Americans agree on several issues, but 1 is keeping us torn apart. Here are 4 key facts.
True
SumOfUs

The presidential race is underway, so we should expect to hear more about money in politics from the candidates.

It is, after all, a factor that determines how politicians respond to all other issues and ultimately how people's lives will be affected by the policy outcomes.


Photo by Peter Stevens/Flickr.

So far, it hasn't come up as much as you'd think it would. For example, in the first two Republican presidential debates, the topic of money in politics was mostly avoided.

The exceptions were the occasional jab by Donald Trump at competitors he's funded in the past and this rare moment of partial recognition of the problem by Mike Huckabee:

"[W]e have a Wall Street-to-Washington axis of power that has controlled the political climate. The donor class feeds the political class who does the dance that the donor class wants."

Unfortunately, none of the more than a dozen candidates on stage came with an idea to share about how to fix the problem.

Money has become the biggest player in U.S. politics, but it's not always clear why that is and how it works.

Before you demonize any candidate for poisoning the democracy well, let's take stock of what's really happening. Here are the key things you need to know:

1. The early bird gets the loot.

Photo by Sheila Sund/Flickr.

In the early days of American politics, nominees were picked in backroom deals with party bigwigs. Primary elections were supposed to change that. At best, they were a way to make the process more transparent and democratic. They also made the contest a little more accessible to lesser-known "dark horse" candidates.

But the rise in competition stretched out campaign cycles as candidates hustled for position with political donors. Longer campaigns meant candidates needed more money, and so began the cyclical money-grab that defines American politics.

2. It's become an unfair tug-of-war.

Photo by skeeze/Pixabay.

Wealth inequality has reached obscene levels. Today, the top tenth of a percent of U.S. households (those with $20 million or more in assets) owns as much of the country's wealth as the bottom 90% combined.

Knowing that, it shouldn't come as a surprise that nearly half of all first-phase presidential campaign funds were donated by only 158 families and the companies they control. 138 of of those families back exclusively Republican candidates.

3. It's not illegal if you can't see who's doing it.

Photo by -JvL-/Flickr (altered).

There's a cap on what donors can give candidates, but when wealthy influencers want something, they can't be bothered with rules. So they created a shadow market for political donations, where they can dump money into politics through nonprofits — anonymously and without limits, thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.

They call it "dark money," and there's been a five-fold spike in such spending since the last general election. And speaking of rich families, 1 in 4 dollars of dark money spent in 2012 were linked to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. The political kingpins are out to set another record by raising nearly $1 billion for the 2016 elections through their network of dark money donors.

While those donations only go to conservative candidates and policies, even Republican leadership has gotten shifty about their growing power over the party — just not shifty enough to actually do something about it.

4. There is no room for agreement. Only domination.

Photo by Spot Us/Flickr (altered).

We know the richest political donors have a thing for conservative candidates, but that doesn't explain the stalemates on issues that most Americans agree on. For example:

So why haven't we celebrated unity and progress on any of those issues? Why aren't we leveraging the country's vast resources to lift people up, save more lives, protect the environment, and be as awesomesauce as politicians love saying we are?

Well, it's not really about "the people," let alone the planet. Donors like the Koch brothers don't drop cash like that to advance common interests — they do it in service of themselves. (I think now's a good time for this refresher.)

If money is the root of all evil, why do we let it rule our lives in such fundamental ways through politics?

Keep that in mind as the spectacle of the presidential race unfolds because there's more to governing than whose team wins. And if it's not already clear, the players aren't just the suits we see going tit for tat on the debate stage.

Everyone deserves a fair say in the electoral process, and the rest of us shouldn't have to stand aside while people who have more than they'll ever need call all the shots.

Can you imagine a future where good ideas and consensus — not just the biggest bank accounts — rule the day? Don't count on it until political leaders start getting honest about what's driving American politics and start showing the will to change it.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

Keep Reading Show less