We’ve arrived once again at that time of year — the Fourth of July — when the op-ed pages of America’s newspapers start filling with commentaries on democracy and the American Revolution’s enormous contribution to it.
But this year’s hearty salutes to the Spirit of ’76 come against an unsettling backdrop. We don’t just have a sitting President elected with a distinct minority of the vote. We have as President a man of enormous wealth who suggests that individuals of enormous wealth should run the government.
“I just don’t want a poor person” in the cabinet, President Trump recently told a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The President wants rich people in the cabinet — and he has them. Mega millionaires and a few billionaires make up most of his key top appointments. And that rates as a good thing, the President assures us.
“Somebody said, ‘Why’d you appoint rich person to be in charge of the economy,’” he explained in Iowa. “I said, ‘Because that’s the kind of thinking we want.’”
Back before the American Revolution, the rich and powerful in America’s original 13 colonies thought along the same lines. Men of means, they felt, deserved to run the colonial show. Property qualifications for voting and office-holding, historian Clement Fatovic points out, kept colonials of modest means sitting on the political sidelines.
These rigged rules “concentrated political power in the hands of the wealthy,” Fatovic notes in his 2015 book, America’s Founding and the Struggle Over Economic Inequality. But the outbreak of the American Revolution shook up this “politics of deference.” Average colonials, Fatovic shows, “became more outspoken in questioning hierarchical attitudes and practices.” Patriots made one of their early targets “the notion that the rich have a right to govern.”