Home | About | Donate

Confronting the Great American Myth

Confronting the Great American Myth

David Korten

We grow up in the United States proud of our nation’s historic role in leading humanity’s transition from monarchy to democracy. We rarely ask, however, whether the system we have truly fits the definition of democracy.

Merriam-Webster defines democracy as “government by the people.” What we have in the United States more closely resembles the Merriam-Webster definition of plutocracy, “government by the wealthy.” A nation ruled by big money is not a democracy.

The mythology goes beyond the belief in American Democracy. The mythology takes for granted that a Democracy is preferable to a Monarchy. This myth is so ingrained in the culture of the Americas (North, Central and South) that it is rarely contested.
History shows us that the greatest forms of evil have arisen from the heart of Democracy - Hitler and Trump are perhaps the most salient examples.
Switzerland is the only example of a Democracy lasting over several centuries, but Switzerland is a very special case that can’t be replicated elsewhere.
In general, democracies appear to follow the path explained by Plato in The Republic about 2400 years ago. If Plato is right, democracies are unstable systems that sooner or later lead to populism, and from there they morph into dictatorships. This is precisely what we are seeing in the US today.
It is interesting that, save for few exceptions (Costa Rica, Iceland and Switzerland the main ones), “all” of today’s top nations in the scale of human development are parliamentary Monarchies.
The general rule appears to be the following: In the long term, a nation run by a Monarchy (even of the symbolic type) has a chance at being a decent place to live. A nation run by a democracy is almost always guaranteed to degenerate into a nasty dictatorship. Thus I consider myself a Monarchist, there are very few of us in these parts.

2 Likes

The narrative on the funding of the United States of America was a fabrication from the start. The claim guys likeWashington and Jefferson some great patrons of virtue concerned only with human rights and liberty, selflessly acting to secure these for others was a lie in its entirety.

If you want an example of how that lie works look to your own history as all have experienced the same claims of subsequent Presidents from Eisenhower to Obama , from Reagan to Trump , making the same claims of being champions of human rights and liberty as they fuel coups and wars the world over so as to line the lpockets of some small few with filthy lucre.

The United States of America , and all of the Countries in the West , must free itself from the 1 percent that 1 percent having been TYRANTS for centuries. Replacing one of that group with another of that group is no solution.

6 Likes

It is nearly impossible to confront the great american myth when the media gets its panties bunched when a politician doesn’t wear an american flag lapel pin correctly.

4 Likes

If We the People do not bury the 1% in mounds of taxes, after many decades of allowing them to game the system and buy political favor from the Judases of the Duopoly, our long dead Democracy will never be able to climb out of the grave the 95% of the voting electorate continues to keep us in with their support of these serpents.

2 Likes

" two-party duopoly beholden to corporate money"

And other sources - or does ‘corporate’ now include any entity or person and not just businesses owned by shareholders? If not, sloppy use of ‘corporate’ exclusively may have the consequence of removing the spotlight on private companies and individuals who equally seek influence.

‘Dumbed-down’ America also seems to got misdirected by conflating ‘corporation’ with ‘corporatism’.

For those interested in the differentiation and to have the correct ammunition for combating either (or both) here is a start to understanding. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.693.939&rep=rep1&type=pdf

(And perhaps a realization that ‘corporatism’ is one of least likely eventualities desired by the class that founded the ‘U.S.’ and that rules to the present day.)

An important point I didn’t see mentioned here is that for many in the last presidential election there was no good choice to vote for. I refuse to vote for lesser evils.

1 Like

Suspira, you can’t lump together Obama and Trump. That is like lumping together an asteroid and a planet just because both orbit the Sun. There are orders of magnitude difference between Obama and Trump, and Eisenhower and Reagan. Obama is a decent man while Trump is sheer filth.
You are right about Washington and Jefferson, but you can’t lump all the founders together. They were scoundrels of very different degrees - Jefferson was a sexual pervert, Franklin was not.

1 Like

Obama a decent man?

He who supported the Saudi’s in their attacks on Yemen? He the one that supported the coup by fascists in the Honduras? He the one that bailed out the bankers to the tune of Trillions of dollars and refused to prosecute them for crimes? He the guy who said “we must look forwards not back” refusing to prosecute war criminals in the previous administration who lied the US into multiple wars? He the same Obama that ordered airstrikes to kill US Citizens abroad which included children as targets? He the guy who said Single payer Health Care off the table as he supported the health insurance industry rather then introduce true single payer? He the Obama the helped destroy Libya wherein the richest Country in Africa has become one of the poorest with its people being sold as slaves in open markets? He the guy who was rounding up immigrants en masse in the USA and deporting them, seperating Children form their families even beofre Trump started doing this? The President who started shipping arms from Libya to Syria to arm Al Qaeda and ISIS terrorists in the hopes they would topple Assaad?

Are you talking about THAT decent guy?

10 Likes

The view of Obama here is perplexing. Why “decent” and involved in murders, torture, opaque government, the TPP, and on and on?

4 Likes

Jefferson was a sexual pervert, Franklin was not.

Maybe, maybe not:

1 Like

I really like David Korten but I think he might have got it slightly wrong about the founders and the framers .
Thom Hartmann wrote this article a few years back .

There’s a myth floating around right now about our Founding Fathers - and the men who wrote the Constitution - the Framers.

And that myth is that America was created by rich white men who wrote the Constitution to protect their own interests and the interests of other wealthy, rich white men like themselves.

It’s a myth that’s conveniently used on the Right - by people who argue for more corporate power in government and more advantages for the wealthy by saying that’s simply a continuation of the intent of the Founders and Framers of the Constitution.

And it’s also a myth used on the Left - especially during times of economic crisis when it seems like the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer - so therefore it must be that our founders set up this problem when they wrote the Constitution.

In fact - this week I had a young Occupy Wall Street patriot on my show echoing this myth:

Joshua Kadrich, Occupy Richmond protester: But the Occupy movement, you find that we’re all a little bit younger, our movement seems to be a little bit more organic and grass roots. And we’re willing to look at the constitution and say, ‘well, hey, maybe this isn’t exactly right, maybe it really was a business model of sorts proposed by the original 1% in America, to try and see how they couldn’t make more profits’.

You know, it’s enticing to think that way.

Especially at a time when nearly half of all the Members of Congress are millionaires - and laws are being passed that exclusively benefit millionaires and billionaires at the expense of the rest of us.

It also seems like it’s always been that way - and there’s some sort of fatal flaw in the Constitution to keep it that way.

But it’s not true - it’s the MYTH of the super-wealthy Founding Fathers.

Of course there were very, very rich people in America at the time of the Revolution - but they were not the ones taking part in the Constitutional Convention.

In fact - all of the truly rich people here in the 1760s fled this new nation during the Revolution - they went up to Canada or back to Britain.

There wasn’t a millionaire - in today’s dollars - living in the United States until the 1790’s - a generation after the Revolution.

George Washington was one of the richest of the founders - but as Kevin Phillips points out in his book - “Wealth and Democracy”:

George Washington…was no more than a wealthy squire in British terms.

In terms of lifestyle, assets, and disposable income - the Founders were upper-middle class at best.

Heck - toward the end of his life - Washington didn’t have enough money to buy the slaves his wife inherited so that he could set them free, which he genuinely wanted to do.

And Jefferson died in bankruptcy.

These guys weren’t bankers - they weren’t rich investors - they weren’t land speculators.

They might have owned a lot of land - but that was about it, and land didn’t have that much value back then.

Historian Forrest McDonald did an exhaustive analysis of each state that ratified the Constitution - and looked at the make-up of the delegates and what they did for a living.

As McDonald found in, for example, Delaware: 77% of the delegates were farmers. And we’re not talking rich farmers.

In fact - 2/3s of those farmers had meager incomes between 75 cents and 5 dollars a week.

Only 23% of the delegates were professionals - people like lawyers, doctors, and judges.

Not one delegate was a banker - not one was a manufacturer - not one was a rich merchant…not one.

The same was true in New Jersey - where 64% of the delegates were farmers.

The point is - the people who hammered out, and then ratified the Constitution weren’t thinking about money.

In fact - they had such a strong feeling of history and destiny that it at times overwhelmed them.

Their writings show that they truly believed they were doing sacred work - something greater than themselves, greater than their personal interests, and even greater than the interests of their wealthy constituents back at home.

That’s why the Constitutional Convention was held in secret, behind locked doors.

And it’s why James Madison didn’t publish his own notes of who said what at the constitutional convention until 1840, just after the last of the other participants died.

Simply put - the wealthier men among the delegates were betraying the interests of their own economic class - and they didn’t want others in their class to know about it.

They were voting for democracy instead of oligarchy.

They were voting to create and maintain a middle class instead of creating a nation of, by and for the rich.

As Thomas Jefferson said:

Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind; for I can apply no milder term to … the general prey of the rich on the poor.

And:

That liberty [is pure] which is to go to all, and not to the few or the rich alone.

And:

I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom.

And:

Those seeking profits, were they given total freedom, would not be the ones to trust to keep government pure and our rights secure. Indeed, it has always been those seeking wealth who were the source of corruption in government.

Jefferson even warned us that we should never, never, ever, in his words…

be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow sufferers.

People, for some reason, think the Constitution said that only rich, white, male landowners could vote - but none of those things are anywhere in the Constitution.

While our new country was far from perfect, in many of the states in our early years women voted, Blacks voted, and even people who lived in the poorhouses that George Washington appropriated federal money to pay for, voted.

Although over time most of the states individually took away many of those rights - the way Scott Walker in Wisconsin is trying to right now prevent students, minorities, and the elderly people from voting in that state - none of that was - or is - in the Constitution.

The Framers were Enlightenment Era idealists who really believed they were creating a better world - for all.

And their decision to create a democracy in America was not easy.

As John Quincy Adams, who fought tirelessly to end slavery in the southern states, said:./p>

Posterity - you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it.

Today - our lawmakers could learn a lot from our Founding Fathers.

These were people who didn’t send others’ kids off to war but fought it themselves - these were people who didn’t give kickbacks to the bankers and robber barons but fought to restrain the power of banksters and business - these were people who didn’t get richer and richer the longer they stayed in office but who usually retired from public office broke.

These were people who risked it all -

2 Likes

I am currently reading a book 'WHITE TRASH. The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America." by Nancy Isenberg. If you want to get a sense of how the “Founders” viewed class, good read.

Womanizer isn’t the same as sexual predator. Unlike Jefferson, Franklin didn’t rape his slaves (he had tow, Jefferson had over 130.)

1 Like

Realpolitik. What counts is the net effect. No Obama, no healthcare.

Don’t forget the first speech he made after leaving office. As you noted he did not prosecute a single banker. As a reward, he was paid $4000,000 to give a speech to a group of bankers.

The article by Thom Hartmann is false.

George Washington , as example was rich and is considered in TODAYS dollars one of the richest Presidents in US History.

According to Wikipedia His NET worth was 560 million in todays dollars.

George Washington not a land speculator? That is exactly how he got rich. He speculated in land and would have agents hang out at Land offices to persusade soldiers that were enttiled a lot of land not to claim it but to sell it to Mr Washington. He would pay under market value to the land . He was also involved in speculation in the Ohio Territories , lands co claimed by the French and the First Nations tribes still living there. He used his position as land Surveyor in the Governmnet to ensure he got the choicest pieces of land.

Under the Royal proclamation of 1763 the Crown decided a lot of the land in the Ohio territories had been arrived at via fraud. This was one of the causes of Pontiacs rebellion. The Royal Proclamation indicated it would close off those territories to further settlement and review all past purchases of lands for legality. George Washington was at risk of losing his investments there.

The claim they were “land rich” but money poor is just SPIN. The same could be said of virtually every Noble in the Empire as few of them had money sitting in banks. Their wealth was measured by their assets such as lands and in the USA their slaves. Corporations that sold stocks and bonds were in their infancy and the return on investment from land and slaves was much higher then having the money sit in a bank. There was a great swathe of landowners that were deemed cash poor because cash did not have the importance it has today. Added to that money was backed by precious metals meaning the supply finite.

As to who showed up at various Constitutional assemblies it immaterial. What is important is who made the final decisions. There some 50 plus signatories to the Constitution. The single largest group were Lawyers, followed by Plantation owners and then Merchants. These were not “poor people”. The “poor people” were serving them tea or shining their boots as indentured servants or slaves.

I could go on for ever refuting the stuff written by Kevin Philips who just another of those historians that wants to paint the Washington and his Cherry tree stuff as fact.

5 Likes

I liked the piece, but the author makes a pointless comparison to an election in 1876 - who cares what the turn out was in an election that the author already told us had pretty poor voter enfranchisement.

I wish the author had brought up Ranked Choice Voting or proportional representation or the Electoral College (maybe in his next article).

You forgot to mention the coup in Honduras that HRC headed up. Oh, and the coup in Ukraine… And putting missiles in every country on Russia’s western flank… The list goes on and on related to Obama in cahots with the Clinton’s et al.

1 Like

Excellent!

I knew that Washington was the richest man and largest landholder in the colonies. I also understand that he was the founding father that insisted on the insertion of the Commerce Clause into the Constitution so that he could have canals linking some of the colonies in which he owned properties to facilitate the transport of his marketable goods, to be paid for paid for by the government.

If you have any more information about this and the Commerce Clause that serves the rich, white, propertied males that signed the Constitution, that would be much appreciated.