I read your Letter from an American every morning that you write it. Most are really good, and the one for December 30 was excellent. You covered American political history from 1965 to today in a brilliant wave, and I only hope you’re right. However, I have to disagree with the ultimate conclusion.
She said: “In America, the twenty years since 2000 have seen the end game of the Reagan Revolution, begun in 1980.
“In that era, political leaders on the right turned against the principles that had guided the country since the 1930s, when Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt guided the nation out of the Great Depression by using the government to stabilize the economy. During the Depression and World War Two, Americans of all parties had come to believe the government had a role to play in regulating the economy, providing a basic social safety net and promoting infrastructure.
“To oppose the socialism they insisted was taking over the East, opponents of black rights looked to the American West. They called themselves Movement Conservatives, and they celebrated the cowboy who, in their inaccurate vision, was a hardworking white man who wanted nothing of the government but to be left alone to work out his own future. In this myth, the cowboys lived in a male-dominated world, where women were either wives and mothers or sexual playthings, and people of color were savage or subordinate.
“The idea that people of color and women were trying to undermine society was enough of a rationale to justify keeping them from the vote, especially after Democrats passed the Motor Voter law in 1993, making it easier for poor people to register to vote. In 1997, Florida began the process of purging voter rolls of Black voters.
“And so, 2000 came.
“Trump lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes but, as George W. Bush before him, won in the Electoral College. Once in office, this president set out to destroy the New Deal state, as Movement Conservatives had called for, returning the country to the control of a small group of elite businessmen who, theoretically, would know how to move the country forward best by leveraging private sector networks and innovation. He also set out to put minorities and women back into subordinate positions, recreating a leadership structure that was almost entirely white and male.
“As Trump tried to destroy an activist government once and for all, Americans woke up to how close we have come to turning our democracy over to a small group of oligarchs.
“And in this moment, we have, disastrously, discovered the final answer to whether or not it is a good idea to destroy the activist government that has protected us since 1933. In their zeal for reducing government, the Trump team undercut our ability to respond to a pandemic, and tried to deal with the deadly coronavirus through private enterprise or by ignoring it and calling for people to go back to work in service to the economy, willing to accept huge numbers of dead. They have carried individualism to an extreme, insisting that simple public health measures designed to save lives infringe on their liberty.
“The result has been what is on track to be the greatest catastrophe in American history, with more than 338,000 of us dead and the disease continues to spread like wildfire. It is for this that the Trump administration will be remembered, but it is more than that. It is a fitting end to the attempt to destroy our government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Heather, you have correctly shown that since 1980 there has been a coordinated effort to destroy the New Deal state established under Roosevelt, based primarily on Reagan’s platform. The people (or at least a majority part of them) have now realized that reducing government to the extent Trump wants to leads to disaster. By electing Biden, they have put on the brakes. But will this really turn us around or just leave us stalled for the next 20 years?
The road forward was the one led by Bernie Sanders. But the call for Medicare for All, college without cost to students, and related policies do not seem to be going forward. If the Senate remains in Republican hands and Biden sits toe-tapping, another four years shall pass, the oligarchs shall have more power, and in 2024 the voters shall ask the oligarchs to come out and rule in the open because the alternative is going nowhere.
I think we need to return to an honest government that opposes the greed of the oligarchs. For that to happen, the people will have to stand up against green and corruption and make their government clean. We need a government that will openly transfer wealth from the top 10% to a social system that mimics social security and other policies that will enable all of us to get ahead. I don’t support the idea of plucking money from the top and just handing it over to the bottom. That would be wasteful and inefficient. Rather, the resources should go to the society to ensure that the benefits are realized by all.
We have already proved that a society with very high tax rates (as they were in the early 1950s) doesn’t stifle development. In other words, we can have a competitive society so long as we prevent money from corrupting the government. Taking money from the top can improve the competition from the bottom. The government should have the strength to prevent monopolies, as that opens the economy to competition. And giving workers the power to keep the economy honest will also increase revenue.
We also need a government that is ready to combat climate change even as it combats COVID-19. We need to start looking seriously at our policies which increase instead of decrease the use of individual cars. We now have Zoom and other techniques which eliminate the need for many people to travel to work, thereby cutting the need for fuel and highways. We should make it as easy as possible for individuals to share equipment and for housing to be built in coordinated communities while at the same time preserving the beauty of nature.
Finally, we need to face up to the fact that AI and robots will leave fewer and fewer jobs for humans. “Jobs” will no longer be the answer to how resources are shared. At a minimum, the unemployed should be used to protect the environment and creature a natural beauty for us all. The society should motivate all of us to improve life for all of us and not leave anyone behind.
I am not describing a socialist society, much less a communist society. The latter eliminates private property. Unfortunately, because all the power over property goes in the hands of a few in government, it does not necessarily eliminate greed and corruption. You can have private property, but it cannot be allowed to corrupt the government, and the greed has to be eliminated. But the same would be true of socialism. The important point is that those in control of property cannot use it only for themselves. Under either system, one needs honest policing and enforcement so that property is used for social benefit.
If we want to retain the idea of private property, it should include the principle that the property must be used for the general good. If it isn’t, then property permits all of the evils that have led to climate change. Those in control of property must understand and agree that property must be beneficial to all. This means that the owner’s take-home must be consistent with the income of non-owners. Anything else means that greed is rewarded, and this leads to corruption.
As we emerge from COVID-19, we should focus on the good and ills of our society, and be ready to make significant changes. This may mean that some property will pass from private hands to the government. For instance, why should we have private airports when government-run airports seem to function well. Shouldn’t we have centrally controlled airlines? Public water systems work well. Public electric companies work as well or better than private ones. I don’t think we should do back to private highways. On the other hand, enterprises that rely on geniuses (like computers or internet enterprises) should remain private, but we need to prevent them from becoming monopolies or using their power in inappropriate ways.
Consider military supply companies. We need smart people to run them, and we need freedom to experiment. But if the financial benefits go into private hands, then there is a tendency for the business people to promote heavy defense polities, when those policies should always consider the cost to society, and the limits which should be placed on militarism.
All of the foregoing shows how much effort should be put into education – into teaching children that decision-making needs to be socially minded. They need to be taught that society is there to benefit all, and that their own work needs to benefit all and society. This isn’t “socialism,” but patriotism and common sense.