Let’s Take Back the Political Process from the Ruling Classes


We could use a Republican like Abe again

Jacek Popiel

Americans live in a perpetual now, and the now of 2016 is looking decidedly grim.  A quick summary of our current situation:

  • U.S. finances are shaky, with an exploding national debt, two economic crises since the year 2000, and the next one possibly around the corner.
  • The once superb U.S. economic machine has been hollowed out by globalization and outsourcing.
  • College education, once the ticket to middle class wealth, is now both overpriced and of questionable value.
  • Immigration is lowering wage scales and sharpening competition for the jobs that remain.
  • National security, both internal and external, is both expensive and increasingly in question.

Our two major political parties, awash in ideological sound bites, are not much help:

  • The Democrats appear single-mindedly dedicated to the indefinite growth of the federal government.
  • The present Republicans are split between “status quo” and “reform” wings and seem incapable of any kind of decisive action.

Our political establishment is in increasing disarray. Cornered between a reckless but dominant federal administration and an increasingly rebellious (and armed) populace, it appears ready to split into warring factions, and possibly sink into national chaos.

How does America pull itself out of the ditch?  As a first step, we could take a lesson from our own history.  No historical example could shed better light on this predicament (and opportunity) than the way the Republican Party came to be in 1850s, when the United States of America were in deep trouble, just as they are now.

Lessons from Antebellum America

Let’s look back at pre-Civil War America, an America that was even more divided than today’s:

  • The slavery issue was tearing the nation apart (and eventually did, bringing civil war in 1861).
  • The country had not recovered from the Panic of 1837 and the following hard times. There was no stable national currency, with states and banks each printing their own. A bank’s average lifetime was five years, gold and silver were being hoarded and the money supply was too low to support the economy.
  • Nascent American industries were threatened by superior British technology and lower prices.
  • Immigrants could not afford land prices driven sky-high by speculators. They swelled East Coast urban populations, putting pressure on wages and living conditions.
  • There was a shortage of technical personnel – such as surveyors, engineers, veterinarians, attorneys. The shortage was critical in the new Midwestern states.

These issues went unresolved due to political gridlock. The Democratic Party had a lock on the federal government and used it to defend and perpetuate slavery. The opposition Whigs vacillated between idealistic reform ideas and a comfortable – if precarious – status quo.

Northern abolitionists and Southern “Fire-Eaters” were (rhetorically) at each other’s throats, even as real shooting was about to start in “Bleeding” Kansas.

The birth of the Republican Party was a spontaneous reaction to the passage of the (pro-slavery) Kansas-Nebraska Act. But its leaders understood that a one-issue third party had no chance – two such had failed already. Only a platform addressing all the issues listed above would do, and such a platform they proceeded to build. It included:

  • A transcontinental railroad linking San Francisco to New York, to allow for trans-continental commerce.
  • Financial reform and a sound common currency.
  • Free land distribution to deserving settlers.
  • “Agricultural and Mechanical” state colleges, financed by land grants.
  • A high tariff to support American industrial growth.
  • A negotiated end of slavery, starting with the Missouri Compromise.

It became, quite possibly, the most successful platform in U.S. history. The early Republicans were practical men, not ideologues. They opened the party’s door wide to all, recruiting many of the best politicians of their time, Abraham Lincoln, a former Whig, being one of them.

Within six years the Republicans dominated Congress and Lincoln was President. When the South seceded, Republican control of Washington was complete.

Over the following five years the Republicans managed the Civil War and passed their entire platform into law. The great railroad was completed in 1869. The Homestead Act killed land speculation. “A&M’s” appeared in nearly every state, revolutionizing higher education. A single currency, the “greenback dollar” was introduced. Emancipation was proclaimed.

A higher tariff not only financed the Federal Government, but generated exceptional economic growth. American inventiveness gave rise to entirely new industries. Novel production methods and management techniques were developed, and thirty million immigrants were housed, educated and provided with jobs.

By 1900 the U.S. economy was both the largest and the most efficient in the world. It provided a fitting foundation for “the American century,” which saw the United States prevail both in World War II and the Cold War.

It was a glorious time, but such epochs can leave behind a national hangover.  We are clearly dealing with a doozy right now.

The Way Ahead

As in 1850s, it is time for a change.  Whether the spark will come from the political establishment, a Third Party, or from political “outsiders” such as Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, it must:

  • Offer practical solutions to the problems listed above. Such solutions exist, but need now to be formulated with courage and clarity.
  • Provide enough patriotic incentive to transcend ideology and create a new “national interest majority.”

Just as in pre-Civil War America, the seeds of reform are coming from the right of center and garnering broad-based support.  Nearly 70% of Republican primary voters support “outsiders.”  Much support of the leading Republican candidate comes from independent voters and right-leaning Democrats.  Is this truly another uprising from the center?

The question remains whether the political establishment can squelch this uprising or whether the Republican Party can return to its roots, reform itself and become a party representing a wider cross-section of the people.

Enough ordinary Americans rose up and took back the political process from the ruling classes in the 1850s.  It is up to us to do it again.

Born in Poland, Jacek Popiel was educated in Africa, Canada, and the United States. He speaks five languages. His career spans military and international business development in the Soviet Union, Eastern and Western Europe, North America, and Japan. He is currently a freelance writer and political consultant. His book “Viable Energy Now,” grew out of his military and international business experience and his professional involvement with energy issues.

4 thoughts on “Let’s Take Back the Political Process from the Ruling Classes

  1. “… the seeds of reform are coming from the right of center….”

    Really? By international standards, both major parties moved well to the right decades ago, at least since Bill Clinton. Currently, Obama can’t wait to strike a Grand Bargain with Paul Ryan, thus moving the whole shebang further to the right. That’ll certainly help the 99% to settle down.

    I suppose Mr Popiel’s experience in “military and international business” explains his placing greater hope in “outsider” businessman Donald Trump instead of “outsider” democratic socialist Bernie Sanders.

  2. “The Democrats appear single-mindedly dedicated to the indefinite growth of the federal government.” A dreadful start to this article!! This is exactly what the GOP Libertarian wing, which has grown greatly in influence of late, screams about. How can we take Mr. Popiel seriously after he parrots this viewpoint as, apparently, his own? The real Democratic Party program is easy to describe: maintain the status quo, that is to say the dominance of society by “the 1%,” while diffusing opposition from “the underclass” with the occasional dollop of reform, or something resembling reform enough to keep angry proletarians from streaming into the streets in rage. And if the latter situation actually arises, local police forces have already been provided generous arsenals of military grade equipment to suppress them. As for the Republicans, they have degenerated into a self-fulfilling prophecy of ever deepening madness. Of late, I guess we may say that Bush and Kasich are trying to play the role of reasonably level-headed individuals. And all the while you-know-who continues to ride high the wave of racist xenophobia he put in motion months ago.

    Perhaps the Editor of TCP has provided a misleading headline for this piece, hinting as it does of revolution. REVOLUTION!!! Oh my God, here in the USA?!?!? So, Mr. Popiel, kindly explain to us how a virtually revolutionary change in this country is to be brought about by the very political establishment that has mired us in this deep, deep malaise? This is exactly what you suggest in the second sentence following the sub-headline “The Way Ahead.” This is very puzzling, to say the least. Indeed, it’s positively vertigo-inducing.

    • Bernie Sanders keeps calling for a revolution, Greg. I wonder if he’s calling for the tumbrels to roll and the guillotine blades to fall as well?

      You say you want a revolution — well, you know — We all want to change the world.

  3. Federal stimulus policies enacted by the nascent GOP lifted a near hopelessly mired national economy out of a decade-and-still-counting, going nowhere slump for all but the 1%, and continued pump-priming — as described by Mr. Popish — in just a few decades elevated the US economy into a top tier world position. Even as USA conservatives, insistent in 1860 on maintaining a status quo economic paradigm inconsistent with social justice evolution, initiated a Civil War to maintain slavery as a primary economic engine.

    Present day conservatives abroad and here in the States, where they are abetted by the rancid Johnny-come-lately New Democrats ( brainwashed Reagan Revolution Republican Lite nitwits), stubbornly cling to three-decades-and-still-counting utterly fruitless trickle down Austrian-Chicago school libertarian supply side bs austerity steadily positioning the national and world economies in a position not dissimilar to that of pre-Civil War America.

    The Party of Lincoln had more in common with New Deal Democrats, and the post-Civil Rights Act infamous Nixonian Southern Strategy resulted in the GOP transforming into the direct linear descendant of the 1860 Democratic Party.

    Those “outsiders” who stand on stage these days at Republican presidential debate debacles-er, I meant to write “events”-have yet to utter a single word that I would consider remotely related to any policy which could by any stretch of my imagination be construed as containing even a trace of useful proposed policy, let alone some sort of reform.

    I recommend looking again at the words painted on the sides of their car. It says ‘The F&%k-Ups!’, not ‘The Fix-Its!’.

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