Restoring Trust in Gov’t. Is Vital If We Are to Have a Prayer of Escaping Fascism

In his first inaugural address in 1981, Ronald Reagan declared, “Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem.”

Reagan loved the clever slogan, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

Nothing could have been more pleasing to the ears of libertarians and Reagan’s republican party that, over the ensuing eight years, would undergo a seismic shift away from 40 years of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal toward the neo-liberal sop to the ultra wealthy and corporations.

While a reasonable amount of distrust can be prudent, and while government has undeniably engaged in its share of deceit, it is a fallacy to assume government is incapable of doing good.

Ask the wealthy business owner who complains about how “intrusive” government is how he or she intends to transport products without having to rely on public roads, bridges, tunnels, and rail lines we pay for in our taxes to the “unnecessary” government.

Ask the parents who bemoaned the fact their children had to try to complete schoolwork remotely last year because the pandemic shut down their schools. They needed those publicly funded bus drivers, custodians, teachers, and cafeteria workers.

We assume the food we purchase in our supermarkets isn’t going to poison us because we trust the USDA has done its jobs.

We usually don’t have to doubt if medications are going to kill us because the FDA approved them.

We’re required to obtain drivers’ licenses, automobile insurance, and register and annually inspect our cars so state governments know drivers on their roads are qualified, driving safe vehicles, and motorists are protected in accidents.

If someone commits a crime, there are laws on the books to prosecute.

We can even speak out against the government because the government has enshrined a right to freedom of speech and peaceable assembly.

If you received a COVID vaccine in the past year, thank government for trying to mitigate the damage of the previous administration-an example of government’s both benevolent and malevolent power.

While no system is perfect and there is definitely a lot of room for improvement, the notion that anything associated with government is inherently corrupt and worthy of our contempt is precisely the nihilism upon which the modern-day republican party thrives.

While the republicans’ and libertarians’ 40-year crusade to destroy faith in government may seem like innocent disillusioned palaver, it actually has very serious and destructive consequences, the least of which is playing into foreign authoritarian regimes’ desires to see democracy fail.

After all, if we don’t believe government has the ability to help us, why vote?

If all politicians are self-serving bureaucrats interested only in lining their pockets with lobbyists’ money, what’s the difference between the parties?

If “nothing ever changes,” why try to change anything?

These are the defeatist attitudes foreign internet trolls disseminated during the 2016 presidential election and continue today, and they are the fodder for fascist regimes, which many in government at this moment think we would be better off embracing.

But the pervasive malaise afflicting us today did not begin five years ago.

Several significant Supreme Court decisions in the 1970s that assert “ money is free speech” and “ corporations are people” started the downward slide.

The initial goal when Supreme Court justice Louis Powell first laid it out in 1971 was to lower the economic royalists’ taxes and increase their profits through cutting “burdensome government regulations.”

In 1974, Jude Wanniski published his “ Two Santa Clauses” strategy in the Wall Street Journal.

Reagan’s pronouncement “Government is the problem” became republican orthodoxy to embed within agencies people whose sole purpose was to dismantle the agencies for which they were responsible.

To get enough people to vote for politicians who would cut taxes and deregulate toxins they brought in religious fanatics, white supremacists, and insecure men obsessed with guns.

Consider who Reagan appointed budget director, man named David Stockman.

Stockman coined the phrase “starving the beast,” a strategy wherein the goal is to eliminate government spending (the “beast”) by defunding vital government agencies so they collapse under their own weight. Republican lawmakers can then return to their constituents and report that, just as predicted, those agencies were a waste of their money.

Whom did Reagan appoint to head the Education Department?

A man named Bill Bennett, who ran against Reagan for the republican nomination on a single issue: to destroy the Education Department.

One of Reagan’s first and most lasting body blows to democracy was when he threatened to fire 13,000 air traffic controllers who participated in the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization ( PATCO) strike for raises, shorter workweeks, and better working conditions, beginning an all-out — and largely successful — assault on labor unions, which until the 1990s were the primary funding source for the Democratic party.

Ronald Reagan double-taxed Social Security, straining FDR’s sacrosanct Social Security trust fund; stopped enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which consolidated corporations from hundreds down to a handful; and stopped enforcing the Fairness Doctrine, blurring the lines between objective media and political and commercial interests.

Under the guise of “ free trade,” this assault on unions left a financial void the Democratic National Committee (DNC) needed to fill after the defeat of Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush (Reagan’s “third term”), ushering in the corporate-friendly, significantly less progressive “ third way” Democrat.

In 2006, the Republican-led Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA), which required the postal service to calculate all its anticipated pension costs for 75 years and set aside five billion dollars to cover future employees.

That’s five billion dollars each year for employees who haven’t even been born yet.

It’s no coincidence this legislation former republican president George W. Bush signed after passing through a majority republican Congress came after the postal service announced it was planning on converting its entire fleet to electric vehicles.

Donald Trump appointed several members to the Postal Service Board of Governors and the current USPS Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, a former republican fundraiser and deputy Republican National Committee (RNC) finance chair, who has mapped a plan to “ permanentlyslow down some first-class deliveries to “slash spending,” a move some say will disproportionately effect small businesses, middle- and low-income Americans, and senior citizens.

Donald Trump destroyed our faith in public health institutions for his own gain, pulled us out of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate agreement, tried to blackmail Ukraine, and zealously worked to destroy NATO.

No wonder “we can’t trust government”.

This is precisely the fallacy animating Donald Trump’s campaign and ultimate presidency, and it is the fallacy animating dictators the world over.

The thinking goes, “Don’t bother paying attention or getting involved because the system is too far gone to fix, so just hand it to the dictators.”

It’s the principle guiding Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

It’s the principle guiding Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.

And the Phillipines’ Roderigo Duterte.

And Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

And Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who happens to be hosting this year’s “Conservative Political Action Conference” in Budapest.

We need to re-build trust in government if we’re to continue the American experiment our brilliant, albeit flawed, founders envisioned when they enshrined in the oldest constitution on Earth a government that “establishes justice, insures domestic tranquility, provides for the common defense, promotes the general welfare, and secures the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

Government is not “the problem.”

Unfettered laissez-faire capitalism is.

The cancer at the core of our democracy is money.

Money, particularly dark money, in politics has created the conditions for the rot to set in, and all that’s left is for it to spread until the house collapses.

China, Russia, Hungary, Saudi Arabia and other autocratic governments are enjoying watching us skewer each other on social media and undermining constitutional processes.

While we haven’t slipped into full-on fascism yet, a recent Global State of Democracy (GSoD Indices) report from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance includes the United States for the first time in its annual list of “backsliding” democracies.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The United States is not lost.

Yet.

We still have time to pull ourselves back from the precipice.

Just look at our history.

Our “Great Depression” of the 1930s was part of a global depression that sent people scrambling for anything and anyone who would promise them respite, succor, and hope.

Most European countries embraced fascists, namely Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

Japan did as well.

We could have gone that way too.

Instead, we elected Franklin Roosevelt, who not only promised relief from our economic and social woes, but returned us to a more democratic, prosperous society by implementing progressive reforms intended to lift people up instead of cutting them down.

If we hadn’t risen to the challenge, we likely wouldn’t have been prepared to take on and ultimately defeat European fascism when it came to our shores.

Don’t think there weren’t Nazi sympathizers and fascists here.

The difference was, we chose democracy, for all its frustrations and imperfections.

We need to vote.

We need to organize.

We need to abolish the filibuster and the Electoral College.

We need to demand a media structure that doesn’t consider white supremacists and domestic terrorists, like those who tried to overthrow our democracy on January 6, as “the other side.”

We need a media that actually reports the issues instead of chasing ratings and pandering to republicans.

We need to stop crying about “getting along” with “friends across the aisle” who are anything but friends.

We need to be indefatigable in our calls for a fairer system.

This includes:

  • Tuition-free college education
  • Living wages and union jobs
  • Paid family leave
  • Universal childcare
  • A right to housing
  • Fully funded public schools that no longer need to rely on property tax revenue
  • Raising taxes on the wealthy and closing loopholes that legally allow the richest among us to pay next to nothing in federal taxes.
  • Eliminating the cap on Social Security so those making over $142,800 a year still contribute.
  • Investing in American jobs by enforcing protectionist trade policies.
  • Publicly funding elections that expand voters’ access to the polls and mail-in voting
  • Investing in our infrastructure, which includes high-speed broadband, and climate-change resilient construction
  • Ridding ourselves of fossil fuels
  • Creating a pathway to citizenship for immigrants
  • Passing an anti-lynching bill

Fortunately, many of these elements are included in the “ Build Back Better Act” that passed the House but failed in the Senate-thanks to republican opposition.

Despite the media’s incessant harping on inflation and gas prices, the Biden administration has made amazing progress in just a short year and a half.

But democracy isn’t going to continue if we don’t get money out of politics.

If Americans don’t feel their voices are being heard, their cynicism grows.

From cynicism comes strongman oligarchy.

Originally published at https://theleftplace.substack.com on May 23, 2022.

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