(RNS) The two most critical requirements for democracy are freedom of the press and an educated citizenry.

The one informs the people and brings government and power into the open. The other enables people to comprehend information and to discuss opinions without resorting to panic and violence.

Power elites have declared war on both requirements.

These include “big money” oligarchs, such as the people who gather around the Koch brothers, politicians who cater to the wealthy in exchange for campaign contributions and government officials who have come to identify with the corporate and financial interests they regulate.

Through acquisitions of newspapers and television outlets and intimidation of reporters, these power elites seek to turn the press into propaganda vehicles and to distort information.

Through deliberate underfunding of public schools, scapegoating of teachers and imposing “standards” unrelated to actual quality, the powerful subvert public education; paralyze the teaching of science, literature and history; and denigrate as elitist anyone who worries about a population that increasingly cannot read, reason, know its own history and manage basic tasks.

This war on the foundations of democracy sheds new light on other agenda items pursued by the powerful.

I had thought unrelenting opposition to the Affordable Care Act was about undermining a black president and serving heavy donors. Now I think it’s about making sure expendable and unimportant people don’t live too long.

I had thought legislators were simply afraid of the National Rifle Association. Now it seems they want people to start shooting each other, driving them indoors, stifling protest and public disagreements.

I had thought mindless denial of climate change was pandering to polluters like the Koch brothers. It does do that, but denial serves two larger purposes, as well. It calls science into question and thereby exalts superstition and ignorance, and it guarantees shortening of life.

Unleashing money into politics is partly about winning the next election, but even more it is about ushering in anti-democratic conditions such as campaigns dominated by one-sided messages employing the “Big Lie” tactic, as well as demonization of opponents, sanctification of allies and refusal to compromise.

Meanwhile, wealth consolidates into fewer and fewer hands, and an avaricious and scornful oligarchy ignores normal constraints like shame and civic-mindedness.

I had thought cozying up to fringe elements such as the Tea Party was a back door for inserting religion and blame into local and national politics. It has had that effect, but we also are seeing a great lie of deflection, which turns those hurt by oligarchy against each other, so that oligarchy has free rein. In the same way, Southern plantation owners turned poor whites against former slaves in order to prevent their making common cause against the wealthy.

Religion plays along, because churches are desperate for money and warm bodies and religious leaders like being courted. As a result, we have small and irrelevant debates over “religious freedom” that have nothing to do with religion or freedom, but simply stir alarm among the vulnerable, as well as entitlement bickering that turns churches into hothouses of privilege, rather than revolutionary voices.

People get pushed off center by phony “assaults on the Second Amendment.” As a result, our homes, malls, schools, restaurants and streets become battle zones populated by swaggering men and women brandishing automatic weapons.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

This pervasive agenda isn’t just about winning elections. It is about ushering in a new era of division and repression, in which American citizens fundamentally distrust and loathe each other and thus are easily manipulated.

If power elites prevail, fearful people will welcome an autocratic leadership that promises to ensure safety and comfort and to keep the loathed other in line.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)


  1. Religion has always been a great tool for the powerful to get the poor and ignorant to act against their own interests.

    Look at the support for Hobby Lobby. Somehow poor and working class bible thumpers are standing behind a guy who treats his employees like personal property. Steve Green even believes public education is his personal plaything.

    Last election we had two people who thought it was a religious duty to impoverish people.

  2. mike in wisconsin

    Excellent essay. Thanks Tom. I wish you were wrong, but you have validated what I’ve been saying for some time now. I worry that it will take a public uprising to turn things around, and things may have to get much worse before enough people take notice and begin to act since the majority of Americans are thoroughly distracted by pop-culture nonsense. We all need to be more like the Nuns on the Bus (and in my case, the Nones on the Bus).

    • The LCWR-the “Nuns on the Bus”-have dozens of outstanding charges of child abuse against them and refuse to allow these victims to speak at their conferences. The “Nuns on the Bus” and the “Priests in the Closet” deserve each other.

  3. This Country as a Represented Democracy was founded by the elite in order to use Government and its institutions to maintain their prosperity. The History of the United States shows that as long as the elite can use the tools (including religion) at its disposal to maintain social passivity then they (the elite) prosper. They are not waging war on the foundation of Democracy but are proving that the foundation principals are working and healthy.

    • I cannot tell if you are joking or not.

      So what you are saying is the founders set up some form of oligarchy so that they may prosper at the expense of others. That we were never really a democracy to begin with. So the ongoing attacks on civil liberties, representation and rule of law are not acts undermining democratic principles. They are really part of the system originally created. So the ongoing consolidation of power at the expense of the masses is actually the full flourishing of this oligarchy.

      That is either a helluva joke or some real cynical nasty minded stuff. . .

      • The founding fathers as we like to call them were not your average American. They were wealthy male land owners who were protecting their interests. They didn’t want just anyone to vote. You had to be a landowner to vote. Later when the poor protested the disgraceful working conditions and pay the Government shot them. It wasn’t until a full revolt that the Government acquiescence. The Government promoted and supported slavery until they ran low on white soldiers in the Civil War. Nearly a billion dollars was spent on the last Presidential election to get a guy a job that pays about a quarter of a million. How much of that money came from the poor or even middle class in this nation? Do you actually think that the wealthy invests that much money into getting a guy a job without having some kind of influence on his decisions. I only touched on a small example but yes this country is an oligarchy of the well read, well bred, and well fed.

        • OK, you are being a cynic. I get that. I understand it. Don’t agree with it, but I see your point.

          IMO, things got a bit better when we elected a self-taught legal expert from a dirt poor background to president. Following the period when the nation hashed out those issues the founders left untouched for close to 90 years.

          We may not have started off with a truly representative democracy, but after Lincoln and pals, we put ourselves on that road and really haven’t left it since. Its an unfinished trip.

          The thing about our nation is that as a people we don’t really veer much off to extremes for any length of time. As oligarchies go, even our current situation is fairly mild in comparison. The optimist in me just won’t let go of the notion of acquiescing to such a situation. Call me an idealistic fool. :)

    • Loyal Order of Buffalo

      You statist, sheeple, moonbat!!

      Wake up and join the 99.9215%

      What about Tower 7 and those black helicopters putting put chemtrails over Cleveland?

      It’s the New World Order man! Get your tinfoil hats and stock up on AK-47’s before the government takes them away.

      I figured one bad cliche needed half a dozen more to keep it company

  4. If “Progressive” religions really wanted to put their money where their “Anti-Empire” rhetoric is, they’d pay their full share of taxes and refuse to accept housing allowances; the fact that these are barely question by “prophetic” religious people is evidence that they’re just a lot of posers, weekend warriors for “social justice”. Pathetic.

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