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Neoliberals, Neoconservatives, and Neofascists

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Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people. From these great tasks both of the old parties have turned aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare, they have become the tools of corrupt interests which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes. Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day. -Theodore Roosevelt--

President Trump's First 100 Days
President Trump's First 100 Days
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Theodore Roosevelt was describing the Deep State, which goes back farther than I had realized. In fact, it probably goes back as far as democracy does, to the conflict that has always been at the root of societies: Those who have money and power want to keep and expand it regardless of the will of the people, and those who lack money and power want to get some. However, to unravel and try to understand our contemporary permutation, it might help to start with some definitions.

I've felt some confusion regarding the political terms that are tossed around lately, so I looked them up. Definitions differ, but there is enough consensus to get a pretty good idea, and understanding those terms also helps us understand what is going on with the Deep State and why it's so difficult to move forward with a progressive agenda. (Note that these are particularly American definitions. They have other meanings in different parts of the world.)

Neoliberalism: In its original definition, liberalism was not about progressive ideas; it was about small government and individual freedoms. Neoliberalism in the U.S. is based on that original definition of liberalism. It evolved as a backlash against what we now think of as liberal policies, specifically FDR's New Deal, which resulted in a decline in the share of the national income owned by the 1%. Their share peaked in the late 1920s, right before the Great Depression, then fell by more than half over the next three decades because of New Deal policies that helped the people, such as the Social Security Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, and policies that put limits on what the rich could get away with, such as the Glass-Steagall Act (repealed in 1999). But the equalizing trends of the mid- 20th century have now been almost completely rolled back. The rich now hold as large a share of the national wealth as they did in the 1920s. According to The New York Times, the "richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent".

How did they do it? Neoliberals argue that the best path to prosperity is free enterprise and the privatization of absolutely everything: education, healthcare, the military, pensions, prisons, the Internet, national parks and public land, roads, water, food--really everything you can think of. In addition to privatization, they promote deregulation; outsourcing; tax cuts for the rich and fiscal austerity for everyone else; elimination of trade unions; getting rid of environmental and consumer protections; increasing the role of the private sector; and reducing the role of government. When governments are required to provide basic public services like education, healthcare, and infrastructure, they do it by "market-friendly" methods such as vouchers and charter schools, tax incentives, Medicare Advantage plans, deductibles and copays; and giving government contracts to private corporations. Inequality is seen as a good thing, a reward for hard work and talent. Because free markets will insure that people get what they deserve, efforts to create a more equal society merely undermine morality and the work ethic. The rich like to think that they obtained their wealth through merit, ignoring their advantages of education, inheritance, and social class. The poor are expected to blame themselves for their poverty, even when they can do little to change their circumstances. Neoliberals say that they oppose all forms of state intervention in the name of freedom. But to them, freedom really means the right to unconstrained profit for individuals and corporations without any concern for workers or the environment. The iconic neoliberals are Ronald Reagan in the U.S. and Margaret Thatcher in the U.K.

Neoliberals have succeeded on a global scale. Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the Maastricht treaty imposed neoliberal policies on much of the world, often without the consent of the people. Neoliberal policies were also adopted among political parties that used to be leftist, such as the Democrats in the U.S. and Labour in the U.K.

Neoconservatives: While neoliberalism is a global movement, neoconservatism is more uniquely American. Beginning in the 1960s, "neocons" are best defined by their foreign policy agenda, which favors increased military spending, an interventionist foreign policy, and unconditional support for the State of Israel. Neocons are largely responsible for the War on Terror, the right to preemptively attack governments that might pose a future threat to U.S. security, and the state of permanent war. They also police their own citizens through increased surveillance, prosecution of whistleblowers and leakers, and reduced government transparency. Like the neoliberals, they use the language of freedom and democracy as a cover for their true intentions. Probably the best-known politicians associated with neoconservatism include George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and John McCain.

The main difference between neoliberals and neoconservatives is one of emphasis: Neoliberals' focus is mostly on economics, while neocons focus on foreign policy and defense. Other differences include social issues: Neoliberals are generally not very concerned about issues like abortion and gay marriage, whereas neocons are, because of their evangelical base. Another is their attitude toward trade: Neoliberalism favors free trade, whereas neoconservatism can sometimes be protectionist, favoring "America first." Neoliberals are usually in favor of immigration, since it can bring both talent and cheap labor; neocons tend to be anti-immigrant.

However, there are more similarities than differences. When Obama was elected in 2008, I was hopeful. But despite a few progressive words and gestures, President Obama's economic policies turned out to be neoliberal: He chose to bail out Wall Street instead of prosecuting them for their crimes, while refusing to bail out the homeowners and others who were Wall Street's victims. His signature healthcare program rejected single-payer in favor of enriching the insurance and drug industries. While not as rabid as some neocons would wish, his foreign policy was definitely interventionist. He bombed seven foreign countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. He expanded drone warfare that kills civilians. He sold massive quantities of weapons to foreign governments, fueling more violence in the Middle East. On the domestic front, he increased surveillance of citizens and prosecutions of whistleblowers, he reduced government transparency, and he deported more immigrants than any previous president. Most Democratic politicians were in support of all these policies. The leading non-interventionists in the Senate right now are Rand Paul and Mike Lee, both Republicans.

By the time of the 2016 election, many Americans were fed up with endless war and rule by the rich for the rich. Bernie Sanders filled a deep need, but the Democrats blocked him. While the rise of Trump must be primarily blamed on the Republicans and their encouragement of racism and the Tea Party, Democrats should also recognize their role. While Hillary Clinton gave lip service to a few humanitarian policies such as student debt relief and immigration reform, it was always clear that her allegiance, like Obama's, was with Wall Street and the military industrial complex.

Donald Trump, in contrast, did not look like a Wall Street shill; he even promised to "drain the swamp." He had never been implicated in destroying countries or bombing civilians. He had never been seen chuckling over the death of Muamar Gaddafi nor blamed for the death of an American ambassador.

Neofascism (the politically correct term is Populist Nationalism):

This group sees American identity as white and Christian, and they want to keep it that way by restricting legal as well as illegal immigration and curtailing the power of minorities. They favor economic policies that protect American businesses and workers from foreign competition; in that respect, neofascism is the opposite of neoliberal globalism. Although they distrust intellectuals and those they view as elite, they are pro-business like the neoliberals, and they tend to have very close ties to neocons and the military industrial complex.

Several of Trump's appointees could fairly be called neo-fascists (The following is quoted from How the Trump regime was manufactured by a war inside the Deep State by Nafeez Ahmed)

Steve Bannon was founding executive chair of Breitbart News, "the platform of the alt-right" according to Bannon himself. Breitbart is widely known for its publication of "racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic material." Bannon himself is also a prolific film producer, and has made or contributed to a range of xenophobic films".

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Janet Maker, Ph.D.is the owner of Janet's Good News, a daily newsletter featuring news that is good from a left-wing perspective. Subscribe at janetsgoodnews.org

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