The American middle class is fast being relegated to the political background by big businesses. The relegation in question is two-fold, economic and political, both of which are inextricable. We know that a middle class is the most essential feature of a functioning democracy because civil society, the part of society that discuses the nation’s direction, exists in the middle class. Hence, the effects of the aforementioned relegation leave our democracy on a very tenuous foundation.
From the political point of view, big businesses are able to push a conservative agenda and finance conservative candidates. The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission exacerbated this problem. In that decision, the Supreme Court held that corporate funding for political candidates is protected under the first amendment and as such cannot be limited. The day the Supreme Court made its decision in Citizens United, President Obama called it a major victory for health insurance companies and other major corporations that drown out the voices of everyday Americans. At the time, Lainie Rutkow, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins’s School of Public Health, remarked that with the recent efforts at healthcare reform, insurance companies can now select candidates who support their interests and devote unlimited funds to their campaigns to secure their elections or reelections. This has been deleterious to the interests of people who are poor, most of whom depend on programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
The president’s statement portended the situation we are facing today with a majority of the Republican members of Congress fighting to ensure that the benefits of the rich remain intact while Medicare, Medicaid, TANF and other social safety net programs are cut. These programs provide more than a social safety net, they provide a political safety net because they prevent people from falling out of the middle class, the very essence of democracy. Hence, other than the moral obligation we have to people in poverty, given every human being’s dignity, we have a practical interest in ensuring that their lot is bettered so that the ranks of the middle class are increased.
We face a situation worse than the relegation of the middle class. The United States is at a crossroads where its policies are rapidly leading to the complete erosion of the middle class. With the loss of the middle class, capitalism and democracy, as we know them, are likely to devolve into a modern feudalism where people at the economic margins, a group consisting of most Americans, will be left at the mercy of big businesses, in an arrangement of permanent economic subjugation.