Kleptocrat Nation | The Nation


Kleptocrat Nation

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The following in an excerpt from Jim Hightower's new book Thieves in High Places. Click here for info on the book and to view Hightower's tour schedule, which includes stops in New York; Boston; Washington, DC; San Francisco; Seattle; Portland; Los Angeles; Chicago; Minneapolis; Kansas City; Philadelphia and Austin.

About the Author

Jim Hightower
Jim Hightower has been called America's favorite populist. He's been editor of The Texas Observer, president of the...

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This old American democratic tradition already has deep support at the grassroots.

People are wriggling free of the fetters of corporate culture.

klep·to·crat na·tion

(klep'te krat na'shen), n. 1. a body of people ruled by thieves. 2. a government characterized by the practice of transfering money and power from the many to the few. 3. a ruling class of moneyed elites that usurps liberty, justice, sovereignty and other democratic rights from the people. 4. the USA in 2003.

The kleptocrats have taken over. Look at America's leadership today--not just political, but corporate, too. Tell me you wouldn't trade the whole mess of them for one good kindergarten teacher.

Forget George W for a moment (we'll get to him soon enough) and sneak a peek at practically any big-deal CEO, Congressional heavy, media baron, talk-show yakker, pompadoured TV preacher and the other pushers of America's new ethic of grab-it-and-go greed. Sheesh! In a crunch, would you want to be tied at the waist to any of these people? When I look at any one of them, I can't help mumbling to myself: 100,000 sperm and you were the fastest?

Yet, they're in charge! Here we are, living in the wealthiest country in history, a country of boundless possibilities, a country made up of a people deeply committed to democratic ideals, a country with the potential for spectacular human achievement--but we find ourselves ruled (politically, economically, culturally and ethically) by a confederacy of kleptocrats.

When did you first realize or at least begin to suspect that America was lost? Not physically, of course--we're right here.

Lost its way, is what I mean, having wandered from the brave and true path first pointed out by Tom Paine, T.J., Jimmy Madison and several other good thinkers back around 1776--a path toward a society focused not on empire, but on enlightenment and egalitarianism.

We've never reached that glorious place, of course, but the important thing is that in our two-century sojourn we've been steadily striving to get there...and making progress. If any one thing really characterizes this big, boiling pot of diversity dubbed "America" it is that we're a nation of strivers. Unfortunately, the cultural elites want to minimalize this powerful virtue by reducing it to nothing more than individuals striving for material gain--"Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" "How To Get Rich In the Next Half Hour!" "You Might Already Be A Winner."

Then they wonder why there's such a gaping hole in America, an emptiness that can't be filled by nonstop shopping, prepaid elections, more bunting and reality TV. When the Powers That Be started defining a person's value by the value of their stock portfolio, they lost America, for that's not who we are. These Powers are as clueless as the doomed husband in this divorce case:

Attorney: "What was the first thing your husband said to you when you woke up that morning?"
Witness: "He said, 'Where Am I, Cathy?'"
Attorney: "And why did that upset you?"
Witness: "My name is Susan."

Don't go calling us names like "consumer" or "stakeholder" when who we are is full-fledged, dyed-in-the-wool, unbridled, rambunctious citizens--indeed, we're the ultimate sovereigns of this great land. We don't merely strive for material gain, but also for the satisfaction of building community and reaping the deeper richness of the common good.

The idea of belonging to something larger than our own egos and bank accounts, the idea of caring, sharing and participating as a public is the big idea of America itself. As a boy growing up in Denison, Texas, I was taught this unifying, moral concept by hard-working, Depression-era parents who ran a small business in our small town. They knew from experience and from their hearts what America is all about: "Everybody does better when everybody does better," is how my old daddy used to put it.

The unforgivable transgression of today's leaders is that they've abandoned this common wisdom of the common good and quit striving for that world of enlightenment and egalitarianism that the founders envisioned, and that so many have struggled to build. Instead, whether from the top executive suites or from the White House, the people in charge today are aggressively pushing a soulless ethic that shouts: "Everyone on your own, grab all you can and, if you've got enough money, secure yourself in a gated compound."

Whoa there, greedbreath. That's not a society, it's a cockfight! And it's damned sure not the proud country that we thought we were living in--the land of Liberty and Justice for All.

Not only are the Kleptocrats stealing our country from us, they're stealing our democratic ideals--the very idea of America. And it's time to take it back.

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