Thursday, November 30, 2017

A man of destiny?



This week, Senator David Perdue, spoke to a New York Times reporter about Donald Trump. “This guy got $2 billion of earned media in the primary, and he won an election that nobody thought he was going to win,” he said.  “This is a guy who is doing things that are totally unprecedented.  He’s nobody’s choir boy, but neither were people like Winston Churchill, for example.  This guy, I think, is a historic person of destiny at a time and place in America where we’ve got to make a right-hand turn here.”  Unfortunately, Perdue may be closer to the truth than the legions of liberal politicians, commentators and activists who continue to talk as if the Trump Administration simply can’t be happening.  The tide of history is running in the wrong direction, but it is Trump who is taking advantage of it.

It is now commonly accepted among the liberal political and media elite—and with good reason—that inequality is a pressing problem in America.  Yet the tax bill that the Senate is likely to pass in the next 48 hours has been designed to increase inequality, not to reduce it.  That is because it has evidently been written by the intellectual shock troops of the billionaire donors, led by the Koch brothers, who now own the Republican Party, and who have been waging a slow, steady campaign for 40 years to undo the achievements of the Progressive era, the New Deal, and the Great Society.  Intellectually Donald Trump has contributed nothing to this effort.  In no way can he be regarded as the architect of our new era, like Abraham Lincoln or Frankly Roosevelt.  Nor was he originally recruited by the Kochs.  Yet because he was a television celebrity, he managed, barely, to do what John McCain and Mitt Romney could not do: to defeat a liberal Democratic candidate by making inroads into the traditional Democratic base in industrial states.  Once in office, he filled the federal government with acolytes of the Kochs and is now poised to make some of their dreams come true.
The spirit of the first two-thirds of the twentieth century combined the principles of the Enlightenment—the idea that human reason could create a better and fairer world—with the healthy nationalism that played such a big role in the politics of all the major nations.  Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and even Richard Nixon believed that the government of the United States had a mission to create a fairer and more just society.  Meanwhile, the enormous international conflicts of that era—the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War—required enormous economic resources to fight, and the country expected its wealthiest citizens, the beneficiaries of the earlier Gilded Age, to make the largest contribution.  That is now the top marginal tax rate went to 91% during the Second World War and stayed there until 1964.  Meanwhile, the estate tax—introduced along with the income tax in 1916—reached 77% on the excess over $10 million. Those rates undoubtedly did more than any campaign finance legislation ever did to limit the influence of big money in politics.  

Over the past two years, two remarkable books have traced the growth of the political movement that undid our relatively healthy and equal political economy.  Dark Money by Jane Mayer focused on the Kochs and their allies—including the Scaife, Bradley, Olin and DeVos families—who built a network of foundations, other nonprofits, academic centers and donors that has now taken over the Republican Party.  Democracy in Chains, by Nancy MacLean, showed how an obscure economist named James Buchanan had managed, starting in the mid-1950, to develop a new, opposing ideology that combined the wealthiest Americans’ resentment of taxation and white southern resentment of integration.  That, of course, is the coalition that defines the Republican Party today.  

While much of the public now understands how much power the Koch brothers wield, the origins and nature of the new ideology developed over decades by Buchanan is much less understood—and that has made it much more influential.  Their main thrust—and a very successful one—has been to develop cynicism about institutions that claim to help large numbers of people, by arguing that everyone is in fact ruled by nothing but self-interest—including, or especially, bureaucrats who administer federal programs, politicians who create and defend them, and labor leaders.  In recent years this view has fueled campaigns against public employee unions, for instance, on the grounds that these employees have no right to health and pension benefits which ordinary workers do not enjoy.  Social security has long been a target of the extreme right, not because its burdens fall upon the wealthy—they don’t—but because it works, and thereby undermines their argument that federal programs cannot benefit a broad mass of people.  The strategy that developed over the years promised that today’s retirees and those close to retirement will get their promised benefits, but argued that the system was a bankrupt “Ponzi scheme” that would never be able to pay off younger people anyway, and therefore had to be altered.  That view, let it be remembered, had won over no less a figure than George W. Bush by 2005, although he was unable to get Congress interested in it.  Now, however, it is the view of Paul Ryan, and it may become the basis for the next big Republican offensive. Readers might ask themselves how often they have heard that Social Security is doomed to bankruptcy, and to what extent they themselves have come to believe that federal bureaucrats are self-interested tyrants with no concern for others.  The popularity of these views is a tribute to Buchanan, the donors who funded him, and the army of think tanks and journalists who have relentlessly spread these ideas.

Democrats, meanwhile, have paid the price of success. Because the world of the late twentieth century was built upon sound ideas, they assumed that no one would question them and that they no longer needed a vigilant and noisy defense.  They turned their attention largely to social issues. Now they watch, horrified, as their whole legacy is undone step by step, thanks to the election of a reality tv star with a very intermittent grasp on reality.  How much can be done at least to halt this process 
remains an open question. Pretending that it cannot be happening does not help.

4 comments:

samuel glover said...

Consider this response from those geniuses, the Senate Democrats. If you don't want to click the link (can't blame you for that), it's a picture of Ronald Reagan, with the caption, The GOP once believed in bipartisanship..

Is there a more worthless, useless gang on the planet?!?! These are people who can't even begin to formulate a cogent objection to a tax "reform" that takes Paraguay as a social model to strive for. Evidently the only problem Dems have with it is that Republicans play to win.

"[Democrats] assumed that no one would question them and that they no longer needed a vigilant and noisy defense" might be an apt description of Dems in the 70's & 80's. But you can't say that about the current breed, the Clinton spawn who continue to infest the rot. They never really believed in anything, beyond getting over and making bank. What was "triangulation" other than an explicit refusal to do politics?

Dems believe they're going to win big in 2018 simply because Trump is so awful. Well, at the moment the economy is finally kinda sorta emerging from the doldrums of the 2008 meltdown. People will (stupidly) ascribe this to Trump: I've already heard coworkers say that times are great now that business is unshackled from all those pesky regulations. This from civil servants in the Washington DC area!!

The 2020's are going to be, ahem, eventful. The effects of this oligarch looting spree are really going to be hitting home then.... I fully expect the Dems to "respond" by running either Clinton again (maybe Biden; same thing), or Obama's wife, or Oprah.

Bozon said...

Professor
Very interesting post. I have to think that you place just a touch too much emphasis on current events, in the last paragraph:

"Democrats, meanwhile, have paid the price of success. Because the world of the late twentieth century was built upon sound ideas, they assumed that no one would question them and that they no longer needed a vigilant and noisy defense. They turned their attention largely to social issues. Now they watch, horrified, as their whole legacy is undone step by step, thanks to the election of a reality tv star with a very intermittent grasp on reality. How much can be done at least to halt this process remains an open question. Pretending that it cannot be happening does not help."

I have to note that what had been thought, in the West, as sound imperialist LIEO ideas, way back around the turn of the 20th Century, were then pulverized in the two world wars. These obsolete LIEO ideas, bi partisan ideas you will note, continued to limp on, after WWII, but as you put it, were erroneously thought, by the liberal Democratic Party here, to no longer need a defense, either against Republicans, or much more importantly, against the whole world.

Donald Trump, of course, had nothing whatsoever to do with any of that long slide from the 1800s, although one might do a generational gloss on it all, I suppose.

I am not sure which process, or processes, you think need halting now, domestic and or global, but for all practical purposes, now, frankly due to bi partisan Western civilizational mismanagement, they are both not only indistinguishable but also irreversible.

All the best

energy flow said...

In crisis times, future trends which are obvious get accelerated massively to get to next phase of history. 1932-1945 is an obvious example where unionism, social welfare state and military industrial complex were formed to save the country, the world even by using all available resources most effectively. What is the crisis now and which measures could be taken to save and redirect our culture? I believe that social security, whose savings are gone, whose demographics are hopeless, must be reformed, state and city pension programms are in deep trouble but also the right's sacred cows of military and banks welfare for rich are worse. All industrial states are suffering through this. If we are all expecting too much from the state then more self reliance and lower expectations on life and society could be nelcessary, e.g. shorter life spans, bank bankruptcies, low technological change, dependence on personal contacts( need to have children, community) to get by , gardening, canning, etc. The politicians must also put away imperial ambitions,,and the rich and techno freaks their globalist, futurist models. Earth's ecosystem cn only take so much. If humans use 99% of resources then room for maneuver when some crop killer spreads or bird flu or super aids takes hold along with war, climate induced droughts, state bankruptcies is low. So what is the swing to the right by Trump and European politicians doing but pulling back the state, recognizing limits. Of course this tax plan is just more for the wealthy but this will destroy middle class, tax base, retail, manufacturing and accelerate decline. So extreme right wing is as stupid as extreme left which would give universal basic income. Reliance on printing presses, other people's money is a modern weakness. People used to be ashamed to take help from others, now only idiots work if it can be avoided to suck from state(banksters, military, pensioneers all included). As long as oil, coal, nat gas are flowing then we can pretend we are gods. The Romans used up wood, expanded until everything was used up that they could control. West has met its limits on Russia, china, and on end of fossil fuels and climate change. As long as there is lots of free stuff to distribute a system works. Afterwards it collapses. Right and left are two sides of same coin.

Bozon said...

Professor

I have to say that nationalism has never played a big part in American ideological history.

Here is one passage, from your post:

"The spirit of the first two-thirds of the twentieth century combined the principles of the Enlightenment—the idea that human reason could create a better and fairer world—with the healthy nationalism that played such a big role in the politics of all the major nations..." DK

You claim, in effect, that we have been blessed, until very recently, by a healthy enlightened nationalism.

But it was, after all, nationalism that has also been claimed by us to have brought us Hitler, and the US repudiated nationalism, only after WWII, even though the Wilsonian concept of self determination is nationalistic utopian ideal in itself.

On the other hand, the American left (preponderant in the first half of the 20th Century) had long repudiated empire, nationalism, and imperialism, and claimed that the hope of the world was not in nationalism but in an enlightened universalist globalism (Walter Lippmann, etc) founded on scientific humanism, not at all on vulgar populist nationalism.

So, there are these little bothersome contradictions everywhere. Yours is a Whig interpretation of 20th century history. It glosses over the rough areas.

All the best