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"Trump and the Republicans' approach to making America great again seems to be to cook up our national seed corn, serve up a banquet, and kiss the future goodbye." (Photo: Gage Skidmor/flickr/cc)

The Great Leap Backwards: Trump's Blueprint To Make America Not Great

John Atcheson

The Trump administration is doubling down on oil, gas, and coal at a time when the rest of the world is committing to getting off the stuff and investing in renewable energy.  Renewable energy, by the way, is the cheapest new source of energy, the cleanest source, and it creates more jobs here at home than investments in fossil fuels do.

It’s hard to describe just how stupid this is.  It’s as if, at the turn of the 19th Century, Roosevelt and Taft invested heavily in the whale oil industry while the rest of the world switched to petroleum.  Or as if the head caveman decided that the stone age wouldn’t end until they ran out of stones.

The economic folly of this is exceeded only by the fact that this puts the US and the world on a potentially civilization-ending environmental path.

"It's hard to describe just how stupid this is."

But it’s not just his energy policy.  He’s busy dismantling the entire scientific infrastructure that had contributed to making the US one of the most prosperous, safe, and powerful nations in the history of the world.  And of course, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican Party are busy putting together a budget that supports this giant leap backward.

The reason they’re doing this is because they have spent the last four decades convincing people that government is the problem – and once they’d convinced enough people of it they began throwing enough monkey wrenches and budget cuts into the system to make it true. And why did they embark on this jihad against government?  Because corporate America and a few rich fat cats wanted to eviscerate the only force powerful enough to constrain their capacity to run roughshod over the interests of the people. Little things like safe food, fair labor practices, safe working conditions, a living minimum wage, or an environment that didn’t kill millions of people were “choking off” the free enterprise system according to these folks. Then of course, there was the issue of taxes – as in corporations, the rich and powerful didn’t want to pay them.  

Until they began their rhetorical war on government and their actual sabotage of it, government was seen as the way we accomplished great things together.  Victory in two world wars; the green revolution which allowed us avoid mass starvation; world class communication systems; the (formerly) best educational system in the world; victory in the space race and a person on the moon; accurate weather forecasting and economic boon it created; and the interstate highway system to name a few. Oh, and the New Deal, which used government programs and regulations to usher in the longest, most sustained and most equitably-shared period of prosperity in US history.

Which brings us to the lame Democrats. Back when Reagan began the great leap backward, they sat on their hands at first, then joined in the fun, glorifying free markets and declaring the end to “big government,” while they trolled for money from corporate interests.

The reality is, government has either been a partner in, or the initiator of, the policies and programs that once made America great.  Let’s examine some of what Trump is doing to eviscerate the government’s investment in sound science.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Under Trump’s budget, NASA gets cut by a little less than 3%, but the cuts are selective, with anything that contributes to our understanding of climate change getting cut disproportionately.  For example, Earth Science was cut by 8.7%, and included things like the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3.  Presumably the idea here is if we don’t know nothin’ we don’t have to do nothin’.

Gutting EPA’s Scientific Capacity: Trump’s budget cuts EPA’s scientific research budget almost in half.  Don’t want to be confused with facts; don’t want no pointy headed scientists telling industry it can’t spew out poisonous wastes; hell, don’t even want to know if they are poisonous.  Damn the environment and human health – full speed ahead.  Or is it behind, to a time when we had burning rivers, toxic rains, dangerous drinking water, ubiquitous poisons on land, and in the air that literally killed?

National Institutes of Health:  Trump’s budget would slash NIH’s budget by 18%.  So not only will Americans health care be threatened under Trump and the Republicans, health science will be, too.  Most of the fundamental breakthroughs in drugs and health care have come from NIH and other government programs. Big Pharma spends more on advertising drugs than they do on research, and most of their research is focused on knock-offs of existing drugs.

The National Science Foundation: The Republicans would cut NSAs budget by 11%, but the Ocean Observatory Initiative – a collection of sea floor monitoring sites—would be cut by 44%.  The OOI supports research into the effects of climate on the ocean.  Sure as hell don’t want to know anything about that.

Food and Drug Administration:  FDA’s budget would be cut by 31%.  So not only will health care be less affordable, you’ll probably need it a whole lot more.  Some of the cut would be offset by user fees.  Guess who pays them?  Yup, you got it – the folks the Administration is supposed to be regulating.  Having the regulated community fund the regulators is such a great idea – what could possibly go wrong?

But the great leap backwards isn’t restricted to science and energy policy. Across the board, Republicans and their Democratic enablers are proposing to roll back regulations, budgets, tax policies, educational programs and practices that, in times past, contributed to making the US a world leader science, technology, engineering, math, economic equity, and environmental protection.

Trump and the Republicans’ approach to making America great again seems to be to cook up our national seed corn, serve up a banquet, and kiss the future goodbye.  

Oh, and those job numbers from the last six months Republicans are bragging about?  They are a direct result of policies the Obama administration put in place – implementing a stimulus program, rescuing the auto manufacturers, investing in 21st Century energy technologies, strengthening the real job creators by putting in place policies that assure that the 99% got a larger share of wealth. You know, putting up some seed corn, for Trump to liquidate.

Was it enough?  No. Democrats were beholden to the oligarchy, and too enamored with neoliberalism to really embrace progressive policies, but at least they were headed toward the 21st Century.

Republicans? They’re liquidating what little seed corn there is, and giving the US a leadership position in the technologies of the 20th Century.  Too bad we’re well into the 21st Century.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a California car accident in January 2020.

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