What Happens When The Book You’re Reading Disgusts You?

Photo by Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash

I’m at an interesting juncture in my project to advance changes in the way we teach history. I’m reading Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer.

I’m two-thirds of the way through, and after last night’s reading I needed a shower very badly.

Now, keep in mind since I was twelve I have read extensively about the Holocaust, and I’ve had my fair share of needing showers to wash away the evil. But this time the reality of what is happening seems so incredibly hopeless….

I’m appalled at what I am learning.

I’m stunned that I could be so ignorant.

I’m saddened at the hopelessness I feel.

I’m at a loss for how we could possibly present this information without bias.

I’m convinced there is no way to overcome this presence of dark money controlling our lives.

Yes, I know, you can’t teach history and be completely unbiased. But what happens when you come across information about money in politics that is — on the one hand — vital for people to know and understand, and on the other hand —is necessary to develop a critical thinking approach to presenting and discussing the information…as well as fact-checking Mayer’s research.

Photo by Olga DeLawrence on Unsplash

Some of the information so far:

“The Kochs were unusually single-minded, but they were not alone. They were among a small group of rarefied, hugely wealth arch-conservative families that for decades poured money, often with little public disclosure, into influencing how Americans thought and voted. Their efforts began in earnest during the second half of the twentieth-century. Each (of the families) were different, but together they formed a new generation of philanthropist, bent on using billions of dollars from their private foundations to alter the direction of American politics.” (p. 4)

“During the previous eight years of Republican rule, this conservative corporate elite had consolidated its power, amassing enormous sway over the U S government’s regulatory and tax laws. Some in this group faulted President Bush for not having been conservative enough. But having molded policy to serve their interests during the Bush years, many members of this caste had accumulated enormous wealth and regarded the newly elected Democratic president as a direct threat to all they had gained. Participants feared they were seeing not just the passing of eight years of Republican dominance but the end of a political order, one that they believed had immeasurably benefited both the country and themselves.” (p. 5)

“The Kochs were not alone. As they sought ways to steer American politics hard to the right without having to win the popular vote, they got valuable reinforcement from a small cadre of like-minded wealthy conservative families who were harnessing their own corporate fortunes toward the same end. Philanthropy, with its guarantees of anonymity, became their chosen instrument. But their goal was patently political: to undo not just Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal but Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive era, too.” (p. 59)

This is just the beginning of the book. Needless to say, I was hooked with the background of all the various families (like DeVos), but also questioning why, as I was reading, that I found this so horrifying. How could I be so diametrically opposed to what I was learning without trying to develop some questions to ask myself how all these policies differed so much from how I thought — and expected — our country to run itself?

A few notes from Forbes Magazine of top 400 wealthiest Americans:

The minimum net worth to join this exclusive club hit an all-time high of $2.1 billion while the average net worth for a Forbes 400 member rose half a billion to a record $7.2 billion. At these lofty highs, more than a third of the nation’s billionaires, a record 204, weren’t wealthy enough to crack the club. https://www.forbes.com/forbes-400/#754854637e2f

https://www.forbes.com/forbes-400/#754854637e2f
https://www.forbes.com/forbes-400/#754854637e2f

Pay attention in the above two images on “lifetime giving:” — a few notes on that later….

https://www.forbes.com/forbes-400/#754854637e2f

Also, in the above image, pay attention to the “goal”: — which gets corrupted in conservative political donations to “non-profits” they themselves set up for the purpose of hiding monies as “social welfare.”

As I read about lawsuits brought against the Kocks in particular for environmental damages to both land and individual workers — and the billions of dollars spent to keep regulations from impinging on their profits — all I could think was that it would have been so much cheaper (and certainly more charitable) in the long run to spend the money (way less than what it no doubt cost them to make a point) to fix what was wrong and pay damages.

But then…I read about the development not just of a few conservative “think tanks” — which I knew for a long time existed — but of now endowment programs under the guise of social welfare contributions to colleges, universities, law schools…I wasn’t aware of the subversion (I can’t think of a less inflammatory word) of liberal arts colleges by wealthy families endowing chairs in economics and philosophy, slowly gaining control over the education of new generations. I can just see my political science professor and my history professors struggling with these new agendas that didn’t allow for balanced viewpoints.

These “less-than-one-percenters” do not want a populace that can think for themselves and ask uncomfortable questions…like why try and cover up the fact that you made mistakes with your businesses and you will fight anything that costs you money, regardless of how many people might literally die from your effort?

Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

Why not just fix it and operate within the scope of the law?

I know, that’s probably very Goody Two Shoes of me, but it feels like the “right” thing to do. That’s part of the social contract we should be fixing in this country — as the physicians’ oath says, Do No Harm, or as the Golden Rule (a fixture in most every set of religious beliefs on this plant), Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You.

https://www.amazon.com/CoExist-Poster-24-x-36in/dp/B002SQVEHW

I spent nearly 40 years as a public school teacher. I’m surviving on a small retirement and Social Security, trying to find the money to pay for eye drops and insulin for my husband, having the occasional month where we need to ration the Tylenol.Yes, I find the amounts of money these families have to be obscene, but they are entitled to what they get for their hard work and enterprise. I understand that. What I don’t understand — and refuse to accept — is their unwillingness to play by the rules the rest of us follow.

If you do not want to lose money to “worthless” regulations — like polluting our water and air, then be responsible from the beginning with your enterprises.

I’m not to the end of the book yet, but I had to take a break from what I call evil business practices and read something a little cheerier. But I am still left with oh so many questions.

Is there a way out of this morass of politically controlling families who are concerned only with themselves?

Are we now in so deep, with so many of our politicians and leaders bought and paid for, that it is too late to recoup anything of our “American dream?”

How can we reconcile these business policies with the needs of people around the planet?

Are we turning to (or returning to) a feudal state where we are all subservient to the white lords of the few castles?

What happens when the extremely wealthy set up “charity foundations” for the improvement of “social welfare” all so they can get tax deductions, look good for charitable giving, and promote their own political agenda with no one being the wiser? (see the above charts on the Kochs)

Is there any hope for a return to some semblance of civility and caring for our fellow humans, regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation and country of origin?

These are huge questions. How do we bring these ideas into our classrooms? How do we present the last 40 years in a manner that allows us to discuss the morality of our business decisions as a society? How do we listen to “the other side” and try to understand?

I can’t accept that this is what we have become, thanks to a very wealthy less-than-one-percent group of people. I’m foolish enough — and naive enough — to believe that what I am reading about history in my lifetime is the best that we have become. I hope not. I find this one of the most evil stories I have ever read. I have no idea how to counter this, if it isn’t too late.

My one ray of light is that the midterm elections really do bring a ray of hope…but how can we as a progressive, caring population hope to foster positive change in the face of billions of dollars from people who care nothing for their fellow humans simply because they don’t want to lose their profits?

Let’s see…can I even develop a couple of questions that would enable a critical understanding of the differences between conservative and liberal approaches to business?

As always, I’m open to suggestions….

In the last one hundred years, how have Democratic and Republican platforms of beliefs changed? Stayed the same?

How do libertarianism, conservatism, and progressivism fit as political/business/social philosophies?

How do we define — how should we define — “liberal” and “conservative”?

What is the history behind these two terms? How did they originate, and how have they changed in meaning?

What is meant by “compassionate conservatism?” Do you see evidence of it within current politics/policies?

What are the economics of politics?

How has the role of monetary contributions changed in politics?

Is there a way we can balance regulatory needs and freedom to operate a business that operates for the public?

How have we dealt with corporate abuses in past history? Are there answers other than additional regulations?

These were tough questions to write. I’m not sure I would have the skills to facilitate a discussion among students on these crucial topics. Who would? How do we ensure fairness, understanding, and appreciation of all view-points?

We must figure this out.

Renaissance woman, teacher, fiber artist, lover of history and mathematics, and world citizen; ProjectAgape.org