“Dark Money.  The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” by Jane Mayer

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Temple Micah.

Micah Reader in February 2018 by Brenda Levenson

Published in 2016, Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money raises questions about the meaning of democracy, the republic and capitalism, and where does the United States fit in. Democratic capitalism seems to be the most appropriate way to define our country.  An oxymoron perhaps or is it?

Our discussion was lively and spirited, in spite and perhaps because of the fact that Mayer’s book was not received unanimously by our readers. Some thought that Dark Money “failed to analyze” the issues of dizzying money being spent on elections by, among others, the Koch brothers about whom a long chapter is dedicated. Even though Bill Gates, George Soros and Warren Buffet on the democratic side were mentioned, the influence they exert pales when compared to that of the Koch brothers.  It is clear that the latter are experts at disguising the real purpose of the foundations they create with enormous sums dispensed under the pretense of university projects, philanthropic causes and cultural endeavors.  The amount of money thus distributed to influence elections is staggering.  Then why aren’t democrats as good as republicans at doing the same? asked a reader.  The answer from another member of the group was that “Democrats are more vulnerable,” presumably more subject to hostile scrutiny.

Our readers mentioned the Mellon family whose large “gifts” came with strings attached, as in the case of the National Gallery in Washington they added.  But where millionaires such as the Mellons were after prestige, the sums the Koch brothers distribute to universities is particularly cause for concern, as the price of their donations is to institute a curriculum they dictate and how it should be taught.  Universities “should not bend rules” and cave in to restrictive money they receive, said our readers. Naming as secretary of education a woman who has no expertise on the subject, and comes from the same background as the Koch brothers, adds to the anxiety about the future of public schools who are under attack in terms of decreased funds and diminishing teachers’ salaries.  In France in 1882, the Jules Ferry law was promulgated to establish universal education through the country.  The legislation reflected the government’s understanding that democracy could not survive in a nation in which a large part of the population was illiterate.  Today, many of our high school graduates have been known to barely ready or write, a result of the deterioration of public education.

The definition of the word “democracy” as a system in which the citizens exercise power through the representatives they elect defies the illusion that the United States is indeed a democracy.  “Democratic capitalism?” Again no, as it is described as a system that “limits the influence of special interest groups.” In the February 7, 2018 Washington Post, Karen Tumulty writes that “the Koch brothers informed their donors late last month that they were going to put as much as $400 million into the mid-terms.” Will the democratic billionaires rise to the challenge?

Jane Mayer quotes Louis Brandeis who wrote, “We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”  His words sum up Mayer’s well-researched and troubling indictment of what our so-called democracy has become.

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