160612-oilUnless federal prosecutors bring an indictment against her before the July 25 convention, it now seems certain that Hillary Clinton will become the Democratic nominee. What remains to be seen is whether the same establishment tailwind that kept her ahead of Bernie will keep her ahead of Trump.

I happened to be reading the last few chapters of Upton Sinclair’s Oil! last Tuesday as the California primary results were trickling in and was struck yet again by how “torn from the pages of today’s headlines” he is. The ability of the few to convince the many to vote against their own best interests, the complicity of the press to that end, the self-serving malleability of the political class. Excuse me, but haven’t we met somewhere? You look so familiar.

Published in 1926, Oil! is a coming of age story about J. Arnold “Bunny” Ross, the son and initially willing protégé of an oil magnate whose powerful cabal spends millions to put Calvin Coolidge in office, counting on “Cautious Cal” to let them run their fiefdoms as they see fit. Bunny grows to despise his caste’s exploitation of the political system and of the working class, however, and, after much internal struggle, resolves to use his fortune to further the cause of socialism.

Spoiler alert: He fails.

I’ll leave you with these four excerpts from the first edition, 8th printing, November 1927 (emphases are mine):

They had a philosophy … The affairs of the country had to be run by the men who had the money and brains and experience; and since the mass of the people had not sense enough to grant the power freely, the mass of people had to be bamboozled. “Slogans” must be invented, and hammered into their heads, by millions, yes, billions of repetitions. – p. 365

American big business men all purchased government, they all justified the purchase of government … without the purchase of government, American big business could not exist. You saw it written plain in the instinctive reaction of the whole business world … to indict and prosecute, not the criminals, but the exposers of the crime. – p. 481

Owing to difference in time, California gets returns from the east before it gets its own; but it was all the same this Tuesday evening, east and west, the fifty million dollar campaign fund had done its work … And since that was the thing ardently desired by the broadcasting stations, and the great newspapers … there was a tone of jocularity in the announcements. – p. 517

… a magnate who knew that this victory meant several million dollars off his income taxes, or an oil concession in Mesopotamia or Venezuela won by American bribes and held by American battleships – such a man would let out a whoop, and get up in the middle of the floor and show how he used to dance the double shuffle when he was a farm-hand. – p. 522