By Carol Corbin
When Paul Theroux traveled to South Carolina to write his 2015 book, Deep South, he came across conditions that rivaled third world countries. He stated, “These poor folk are poorer in their way … and less able to manage and more hopeless than many people I had traveled among in distressed parts of Africa and Asia. Living in the buried hinterland, in fractured communities and dying towns and on the sidelines, they exist in obscurity.” In the wealthiest nation in the history of the planet, people live in unimaginable poverty not far from Beaufort, the richest county in South Carolina. While living several years in Jasper County, S.C., I saw just how poverty can create hopelessness for generations. This, among other reasons, is why I have embraced Beaufort SC Indivisible.
America has gradually become an oligarchy—government by the powerful, wealthy few. In the 1920s, we had a similar situation. The top 1% of Americans owned nearly 25% of the wealth. By the 1970s, with changes in tax and labor laws, the top 1% owned under 10% of the nation’s wealth. That was the closest America came to an egalitarian society. At that time, the gap between the rich and the poor was narrowing, just like it did in other developed countries. But beginning in the 1980s under Reagan, that trend was reversed, and now the top 1% once again owns over 20% of the nation’s wealth. Further, the top one tenth of a percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. Income inequality is projected to be off the charts under Trump.
More income equality = greater happiness
In a 2015 study, the U.S. had the highest personal wealth–$63.5 trillion—out of 55 countries, but the wealth is also the most unevenly distributed. For decades, deregulation and lower taxes for the wealthy have not led to the trickle-down wealth-generation that was promised. Instead many theorists believe the U.S. needs to follow the lead of European nations that have created more equitable societies through spending on public education, taxing the rich, providing universal healthcare, and making job opportunities more widely available. Many of these same countries have happiness quotients that are much higher than oursthe US: Norway is the happiest, followed by Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland. We rankThe US ranks number 14 in happiness.
Donald Trump’s presidency came about because he claimed he would help the forgotten poor, particularly the poor whites of the rust belt. But Trump has no intention of helping the poor. His plans to “fix” the economy through deregulation and tax reform will only help the already rich. The Republican health insurance bill to replace Obamacare, yes the same thing as the Affordable Care Act, was a clear example of that—it was designed as a tax break for the rich that would have stripped insurance from millions of poor people. Trump’s agenda is about benefits to the wealthy; all his top advisors fall in that category.
The mastermind controlling Trump
Trump appears to be the puppet of one particularly wealthy supporter, Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund billionaire and brilliant computer scientist. He helped Trump delegitimize the mainstream media in order to dominate the internet and other media with “alternative facts.” And many of Trump’s supporters believe those alternative facts—like “climate change is a hoax,” and the “media are the enemy of the people.”
Robert Mercer is behind Citizens United, the organization that successfully argued before the Supreme Court that money is the same thing as speech. In other words, rich people can spend unlimited amounts of money to get a candidate elected by hiding behind front groups. Many political ads are sponsored not by candidates but by committees with democratic sounding names. Their goal is to control the candidates and control the judiciary that the candidate can influence. The Citizens United ruling did a huge disservice to democracy.
To understand Donald Trump’s presidency, we need to understand Robert Mercer, since he is pulling the strings. He’s the man who underwrote Breitbart News to strengthen it as a right-wing internet news source. He brought Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway into the Trump campaign.
Mercer believes that people are only worth what they earn. The wealthy are the most valuable, the poor are worth little, and welfare recipients have negative value. All his efforts go to keeping himself wealthy. He supports only ultra-right-wing, ultra-conservative, and anti-democratic causes. He is spreading the concept that climate change is a hoax to free industry from any environmental constraints. He gives free literature to schools that denies human involvement in climate change.
Mercer works through information he gathers from Facebook to use psychological mass propaganda. By publishing a personality quiz on Facebook, he gathered in-depth psychological information from respondents that was used in advertisements based on their deepest emotions. He follows 220 million Facebook users and continuously updates the computer program’s tracking systems through which he convinces average people that their best interests are served by supporting the platforms of the wealthy.
Studies have shown that there is a correlation between a nation’s general happiness and the feeling of hopelessness brought about by enduring poverty. Yet Trump and his affiliates intend to keep the poor supporting the rich. Every executive order, and every piece of legislation he signs is designed to make the wealthy wealthier and the poor pay for it. Making America Great Again, for Trump, means returning to the unfettered capitalism of the early 20th century, before labor and environmental legislation, before civil rights and women’s liberation. That way, he fulfills his obligation to his rich sponsors, and a small coterie of obscenely wealthy will continue to amass more wealth.
Only through active resistance to the Trump agenda can we reverse the disastrous effects he and his wealthy sponsors are advocating.
Carol Corbin has a PhD in Communication and taught media studies for 18 years in Canada, a country that is quite a bit happier than the U.S. She now lives in Beaufort, S.C, because it is warmer.