How we got here
It wasn't supposed to be like this...
But we kinda know what happened
America is in the middle of a slow-motion train wreck. Somehow we went from securing world peace by working with our allies to defeat fascism during World War II (thanks to the many sacrifices of the “greatest generation”) to an absolute shit show of greed, apathy, ignorance, and isolationism.
The history of America was always on an overall positive trajectory but somehow we did a sudden about-face and started going backward. So how the hell did this happen? As it turns out, there’s no mystery about what happened – everything is well documented and most of it happened right in front of us. The problem is that everything happened too slowly and in tiny incremental steps that were too hard to notice and piece together. If anything was noticed it was too boring to make the cut for the evening news. The worst part is that it was all done intentionally. American Democracy has been slowly and purposefully destroyed over the past 50+ years – sort of like being pecked to death by a duck. What follows are some of the contributing factors to how we got here…
Turning Theory Into Thuggery
An early, and initially unorganized, attack on Democracy emerged from the thoughts of various social and economic theorists in the middle part of the 20th century. They each had their own idea of maximizing the freedom or liberty of the individual, especially by minimizing the involvement of governments. Some thought that if “well-informed citizens” would think, act, buy, and sell strictly based on their own individual best interests, without the interference of the government, then some sort of economic and social equilibrium would magically result. Of course, in reality, we see through our everyday interactions with people that those who think and act only in their best interests are the assholes in our lives.
One of the better knowns of these “Free Market” theorists, Friedrich Hayek, wanted a conference to join like-minded individuals to refine their views of how man should exist. To help finance the costs of the meeting he approached a handful of wealthy American businessmen. These businessmen were happy to contribute as they were already familiar with the work of Hayek and others and they were quite attracted to any ideas about restricting government involvement, especially when it came to regulating business. The meeting was held atop Mont Pelerin in Switzerland and was attended by Europeans and Americans. Here they formally established themselves as the Mont Pelerin Society.
MPS members continued and expanded upon the “minimized government” and “every man for himself” approach to their society-building ideas. The MPS wanted to maintain an image of neutrality where their activities were supposedly limited to the study and understanding of societies, economies, and government. But ultimately, the goal was to actually push these ideas onto humanity. To do so, their wealthy and influential supporters began creating separate and independent organizations. These organizations promoted each other along with the ideas of the MPS, creating orchestrated consensus and credibility for each other, the MPS, and libertarian ideals in general.
The formation of MPS is important because of their early formulation and grooming of their Free Market ideology into what would later become the Libertarian message. Also, with powerful members and continued financial support, they expanded into additional organizations, began staffing universities, and made their way into media of all types; all quietly coordinated, thus continuing the illusion of a growing and widespread acceptance of the Libertarian viewpoint. Of course, the typical Libertarian hypocrisy appeared right from the get-go. First, if they thought it was such a great idea, they would have told us all about their end-game so we would have been “well-informed citizens” – but they didn’t. Second, they pooled their resources and ganged up against us to convince us that our society should be based on individuals working in their own best interest; so teamwork and organization were good for them but it was shameful for us. Today the MPS is alive and well…
The Lewis Powell Memo
In the late 1960s and 1970s scientists, voters, and the government came to the realization that industry had been poisoning the planet and people for far too long. In response, the government created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Consumer Product Safety Act, and the EPA along with other environmental initiatives. Unfortunately, exploiting the workers, consumers, and the planet was always something that the business Community relied on to keep their profits growing. Maybe worse than their loss of profit was their continuing loss of influence over the government to the filthy masses.
Through their friends at the U. S. Chamber of Commerce (a lobbyist group), they contacted Lewis Sydor Powell Jr. to come up with a plan to turn things back in their favor. Their attraction to Powell was not surprising since Powell spent most of his professional life killing Americans by helping the tobacco industry promote the positives of smoking while undermining the government’s attempts to warn his fellow human beings. Being the kind of guy that he was, Powell gladly accepted the challenge and came up with a brilliantly evil plan.
Powell wanted the business community to infiltrate government, colleges and universities, and all forms of media. He also wanted them to work over the minds of the public. To pull this off Powell directed them to join forces, share resources, and expertise, and spend as much money as it took to rip Democracy back out of the hands of Americans. With this approach, they were able to form Business Associations, think tanks, and legal groups that slowly permeated government, all types of news media, academia, and certainly the minds of Americans. But of particular interest to Powell was the corporate takeover of the judicial system – he knew this would give the biggest bang for their corruption buck.
Shockingly, or maybe not so shockingly, Powell himself was confirmed to the Supreme Court within six months of delivering his memo. The fox could guard the hen house.
The Lewis Powell memo was important because it not only talked about libertarian and pro-business ideas, it was a specific plan to insert them into our government. Various business organizations and think tanks began popping up almost immediately and companies moved their operations from New York City down to Washington where they knew things were going to be happening. Under the influence of Powell, a Supreme Court that was already leaning conservative, ignored precedence and existing laws to equate money to speech, equate corporations to people, and even gave corporations a soul. Not too bad since corporations did not even exist when the Constitution was written…
If you can’t beat them, infest them
Here is a test – would you vote for a political party that had an economic platform like this?:
- “We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws, and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission.”
- “We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
- “We also favor the deregulation of the medical insurance industry.”
- “We propose the abolition of the governmental Postal Service.”
- “We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.”
- “As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.”
- “We condemn compulsory education laws … and we call for the immediate repeal of such laws.”
- “We support the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.”
- “We support the abolition of the Department of Energy.”
- “We advocate the abolition of the Federal Aviation Administration.”
- “We advocate the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration.”
- “We call for the privatization of the inland waterways, and of the distribution system that brings water to industry, agriculture, and households.”
- “We call for the repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.”
- “We call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”
This is a partial list of goals from the economic platform of the 1980 Libertarian party. The presidential candidate was Ed Clark and the vice president was David Koch. The Libertarian economic platform was based on destroying anything that regulated them in any way that would affect their profits. For those things that did not impact their profits they were more than happy to privatize so they could make a tidy profit from them. They wanted our government to be almost non-existent. Not surprisingly they only got 1% of the vote (you can probably guess which 1% that was).
The late David Koch and his brother Charles were the famous Koch Brothers who masterminded and funded much of the destruction of our country. They spent their fossil-fuel fortune creating and funding organizations, think tanks, and media outlets that relentlessly worked to convince us that our government was evil and taking our freedom away. They told that the “business of America is business” and that “government should be run like a business”. Once enough of us were swayed into agreement, their hand-picked or corrupted politicians and justices were able to get away with reshaping American Democracy to favor corporations and the (very) wealthy while causing great harm to us, our wallet, and our planet.
The Libertarian economic platform 1980 is important because it revealed just what their party leadership stood for. The Koch brothers, their network of think tanks, and business organizations learned a hard lesson in their loss: citizens didn’t share the Libertarian plan for America. This forced the Koch brothers and their network underground and it forced them to figure out ways to change democracy not through the vote but through deception. With their vast wealth and influence, they put Powell’s plan into overdrive.
Lewis Powell totally nailed it; the Supreme Court was truly the biggest bang for the corruption buck. Stacking the Supreme Court with handpicked and permanent corporate-friendly justices to reinterpret the Constitution in favor of corporations was almost too easy. It was not long after Powell’s arrival that the Supreme Court started tilting towards pro-corporate decisions. They found more and more courage to ignore precedence and existing laws.
In the 1970s the Court equated money to speech including the expenditure of unlimited amounts in some cases, equated corporations to people, and even gave corporations a conscience. More recently they allowed unions and corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money on political expenditures. This created brandy new precedence that the Supreme Court used to overturn a 100-year-old Montana anti-corruption law. One example of their twisted logic is limiting how much we can contribute to a campaign, but not limiting how much we can spend toward a campaign. They “reasoned” that someone’s unlimited spending relative to a candidate “may well provide little assistance to the candidate’s campaign and indeed may prove counterproductive” – you have to be gullible to believe that and corrupt to say it. Another example is their decision to give corporations the right to freedom of speech but doing so by reframing it as maximizing our freedom to hear as much information as possible. The glitch here is that we are only allowed to hear as much corporate political positions as possible – we don’t have the right to hear how much they are polluting the environment, poisoning our food, or stealing our money – isn’t that convenient.
This is important because the Supreme Court allowed massive amounts of anonymous money to flow through politics and our government. With bigger gifts come bigger favors and now legislation increasingly favors the wealthy and industry – just as you suspected. The Supreme Court handed the constitution and Democracy over to corporate America. There is much more to say about the Supreme Court in this regard.
Are we divided or are we being divided?
As humans, it is perfectly normal that we each have our own fears, beliefs, goals, and responsibilities that guide us to our opinions and biases. What is not so normal, however, is when others intentionally turn our differences into divisive issues which are deliberately used to pit us against each other. Divisiveness in America often starts with political agendas – not agendas of public policy, but the agenda of manipulation and power. Trickle-down economics may be a crock but trickle-down divisiveness is a thing and it comes at us from many directions – here are some quick examples:
Gerrymandering divides the House of Representatives and state legislatures by creating far-left and far-right candidates, reducing the chance for compromise and increasing the chance for fights. It can also give the party elected with fewer votes an unfair amount of power – creating more animosity between legislators. Gerrymandering creates unnecessary divisiveness and incompetence in our government.
Admittedly, there has been plenty of legitimate animosity growing in our government for the last few decades, but the increase in legalized corruption has made it much worse. Money in politics often entices (or forces) elected officials to ignore their conscience and continuously audition for that next donor check. They also know that if they don’t follow the party line then their own party or the predator elite will find someone to replace them – and the replacements have most definitely followed orders. Also, with unlimited money flowing freely through politics comes an unlimited number of negative and personal attack ads that not only mislead and divide us but also piss off political opponents, creating very normal and understandable animosity.
While today’s U.S. Congress looks like some sort of pay-per-view deathmatch, many of the individual members of Congress might not be as divided as they appear – but we’ll never know… The problem is found in party leaders such as Senate Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell who gets to pick and choose what legislation the Senate will vote on. He can pursue votes that will promote increased partisanship while avoiding votes that would expose his fellow Republicans to controversy (which might hurt them in future elections) or that would get a decent number of Republican votes (showing bipartisanship). Unless it is a dire national emergency, congressional leadership rarely allows members of Congress to vote on anything that will call on their moral convictions, because of this, they are rarely allowed the opportunity to find common ground. There are plenty of examples of pure partisan fighting that push the two parties apart. A recent glaring example, but again conceived by Mitch McConnell, is the GOP pushing through a Supreme Court Justice nominee within a month of an election (that had already started) after refusing to even hold hearings on President Obama’s nomination because ten months was “too close to an election”. Battles such as these greatly widen the divide between the two parties
Political groups and think tanks, funded by the predator elite and loaded with self-proclaimed experts, pundits, and operators continuously push the corporate agenda of minimized government regulation, oversight, and helping society. These folks and their messaging show up across all types of media and they have no issue blaming and labeling anyone or any group that is counter to their corporate cause. The climate change issue is a great example where think tanks bend over backward to refute science and slander the climate scientists, reframing them as liberals who just want to control how we live. Anything that relates to the regulation of business or anything that is of no benefit to their bottom line (like healthcare) is automatically reframed as socialism or lazy people taking your freedom and money away (the takers).
All of this gets drilled into our heads through the major networks, cable, internet news magazines, social media, and probably more. Right-wing media has evolved to the point where its purpose is to create division. They have no problem labeling the stunningly tragic Newtown, CT shooting as a “false flag” perpetrated by actors or encouraging their listeners to sacrifice themselves and protest against governors who are trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus. On the other side is the profit-driven mainstream media constantly telling us that we are more divided than ever – without giving their soundbites a hint of research. The fact that we have “sides” of the media is a problem in itself. Lastly, we hardly help ourselves when we fall for all that crap on Facebook and Twitter and then regurgitate throughout the internet. It seems that the more information we get, the more divided we get – a clear indication that we are being manipulated.
Divisiveness is important because when it is purposefully created, it is pitting people against people in order to get policy and power that never benefits those who are being divided – they are just left poor, powerless, futureless, and blaming each other. The extent to which we are being herded to hate has been revealed with the pandemic where right-wing media and Republican leaders across the country pushed the anti-mask movement. They tried to convince us that somehow wearing a mask to protect ourselves and others was treasonous and an assault on our “liberties” by our own government. At the same time, they literally sent us into combat (church, protests, rallies, etc.) against the virus without the defense of our masks. Some actually asked us to sacrifice our lives for the economy. Many generations before us gave up so much to get this country where it is today, but somehow it is unpatriotic to wear a mask for a few months to save our fellow Americans? Welcome to the hypocrisy of the right-wing manipulation machine.
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