We say we are a Republic - but I fear we have become an Oligarchy: a government where a small group of people exercise control for corrupt and selfish reasons.
Now I know what it must have been like to live in Rome at the time of the Coliseum games when gladiators and slaves were pitted against each other in a struggle to the death and the rulers in the stands would lift their thumbs up or down deciding who should live or die.
Is it any different today as 24 million Americans are thrown into the arena and are forced to struggle and even to die for lack of health care? In my mind, I picture the president, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and 216 other Republican congressmen in unison giving a celebratory thumbs down, condemning millions to a life without affordable and reliable health care.
What makes this even worse is the fact that these politicians heartlessly cut medical coverage for the poor and used the savings to give big tax cuts to the wealthy. And no small wonder here, since most of those in congress are millionaires. For a sobering exercise, just peruse through the list of congressional millionaires compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. For me, it was a nauseating experience to see how the wealthy are legislating benefits for themselves while taking away vital services from the rest of us.
If you’re wondering how the Wisconsin congressional delegation stacks up in the millionaire decision maker club, below is a chart. This information was extrapolated from data supplied by the Center for Responsive Politics.
As you can see from the chart, except for Rep. Duffy, it was primarily a group of Republican millionaires in the Wisconsin congressional delegation who voted thumbs down on ensuring health care benefits for those most in need. While viewing this chart, it is helpful to remember: all Wisconsin Republicans voted for the health care claw back and all Democrats were opposed.
I have a hard time understanding how anyone can make this decision while sitting in such a position of wealth and privilege. Creating a political “win” seemed to be much more important than caring for those who are less well off. And perhaps even more important was creating the health care tax cuts, to set up another round of tax savings for the wealthy in the upcoming tax reform exercise recently promoted by the president.
What is most disheartening about all of this is the level of dishonesty; the unwillingness of the Republican decision makers to own up to what it is they are doing to the American public. This was best stated by Washington Post columnists Jennifer Rubin who wrote: “House Republicans have been so fixated on passing anything that they now find it hard to defend their handiwork without resort to exaggeration, deflection and flat-out dishonesty”
And so, we have the Republican millionaire dominated congress vote to take health care away from 24 million Americans; to defund Medicaid to the tune of $880 Billion dollars; and to use those “savings” to provide tax cuts to the wealthy. This is what America has come to be: a land where our actions don’t live up to our values.
We say we are a Republic, but I fear we have become an Oligarchy: a government where a small group of people exercise control for corrupt and selfish reasons. Let the games begin.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.