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Est. April 5, 2002
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Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey. Where wealth accumulates and men decay: Princes and lords may flourish or may fade; A breath can make them, as a breath has made; But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride, When once destroyed, can never be supplied.

-From “The Deserted Village,” by Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774)

Goldsmith was writing and living in a very different time and his long poem was a lament of the loss of the personal that he felt was found in village life among people who mostly worked the land or, at least, worked with their hands.

But his poem has a message for those of us in the 21st Century, in that we too have abused the land and the environment that is endangering the future of the planet, right now, and he could see that the accumulation of wealth is principally what causes the decay of men (all of humankind). In his time, it was the power of the rich that could demolish a village or move it a mile or two, so that a lord of the manor could have his landscaped garden where he wanted it.

That was the power of money 400 years ago and that is the power of money in this century. That power is truly awesome, for it can uproot neighborhoods and villages and sacred places for industrial development or a resort or a golf course, or a transcontinental pipeline that befouls sacred land or burial places. These things happen to people who have little or no power over the desires of the rich, who stride upon the land as if they owned all of it, including what was once called the commons.

Money and wealth have played a major role in determining the direction of the U.S.A. ever since the beginning. And in the beginning, it was the rich and powerful who set the stage for a war of independence and for the democratic republic that supposedly exists today. The founders conveniently ignored the rights of the lowly workers and farmers and pastoralists and gave the vote to those who owned land. Never mind black citizens or slaves, women, Native Americans, and others who did not count in the scheme of things. It has taken hundreds of years to win the vote for all of the groups who were left out in the beginning and it was a long time of blood, sweat, and tears to win that recognition.

Carey McWilliams was a lawyer, writer, editor, and sturdy defender of migrant workers in his adopted State of California. His first best-seller, “Factories in the Field,” in 1939, is about the plight of farm workers and migrants who produced food for the nation at that time. He was well aware of Goldsmith’s warning of decay and wrote about it. Farmworkers still produce food for the nation today and their condition is little better now than it was then. The land is still owned by big “farmers” and agribusinesses that spend millions lobbying their politicians to keep stoop laborers at the bottom of the economic ladder. Corporate America, through its modern version of robber barons, spend a good portion of their wealth to keep hourly and other wage workers at the bottom of the economic ladder and fight to keep them from consistently keeping their heads above water.

Ask black farmers about their plight and they’ll explain that “the man” has managed to steal their land from them, by hook or by crook, and it’s usually by the latter that they get the land. It’s the same in the cities for black and other minorities, who are offered low wages in fast food and other low-wage businesses and are forced to live in communities that are not just food deserts, but educational deserts, and are bereft of theaters, libraries, athletic fields for youngsters, and all the other things that make for a life in a thriving civilization.

The country has had a president, until recently, who bragged how wealthy he was (although he has never come across with tax returns to show it) and through his arrogance and braggadocio, he fooled enough voters to give him the highest office in the land. Donald Trump never hesitated to tell the world how important and necessary he was, no matter how ignorant, incompetent, and incapable of carrying out the duties of the office. He got away with all of his crimes and misdemeanors, even in office. Why? Because he’s right, or at least that’s what he told us.

The charge against him of violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution has been not just dismissed, but erased, by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Trump Court. Since no president has ever had so many private business dealings while conducting the business of the United States, it has not been clear exactly what the emoluments clause has meant. The Constitution says: “[N]o Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” The case(s) brought against Trump regarding emoluments might have cleared the air and given a clear definition, but the Supreme Court threw out the case and directed the lower courts that had similar cases to erase their cases, presumably until another highwayman comes along and gets elected president. How do people like Trump do it? He’s rich, and there are two sets of laws: one for people with money and power, and one for the poor and working class.

This is the decay of humanity that Goldsmith was talking about four centuries ago and the recent debacle of the Trump presidency has shown in bright daylight the decay of the modern era. This decay is what President Biden is being asked to clean up, but the task just might be too much for a man who views his job from the four-decade perspective in politics that he has lived. It’s not that he can’t see the monumental task ahead, but is he willing to actually see it through the eyes of the young elected representatives and the people of color who have borne the brunt of the violent gap between the rich and poor, between the white ruling minority and black and other people of color? Biden faces some of the worst problems that a nation has faced, possibly for all time: the pandemic that under the previous administration was allowed to kill hundreds of thousands; a climate crisis that was denied for the past four years and ignored for 50 before that; police killings of black citizens and mass incarceration; the lack of a health care system that, if it were national and universal, would have prevented untold deaths from Covid-19; foreign policy that was left in a shambles by the outgoing president; lack of a housing policy or an industrial policy. And, that’s to name but a few of the problems.

The country can’t expect Biden to do this alone. He’s trying, but he has to be made to want to solve these problems and more, and the only way to do that is for people to gather in groups to discuss how to get Biden to act and how to ride over the Republican Party, which has shown itself to be a function of the oligarchs and most of whom do the bidding of the oligarchs. This can be done through the remnants of democracy that exist. The rot and decay of U.S. society need to be identified and solutions have to be proposed to cure it. The massive amounts of money that seemingly are the only things that count, especially in the political realm, are a big part of the decay.

A good country is not going to spring forth without the hard work of organizing and study and discussion and action. It is not going to be brought forth by such as the deplorable and deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol this month. American needs a rational debate on a grand scale and it needs to have the people, all of the people, voting at every level. The voters need to put up candidates who will work for all of the people, not just the rich and powerful. It is an educational process and an organizing process and it will take a long time to achieve justice and equity, because the decay didn’t just appear out of nowhere and it will not disappear just because we wish it so. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.

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David A. Love, JD
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