As the US Oligarchy Expands Its War, Middle Class White People Must Take a Side

by Robert Nichols

[1/30/17 – image: Medical students stage die-in outside Fox News in NYC protesting the repeal of the Affordable Care Act – via DemocracyNow]

The United States has always used war and theft to build its power and wealth. There has never been a single decade of US history in which this hasn’t been true. For Native Americans and African Americans, this has always been pretty obvious, since they have been the primary targets. Their labor and their land have fed the nation for centuries.

This plunder has had ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ versions. In the fast version, state power (usually the military and police) has been used to kill people and steal from them. In the slow version, people have been forced into unequal and unfair working and living conditions. When people cannot effectively control the conditions of their own employment, they can work their lives away and find themselves no better off in real terms because, for every dollar they make for themselves, they are making two for their bosses.

This system has historically been held together, in part, because the wealth that has been generated by this dual-track plunder has been distributed outward and downward to a significant section of the middle class white population. Middle class white people (such as myself) find that, while we always have something to complain about, our experience of the United States isn’t so bad. It seems like a relatively stable, fair, prosperous country, with a decent system of laws and government.

However, over the last few decades, the unspoken agreement amongst the white middle class and the very wealthy has been breaking down. The wealth that is generated by the hundreds of millions of working people is no longer reaching even the middle class white world. It is shifting upward to an ever-smaller group of super billionaires. For example, we now know that only 8 men control the same wealth as the bottom 3.6 billion people on earth. People have an intuitive sense that this is unfair. These ultra wealthy oligarchs do not work billions of times harder than the average store clerk, teacher, or factory worker.

Whom have we blamed? The political class. There is now a widespread crisis across the liberal-democracies of the ‘West’, because people no longer trust their political elites to work in their interest. They see these political elites as removed from the reality of the average person, and as trying merely to benefit themselves. By and large, they are right.

The ultra wealthy oligarchs of the world have picked up on this and are doing something very smart— they are getting on the bandwagon. They are using this as an opportunity to simply remove the middleman. Whereas the political class used to mediate between the middle class and the ultra rich (constraining them somewhat, while distributing some of the wealth back downward to us), the billionaire class has used this crisis as an opportunity to simply remove the ‘politicians’. They are working to totally merge the corporate and political worlds, and will now rule directly, no longer needing the ‘politicians’ as their managers.

In my view, this is what the Trump administration represents: a coup d’état by the ultra elite billionaire oligarchs, who have effectively eliminated the political-managerial class that used to sit between us and them. (Trump’s cabinet, the wealthiest in history, is staffed almost exclusively by billionaires and millionaires).

There are (at least) two consequences of this: The old ‘war and theft’ system is (1) speeding up, and (2) widening.

They are shifting from the ‘slow’ mode of plunder to the ‘fast’ one. Despite all the talk about ‘small government’, this administration is building up the massive state power that is needed to forcibly control, arrest, and deport the millions of poor and working-class people. They have to do this because, no matter how wealthy they are, a few hundred people cannot rule over the billions of humanity without direct force. So the war is moving back into its ‘fast’ phase.

In doing this, however, they are also catching a larger and larger segment of the total population in their net. As I said, the United States has always been in a kind of low-level war against Native Americans and African Americans, but this has been spreading to include Latinos, Muslims, LGBTQ communities, migrants and refugees, environmentalists, feminists, even scientists and journalists. All of these groups now face direct suppression and control by the Trump administration.

Here is where a great opportunity can be found. Now that the war and theft is speeding up and spreading outward, it is catching up many more people, including many of the white middle class people who used to think that they were safe from all that kind of thing. The big question will be: what will we middle class white people do? Will we fight only to return to the old system, that is, to return to the ‘slow war’ period, the time when people of color were exploited and dominated, with (some) of the benefits trickling down to us? Or will we stand with those people who have always been fighting this system against the authoritarians and oligarchs in order to produce a new and more universally just system? What side are we on?

About the author: Robert Nichols is a professor of political theory at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.

28 thoughts to “As the US Oligarchy Expands Its War, Middle Class White People Must Take a Side”

  1. It’s obvious what the middle class will do. When the forces of the ultra-wealthy have completed their agenda, the middle class will have ceased to exist and the planet will no longer be able to sustain life so this nuisance itch that life has invoked on this disturbed ball of dirt will cease and the planet like the other planets in the solar system, will have to satisfy its emotional problems with an earthquake or two and that will be that. A few scientists predict the era of peace to begin at about 2026 but perhaps a few stragglers will hang on for a few years unless the radiation gets a bit intense.

  2. I always appreciate writes… But where do you get,

    “…needed to forcibly control, arrest, and deport the millions of poor and working-class people. They have to do this because, no matter how wealthy they are, a few hundred people cannot rule over the billions of humanity without direct force. So the war is moving back into its ‘fast’ phase..”

    Not being antagonistic, just sorta curious 🙂

  3. This is where intersectional politics comes in because the white middle class may finally *get* what has been a reality in the U.S. for Blacks and other minorities. There’s a book by the late Derrick Bell called Faces at the Bottom of the Well — the Permanence of Racism. Race has been used to align whites, who occupy the lower (or lowest) rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, with wealthy elite whites. For the last couple of decades, Christian evangelism has been used to further consolidate political power for this same group of whites. Middle-class whites are not players in the Trump administration and their interests certainly don’t matter.

  4. I’m white but I’ve taken the side of the people. We have to remind the government that they work for us and we will continue speaking out against their corruption. Our voices are loud, we just have to use them. Great article!

  5. There are some really good and valid points you bring up. I’ve been “waking up” for several months now and can see what is starting to happen along with a lot of other people across this country. I’ve chosen to stand with the people who’ve always fought the system and with that choice, I’ve chosen a side. I don’t dislike the oligarchs and authoritarians, rather I distrust them. The gap between them and the rest of the world has made it impossible to do anything but resist. The outcome of of that resistance remains a mystery at this point.

  6. This is an incredibly important piece to read and I hope many white Americans get the chance to do so. I can’t believe the amount of white people who feel no responsibility in fixing the racial problems in America solely because they feel it doesn’t affect them. Speaking as a white person, I can say that this does affect us. Besides, even if it didn’t, injustice is still injustice.
    Thank you for writing this, definitely will share this around!

    1. I’m probably one the very few people who feels that white people should fall back from solving black people’s circumstances until blacks realize for themselves the issues in our community. I am very tired of whites endorsing safety, finances, and freedom (which we’ve already been given) on the behalf of black people. Black people need to right their weongs.

    2. Everybody can show injustice, regardless of race – furthermore, everyone can show courage and love and so on – this is not unalateral for any single group of people. We are, in some manner, guilty – let’s realize this and lean towards great justice of all…

  7. I simply can see nothing good coming from the current leadership for a 49 year old single low income disabled white woman in the United States. I already felt as though I were a minority, and now I feel much like a subminority. I was devastated when I learned members of my very own family had voted for Donald Trump, and feel that if push came to shove and we found ourselves in times such as what were during WWII that I’d be turned in in 2.5 seconds flat if it would benefit any one of any person who voted for him that knew me. I absolutely intend to get involved, and resist as much as possible whenever possible.

    Patty L. Fletcher

  8. Part of the problem is because we white, middle-class folks spend too much time worrying about what they don’t have rather than what they DO have.

    Turn off the TV and find something productive to do with your life.

    Money and power is not the bottom line. Health and happiness is.

    You waste the present stewing about the future.

    1. Mr. Scott… you said what I was thinking as I read this post. From your gravatar it seems we are likely to be of similar age. Perhaps the wisdom of age? 🙂 I might add to your comment… the middle class “struggle to survive”, I’m afraid, is more about an economic complacency over the years regarding some idea of work entitlement; that somehow the job my grandfather and father had should allow me some job perpetuity. No.. the middle class has to adjust, compensate for change, and adapt. It’s a brave new world. As long as we are still breathing we have choices. It’s not about loyalty to some union.. it’s about getting off your duff and making a choice.

  9. Very good piece. As a woman and a feminist I certainly see the threat looming large and clear. I have friends who are worried but seem incapable of acting . I was an activist in the 60s and I’ve been actively involved with human rights organizations for over 30 years. I plan to step up my participation wherever I can. But I am an older person and I would like to see the younger generation step up. It is my children and my grandchildren futures that are at stake.

  10. This dichotomy of wealth and power is what many Australians have been thinking and expressing about our own political system. Our Prime Minister is now known as “Mr Harbourside Mansion” a term used by the leader of the opposition and adopted by those opposed to the current government. It is vitually impossible to run for politics in this country without access to millions of dollars, hence no other class is truly represented in the houses of parliament. The government has it’s own agenda leaving the marginalised completely powerless. The poor, the aged and disabled are at the mercy of big business. Their welfare services are being privatised and far too many cases of abuse fall through the cracks in an underfunded system. Welfare services partly funded by private corporations have prioritised their duty of care to their shareholders in the form of profits above the welfare of their consumers. All social welfare should be run by non-profit organisations so that it is not overtaken by greed and morally bankrupt corporations. It is only the rich who can afford quality residential aged care. The same can be said about other sectors of the community eg. childcare and disability services.

  11. The following is my reply. Draw your own conclusions.

    Two hundred forty years ago our ancestors brought forth on this continent a new nation, once again conceived in ignorance, deception, lies and half-truths, and dedicated to the proposition that all men, when left to their own devices and initiatives, would wander about aimlessly, hopelessly lost without the “leadership” of those elect.

    Lest we forget, those of the Congress, the Senate and the White House are no different, nor are they in any way superior to those who occupy this nation. Truth is, they are not worthy of treading upon the very footsteps of the so-called “common man.”

    After all, it is the people of this nation, through diligence and hard work, who supply the lifeblood of these leeches who posture such arrogant “superiority.”

    Now we find ourselves engaged in yet another great war, testing whether this nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of this war.

    We have come to dedicate a portion of this field as testimony that those who here gave their lives, did so in vain. No nation can long endure whose very foundation is built upon the laws of man and not of God.

    The memory of those brave men who struggled here, now demand our concerted efforts that all of mankind should henceforth live in dedication to these principles: that no one should ever again endure the sting of rule. Wherever there is government, there can be no freedom.

    The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it should never forget what we ardently struggle to achieve here. It is for us, the living, to be dedicated to the corrective work which they who fought here so gallantly, failed to achieve.

    It is sheer insanity to come from such a war as the American Revolution, with a loss of fifty-thousand men, then turn right around and recreate a system very similar to that just defeated, thus again granting inordinate powers to a small group of men and women who, like ourselves, were born dead in sin, and then expect them to resist their sin natures!

    It is for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining, that from these misguided dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they should have given their last full measure of devotion.

    We are here highly resolved that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that the will of God and His people shall not perish from the earth…

    Bill Ernstberger

  12. Unfortunately this a very accurate description. There are no wealthy people willing to serve our country in an honorable manner. The last may have been the Kennedys. Whether one agreed with their politics or not, their honorable service was never in question. In the current climate my hope lies with Senators Warren and Sanders along with those currently taking to the streets, phones and emails. Mr. Trump will learn to use his words he is not “the fucking President,” he is only the President. Perhaps our nation can learn from our mistakes and join together, black,white, straight, gay, whatever and remove the oligarchs through the courts and the ballot box.

  13. This is a great article I Just happened to run into. It’s so true that our government is now being run by corporate millionaires. Unfortunately most people don’t seem to be aware of all that your article just pointed out. Just look at some of the Facebook and Twitter posts. People like Milo Yiannopolis suddenly blast their way to stardom and feeding off of the negativities that plague our society. I think people are trusting the social media more and more these days and thats not good at all. It’s hard to figure out how to discern the true news and fake news these days and that’s very troublesome.

  14. So true and if they won’t wake up then oppression will be the talk of the day. Some of them voted for Trump in basis of race not in the basis of what’s good and what’s not and it will come back and bite them.

  15. Great piece! As you noted, environmental and animal welfare protections are also being hidden/removed by this administration. If everyone isn’t concerned with that, they may be when we face another mass extinction (if Trump doesn’t plunge us into nuclear war first).

  16. Great piece, finally heard someone say out loud what I had realized since high school. As a black person working with people from all over America I often realized a “silence” when it came to certain political questions. I have tweeted, Facebooked, and Tumblred this article. It is the best open dialogue I have seen in a long time. Congratulations on saying all of this in an engaging way.

    1. This article, though an excellent read for white people, is also helpful for me to explain to my brown children why they feel what they feel and experience what they experience about the unfairness they see at school, in the news, and in the world. They often protest me taking them to protests, and I struggle to explain the enormity of the entrenched system in a succinct way. Now they can read this.

  17. I do have some questions regarding your piece. While I agree with parts I disagree with others, or just see some things differently.
    1) You mention the fact that the 8 wealthiest men have as much money as the poorest 3.6 million people in the world. You then refer to the 3.6 million poorest as factory workers, teachers etc. According to the department of numbers the US alone has over 7 million people unemployed, meaning they do not have a career. Am I missing something or is your wording slightly misleading?
    2) You speak as if the idea of the wealthy controlling government is something new. It is widely believed that the Rothschild family alone has influenced the rise and fall of nations and the outcomes of wars solely on their vast wealth and ability to control global cash flow.
    3) Unless I misread you also seem to refer to the need for career politicians to act as a buffer. Is this ideaology not in direct conflict with our founding principles of citizen statesmen? While Trump is no ordinary citizen in the least, he comes much closer to that classification than say the Clinton’s.
    I post this in hopes of intelligent discussion and in no means have any intention other than gaining clarification and understanding your point of view.

  18. I am Native American and White and middle class. I am also a democrat. But since Hilary was so bad I thought Trump would be better than her. I did not vote for either. We are in much chaos and it finally hit me how bad it was when No DAPL was made yes by our current leader who gives no creedance to treatys promises or otherwise. It is very sad. This was a great article thank You,

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