With a nod to his oligarch funders, in his inaugural address, his first day on the job as president, Reagan famously said, "[G]overnment is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."
When Reagan flipped our economic system on its head, rejecting two generations of classical Adam Smith economics and replacing it with the Laffer Curve and "supply-side" economics, almost a third of Americans had union jobs and around 60 percent of American families lived in the economic "middle class." But starting in 2015, as NPR noted, reporting on a Pew study, "middle-income households have become the minority."
Since David Koch's failed 1980 run for VP on the Libertarian ticket, American oligarchs have invested billions of dollars in the message that government is bad and can't be trusted. The most obvious example was the faux-grassroots Tea Party "movement" funded by Koch front groups, causing thousands of Americans to protest "government-run" health care with slogans like, "Keep your goddamn government hands off my Medicare!"
Koch and his oligarch friends suggested, through their surrogates and think tanks, that instead of a functioning democracy we should have a government both owned and run by them and their billionaire buddies.
And that's largely what we have now, with the Trump administration. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently tweeted, "A corporate lawyer runs DOL, a pharma exec runs HHS, a coal lobbyist runs EPA, an oil lobbyist runs DOI, a Raytheon lobbyist runs DOD, a steel lobbyist is the US trade rep, and a banking exec runs USDT." I'd add that a former Verizon lawyer runs the FCC, and mid-level positions across the federal government are now filled with lobbyists and lawyers from industry.
Prior to the Reagan Revolution, Americans usually got what they wanted from the government.
The successes of LBJ's Great Society programs during the 1960s are a great example: Medicare, Medicaid, Voting Rights Act, Civil Rights Act, cutting poverty in half, Head Start, the National Teacher Corps, hundreds of billions in student college aid, PBS and NPR, Air Quality Act, Water Quality Act, Wilderness Act, National Trails System Act, creating the Cabinet-level Department of Housing and Urban Development, Community Action Agencies, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Child Safety Act, mandating warning labels on cigarettes, the Immigration Act that ended race-based immigration quotas, food stamps, and massive investments in public schools and hospitals... among other things.
In the 1970s, Jimmy Carter followed up by creating the Department of Energy and passing energy programs that would have moved 20 percent of America's electricity generation to solar by 2000 (it was ended by Reagan), establishing the Department of Education, massively expanding Head Start, passing major laws to regulate coal mining and make it safer, forcing polluters to clean up superfund sites, and doubling our public lands in Alaska. Not to mention winning the Nobel Prize for working out a peace deal between Egypt and Israel that holds to this day.
Before the 1980s, Western Europe and other democracies saw similar expansions of people-based government programs. But nearly all of it came to a screeching halt -- and much was even reversed -- with the neoliberal Thatcher and Reagan Revolutions.
Today's standard-bearers for neoliberalism are the Republicans (and a few corporate-owned Democrats), and, as Americans figure out that the probability today of legislation passing that's supported by the majority of Americans is today equivalent to random chance, they're revolting.
And the oligarch billionaires have been waiting for just this moment, funding massive voter suppression, right-wing media, politicians who tell us that up is down, and efforts to keep their colleague, billionaire Donald Trump, in office. While the outreach to "very fine people" in the neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements is a bit less visible, it's there, too.
So long as the governments of America and other countries are captives of oligarchs and big corporations, and hang onto anti-worker, anti-middle-class neoliberal policies, citizens will continue to drift toward hard-right "populist" politicians.
Democracies will only begin to revive when we reverse the Reagan Revolution and return to the classical economic and political systems that existed in the Western world before the neoliberal 1980s.
And if that reversal doesn't happen soon, the trend toward autocratic oligarchy will continue to speed up. As Foa and Mounk note in the conclusion of their research paper, "[W]hat was once unthinkable should no longer be considered outside the realm of possibility."
This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.
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