Let’s talk for a minute about a hypothetical mayor of a hypothetical city. Let’s say this city is one of the largest in the United States—top three. Let’s say this mayor won because he had a national reputation for being a huge asshole who “gets things done” through the power of his massively outsized ego, his “old boy” network, and his own millions of dollars—outspending the opposition by some ridiculous margin, as politicians in an oligarchy tend to do. Let’s pretend this city is situated in a nation only nominally a democracy, where everyone knows and understands that the political machine is run entirely by the wealthy, and that the underclasses have virtually no say in what happens to them or their children, and the vast majority of those at a disadvantage in this society (which is itself the majority) is either too oppressed or deluded to challenge the system in any substantive way.
Now let’s talk about another person in this mayor’s city. This man is a member of the working middle class. He chooses to toil in a public servant position that is at the low end of the pay scale for his education, skill, and experience, but has the benefits traditionally given to public workers choosing to work for a common good rather than private industry. The private sector crashes, causing the Second Great Depression referred to in the corporate-run media as a mere recession. Soon, private workers who made more money in their more precarious jobs turn on public sector workers for having the benefits they themselves used to consider too meager to sway them from their more lucrative careers in finance, business, law, etc. Once their jobs are less certain, they see the relative solidity of public work as a threat to their image of themselves as having made the better choices. But public work has only been a more solid institution because it works in the interest of the common people, who will always outnumber the millionaires and billionaires for whom everyone else effectively labors.
This public worker watches as his profession is dismantled, bit by bit, his benefits rescinded and outright done away with, all under the pretense of the state being at fault for what is universally acknowledged to be a massive swindling of the national (and international) economy by private hedge funds, banks, firms, and money managers so blinded by greed that they destroyed the fabric of the system that made it possible for them to ascend to the heights of the ultra-rich. Politicians and the media insist that state and federal debt must be the burden of the middle and working classes: pensions, healthcare, public education, welfare services, etc. are gutted at the altar of debt reduction, while CEOs continue to make, on average, 720% more than the average workers for the same company per annum. Everyone suffers from the misguided belief that his or her suffering is his or her fault, and everyone continues to suffer, financially and personally, as individuals instead of examining the commonality and intersectionality of their suffering, and its root cause.
Public outcry comes but is silenced. Revolution does not arrive in a timely manner. In the meantime, the line between the ultra-wealthy who back politicians exclusively concerned with maintaining the status quo and the ultra-wealthy who become politicians themselves continues to blur. The mayor from our previous example is elected handily by a populace either romanced by the corporate media or too exhausted to care enough to research whether this man has their best interests in mind. He quickly slashes jobs, schools, and services in the poorest areas of the city, potentially converting a vital metropolis into yet another Rust Belt city, all while preaching a gospel of Reaganomics that finally erases all semblance of differentiation of his party from the opposition. The two parties maintain a false front of qualitative disagreement while forcing the constituency into a shell game of choosing the party that best represents their interests, when in reality, neither do.
Now let’s say the public worker ascends to a volunteer position within his profession’s union: unpaid, few benefits, but a position in which the worker feels as if he has a say in the many issues of his workplace. Let’s say he is an elected member of an elected board comprised of his fellow public workers.
The mayor from our first example has made no secret of his plan to change this board from an elected, public body into one appointed exclusively by him. Boards of mayor-appointed individuals represent the interests of that mayor and those who helped him buy the previous election. They are not representative of the city’s populace and the city’s populace has no say in who is appointed; the appointed board barely makes a pretense of having anyone but their own interests and the interests of the mayor in mind when making decisions that impact the economic ecosystem of this city in crisis.
Now let’s say, hypothetically, that these two people chance to meet at a third party function. The public worker approaches the mayor in a casual, friendly manner, unsure of whether he will be greeted by indifference or enmity, unaware even if the mayor knows who he is or what and whom it is he represents. The mayor greets him by first name; the public worker is taken aback. The mayor makes a comment intimating that he will be taking over the board on which the public worker serves in the near future, effectively spitting in the face of not only the worker but, let’s be honest, the entire system of representative democracy on which the nation is predicated. Why say that to him now? The mayor knows full well the powerlessness workers feel under his administration.
The answer is emasculation. The answer is that this person in power, like many of his ilk both now and in history, delights in the feeling of domination his office grants him over the people he ostensibly serves. The answer is that maybe politicians aren’t the people with their constituency’s best interests at heart, but actually sociopathic Napoleons determined to make everyone living under their rule feel like indentured servants rather than a community with a voice or the people who in fact put them in that position of power to begin with. Maybe these politicians feel this way because elections are no longer determined by the voice of the common people but by the 1%, the super-PACs, the wealthiest dilettantes of contemporary politics who at best don’t understand the issues facing the rest of the population and at worst actively seek to further repress them. Politicians no longer make even the barest, most nominal acquiescence to constituency, democracy, the working class. In the United States of America of 2013, they know they no longer have to.