It is no secret that a faction of the Republican Party has always dreamed of rolling back the part of the New Deal that survived FDR's eventual reconciliation with big business, as well as laying waste to LBJ's Great Society. When America had two mass parties, each with real liberals, moderates and conservatives, this was not the program of Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford or George H.W. Bush. It was not even the aspiration of Ronald Reagan, who went to his dotage holding Franklin Roosevelt as his hero. But now it is in change. It sets the parameters of the debate. America is headed into truly uncharted territory and it's not going to be pretty. Last week's cowardly deal on the part of President Hoover to keep the government open is just the start. We have hit multiple inflection points that make this unavoidable. Put another way, the chickens are coming home to roost, and they're lethal.
Revenues: Thirty years of tax cutting has snowballed into disaster. Combined with two wars that have lasted longer than World War II, military deployments in more than 150 nations, corporate welfare and the cost of the Great Recession, voodoo economics has left America with a substantial deficit and debt. Tax cuts have not delivered on their promise of job creation or widespread prosperity. Quite the opposite. But the American mentality now is that taxes can only be cut. In fact, at every level of government taxes are too low. The United States has the lowest taxes among advanced nations, and in this survey only Mexico and Chile are lower, nations that are hardly analogous to America or role models. Contrary to the widespread propaganda, the deficit and debt are not an immediate emergency. Yet they are serious enough to attract attention, and become useful ammo for demagogues on the right who peddle the notion that we face disaster because of spending on poor gay union people of color seeking foreign-aid abortion earmarks. That the solemn obligations of Social Security and Medicare are the root cause. Our supposedly liberal/socialist/Islamofascist president has bought into the right-wing narrative: America has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. In reality, low tax rates are most to blame. They have finally been reduced, at every level of government, to crisis-inducing levels.
Ignorance. The condition above would not be possible without the rise of broad illiteracy in citizenship, history, economics and critical thinking. It it no coincidence, as the commies used to say, that our troubles have worsened amid the widespread death of newspapers and a shallow, "good news" focus in too many of the survivors. Indeed, fewer Americans read newspapers or anything at all. Men are especially prone to not read and fewer men go to college. Even most college graduates lack grounding in the liberal arts. Despite the right-wing pose of defending Western Civ, we have a nation of grads from business and professional silos, including from the for-profit "college" flimflam, with no sense of the obligations of citizenship or American history. Thus, the issues we discuss on this blog are either unintelligible or "depressing." They know nothing of the delicate balances and pluralism that created the best of modern America. They wants to be entertained, to be told comforting fables and, as things head south, to be fed easy (even if the wrong) villains. Too many have thus been easy pickings for the corporate media and talk radio that promulgate and pass on right-wing propaganda. Like tax revenue, this situation has been deteriorating for years. We have finally hit the wall.
Ideology. The young man outside Pike Place Market holding the poster with President Obama in a Hitler moustache. The young woman who debated me on Twitter, claiming the Great Depression was essentially caused by FDR. Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Russell Pearce et al. The Tea Party. They are nothing new. They are heirs to the "paranoid style in American politics" (the title also of Richard Hofstadter's seminal essay). They are the children of Father Coughlin, Tail Gunner Joe and the John Birch Society. What's different now is that their "thinking" is in total control of one of our great political parties. It is also held with an intensity hugely out of proportion when compared with liberalism. From this inflection point, all manner of mischief is possible, with destruction of the social compact perhaps among the least of our worries. These are fascists, pure and simple, with the additive of end-times theocracy thrown in. As a trained historian and (I hope) serious journalist, I do not use the term lightly. But it must be applied because we know where this can lead. Meanwhile, the old liberal consensus that built and maintained America at its zenith, and many of whose benefits we still thoughtlessly enjoy, has crumbled. The "center" has been dragged to the right. The few Democrats who will fight can't get coverage. The rest are owned by the banks and GE. The president will not fight. The lines have crossed between sanity and madness.
Corporate control of the government. The Great Depression destroyed much of the speculative bunco crowd from the 1920s and delegitimized laissez-faire capitalism for three generations. In the Great Recession, big government saved the banksters, made them richer and riskier, and the Randian/Chicago School "free market" ideology, which made its comeback in the '80s, continues to dominate despite the self-evident failure of its policies. The "quiet coup" is a reality, whether it really got traction in the Clinton or Bush II years. The collapse cemented it, along with help from the Citizens United decision. Now major corporations control the government, flout the tax laws, game the market for their benefit. Billionaires fund radical right-wing causes. Income redistribution is well underway — to the richest. Opposing this extreme concentration of power are a few liberal groups and unions that most Americans dislike. Nearly 14 million unemployed? Record income inequality? Those are the breaks.
The breaks, indeed. The social compact. The commons. Competitive infrastructure. A good public education for all. The America my generation took for granted is now in the junk-yard compactor. The media blather their false equivalencies (the left is just as bad as the right) and their tut-tuts about Washington acting like children. No, dear reader, this is deadly, adult serious.
More inflection points are coming: Peak oil, climate change, scarce resources, another financial panic, the unsustainability of a for-profit health-care system and car-based suburbia. Instead of seeing them for what they are, what Big Lies will be spun to further America's trip into a sinister unknown?