The game is rigged—and Americans damn well know it.
As Emily Blazon explains, the idea that the game is rigged has a long history in the United States.
In its current usage, “rigged” exposes a structure that is rotten to the core and lights a match to burn it down. Dating back to the 19th century, the word “rig” has meant “a trick, a scheme”; it also carries an association of expert hands setting up equipment or tinkering with machinery. To rig a fleet (or jury-rig another conveyance) connotes competence and pluck. But the “rigging” Sanders and Trump have in mind involves a swindle, and it has been deployed in American politics at several points over the last century, including in the Great Depression. Calling for an inquiry into the stock market in The Washington Post in 1932, a Republican senator attributed its gyrations to “a rigged game of crooked gambling pools.” In the wake of Watergate in the 1970s, “rigged” appeared frequently in the press. Liberal leaders, some newly elected after the scandal, attacked not only Nixon but also campaign finance, the primary process and government agencies as being controlled by corporate and political elites.
Right now, as in the past, many Americans believe the game—in both politics and economics—is rigged.
According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, about half of American voters believe that the system U.S. political parties use to pick their candidates for the White House is “rigged,” and more than two-thirds want to see the process changed
At the same time, according to a Pew Research Center poll, a substantial majority of Americans (65 percent) say the economic system in the United States “unfairly favors powerful interests.” Fewer than one third (31 percent) say the system “is generally fair to most Americans.”
And given the mutual influence of politics and economics—those at the top of the economy who have an inordinate influence on political issues and candidates, while the rules of the economic game are set and reinforced by political elites—it’s reasonable to conclude that the game as a whole is rigged.
President Obama demonstrated he was acutely aware of the problem in his 2016 State of the Union address:
democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.
And that’s why the rich, the powerful, and the special interests who benefit from the current system are spending so much time these days, as they have throughout the history of U.S. capitalism, trying to convince the rest of the people the game is not rigged.