrlich on the Left, Larry Kudlow on the Right). Who cares if what we read about the world is accurate, since we have no intention of using this information. A collector of maps doesn’t ask if the maps are correct; they want pretty maps — with colorful dragons on edges. Only those navigating to a destination demand accurate charts.

We see more clues from what the outer party avoids. They don’t want responsibility. It’s no longer in many (most?) Americans’ minds that we have responsibility for the actions of our government, which would mandate our involvement — or that we have the power to run America, which would mandate our action. It’s depressing to read about the years of difficult work needed to reform America. It’s boring to read about the technical details of political tactics.

The right fetishizes individual action and considers collective action an anathema. On the Left calls to action are either ethereal (replace capitalism!), trivial (vote for Hillary, support her neocon and Wall Street allies!), or personal (recycle bottles!). The 1% approves of all these, excellent diversions from effective political action.

Brilliant minds in the media business understand us, and so their products provide infotainment packaged as serious news and analysis. Fox was one of the first to realize this and the most determined to provide what we want — and so became the largest beneficiary from the evolution of Americans from citizens to subjects. To survive most of the news media must follow in their footsteps, or find patrons in the 1% to fund them (e.g., Jeff Bezos for the Washington Post, Pierre Omidyar at The Intercept).

Life moves fast on the internet, and the big nodes that get the traffic are those that have adapted to the outer party of a New America (posts about political reform on the FM website get 1/4 of the usual pageviews). This is the underlying story about fake news, one too disturbing to mention in polite company.

Crisis in Mandarin

Another path

The Mandarin characters for “crisis” do not mean “danger” and “opportunity”. But that’s a powerful and optimistic way to see a crisis, like the one I believe has begun. The Republic has had such moments before and come out stronger than it began. If we try, it can again.

I have faith in all you — in us — so that more citizen involvement will make a better and stronger America. I suspect we cannot imagine the eventually result. Perhaps a better Second Republic (founded on the Constitution). Perhaps a Third Republic.

I do not ask you to share that faith. I ask you only to have faith in yourself, and see us as the crew of America — not its passengers. Pitch in and help. For ideas what to do, see Reforming America: Steps to New Politics.


For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about information and disinformation, about fake news, and especially these…

  1. Can we organize the political reform of America? Our past shows how.
  2. The bad news about reforming America: time is our enemy.
  3. Why the 1% is winning, and we are not.
  4. We are alone in the defense of the Republic.

11 thoughts on “A picture of America, showing a path to political reform”

  1. This is a remarkable post, FM, in your top 5%.

    The only thing I can add to it is the sad observation is that while Fox News led the rush to infotainment, they are now among the less skewed news sources. The other media sources have seen the profitability of infotainment and are now experimenting with Fake News to a scary extent. Even former stalwarts of real news such as the New York Times are reluctantly pursuing profits over accuracy.

    While I agree with you that the US can, and most likely will, be stronger coming out of this crisis, the massively warped (in all directions) news industry is going to make the job harder.

    1. Pluto,

      “This is a remarkable post, FM, in your top 5%.”

      It will be in the bottom 5% of traffic. Anything even hinting that we have responsibilities — or worse, we are the problem — is an anathema to modern Americans. Hillary/Trump/Misc Bad Guys are the source of our problems!

      “the massively warped (in all directions) news industry is going to make the job harder.”

      That is factually correct but massively unfair. It’s the news industry, not the news charity. They give us what we want. An alternative news media (e.g., Brietbart, Zero Hedge, etc) is growing because even the remaining shards of journalistic standards are more than we want in our infotainment.

    2. FM: “That is factually correct but massively unfair. It’s the news industry, not the news charity”

      True, our society’s priorities are a bit strange. We urge companies to make money anyway they can and then we add the concept that consumers should never have to pay for anything. It leads to some nasty issues like this one.

  2. Eloquent way to tie together several of your interconnected themes. Kudos. I’ve long been a fan of using George Orwell’s tripartite pyramid structure from 1984 to understand our world. Far too many folks read that work purely as an indictment of state socialism, but it really is about totalitarianism in any form, and the tripartite model provides a convenient template that can be fruitfully applied, IMHO, to any modern society with a hierarchical basis.

  3. I think the big elephant in the room is the fact that the ruling class *broke* the power of the working class through moving industrial jobs overseas and mostly destroying the unions. Now they are automating. The working class is no longer essential to producing their wealth and NOBODY, right or left, has yet come up with an adequate replacement strategy.

    This explains a lot of the realignments and ineffectiveness of the Democratic Party to me.

    1. Camilla,

      “The working class is no longer essential to producing their wealth”

      Automation does not mean zero employees, so workers are still necessary. What automation does is decrease employment, changing the supply-demand balance for labor. Immigration further tilts the balance against workers.

      “This explains a lot of the realignments and ineffectiveness of the Democratic Party”

      I don’t understand. Do you believe that most GOP voters aren’t workers?

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  5. I missed this when you originally posted it. Very well said, IMO. I will share as widely as I am able.

    My thought follows about another reader’s comment that “the ruling class *broke* the power of the working class through moving industrial jobs overseas and mostly destroying the unions. Now they are automating. The working class is no longer essential to producing their wealth and NOBODY, right or left, has yet come up with an adequate replacement strategy.”

    I and many others have attempted, and continue to attempt, to “come up with an “adequate replacement strategy” for a very long time now. I have also occasionally shared some of these thoughts on this site in the past, but made the mistake of trying to do so in an overly “comprehensive” manner–which has not been appreciated.

    Nevertheless, if and when the opportunity to do so presents itself again at some future point in time, I may try to do so again in more piecemeal fashion, even though I think doing so may not adequately convey the synergistic nature of all such new and/or under-used alternatives.

    But suffice it to say they are collectively intended to transcend the one-dimensional and increasingly anachronistic and backward-looking pre-21st century “left-right” political, economic, and socio-cultural paradigm, and in ways that could be more flexible, resilient, and effective (as well as cost-effective) no matter what the “futures” may hold in store.

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