Something I’m hearing a lot from thoughtful people these days is how we have to learn to communicate with the other side. They bemoan the degree to which the US has sunk into two camps, each entrenched in their own reality and separated by a chasm of ideological intolerance. “It is critical that we reach across the aisle; that we meet them halfway,” they’ll say. Well, in point of fact, it’s mostly liberals who say this. Corporations and rich folks, and the politicians they’ve bought and paid for, are more than happy with the status quo because it’s working just fine for them.
Then, of course, there’s been the decades long demand for “fair and balanced” reporting—something that was a key point in the infamous Powell Memo—a conservative manifesto that served as a blueprint for the conservative takeover of our national political narrative and that was designed to make the country more “business friendly,” which in point of fact meant less friendly to the people, the environment, and democracy.
With all due respect, what we need to do is to take on those who use hate-filled ignorance to advance their cause and make it—and them—something to be ashamed of again. To chase it into the dark shadows where it should remain in shame with its brethren, fear, greed, jingoism, racism, and sexism, rather than being celebrated as it is now.
What conservatives and corporatists didn’t anticipate when they used hate, greed, racism, and all the other “-isms” to run their con, is that these forces would ultimately take over the Party, and the country.
And, while we’re at it, we need to throw out the notion of so-called “balance” in the media.
“Wait just a minute there, Atcheson,” I can hear the well-meaning progressives and liberals say, “that’s just the kind of talk that is polarizing America.”
Calling the “other side” ignorant or hate-filled would seem to be feeding the divisiveness that is crippling our country, but I would suggest it isn’t. Indeed, recognizing and calling out the scapegoating—and its handmaiden prejudice—exhibited by what passes for conservatism these days is a necessary first step toward fixing our national divide. Because what is crippling our country is the fact that things which used to be unacceptable are now deemed not only acceptable, but they are embraced by an entire political party, and they’ve become the bedrocks of the national government, our courts and most state governments.
And it is the "distract, divide and conquer" strategy of the right which created the divide that now threatens to consume our country in an orgy of mistrust, hate, and ignorance.
Back in the late 50’s and 60’s a man named Joe Pyne pioneered the confrontational, fact-free style exhibited by many “journalists” on the right today. Pyne rode to fame ridiculing hippies, feminists and homosexuals, although he did support unions and spoke out against racial discrimination. But the thing is, he was not considered mainstream, and his chief products—controversy and hate—were neither condoned nor embraced by mainstream journalism, or by either political party. It was, in short, considered part of our national id—something to be held in check, and guarded against.
Today, this kind of hate, blame and confrontation is a major feature of our media landscape, it is embraced by the Republican Party, and it is the modus operandi of President Trump. The story of how hate and blame worked its way from the margins of our society to become one of its distinguishing characteristics is complex, but rooted in five key trends:
- First, there was a strategy employed by conservatives and corporations that relied upon using these things as a distraction for their real agenda—a de facto coup to take over the country;
- Second, corporations and conservatives worked diligently to discredit government in general and regulations in particular, while claiming the free market would deliver prosperity for all while simultaneously increasing our freedoms;
- Third, in the late 1970’s and 80’s DLC Democrats took over the Democratic Party, abandoned the New Deal and implicitly embraced much of the conservative dogma;
- Fourth, the press—freed from the constraints of the Fairness Doctrine and other FCC rules as a result of deregulation—became a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America and a few rich families; and
- Fifth, science, the scientific method, critical thinking and the truths they revealed were tossed aside for assertions without foundation and reasoning toward a desired end, rather than towards honest inquiry.
One of the most astounding accomplishments of corporatists and conservatives was to transform government from an institution that more than three quarters of Americans trusted in 1958, to one in which fewer than 20 percent did in 2017, at a time when the New Deal policies had just ushered in the longest, most equitably shared period of prosperity in our nation’s history. And the assault on government has gotten even worse in the past year under Trump.
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In essence, the right-wing spent billions of dollars to create the myth of government ineptitude, then used it to pass policies and budgets which made it incompetent in actual fact, while appointing industry shills who also made it untrustworthy in actual fact.
The point of neutering government was, and remains, to make the coast clear for a massive theft of wealth and power from the people to the plutocrats.
For example, corporations and the ultra-rich have walked away with virtually all the economic gains we’ve made since the 80’s, with the top 1 percent now owning more wealth than the bottom 90 percent of Americans combined—a disparity greater than at any other time in our history.
But they didn’t simply steal our wealth, they took over government as surely as any invading army could have. As Gilens and Page discovered in their landmark study on wealth and influence—the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically nonsignificant impact upon public policy.
Now, about those “sides.” What conservatives and corporatists didn’t anticipate when they used hate, greed, racism, and all the other “-isms” to run their con is that these forces would ultimately take over the Democratic Party and, in turn, the entire country. Trump is the logical endpoint of that tragedy. A large cohort of voters—particularly white blue collar and rural Americans—see themselves as aggrieved victims. In fact, they are victims, but they’ve been conned into believing all those “others” are the ones who victimized them, when in reality, it was the corporatists, the ultra-rich—and the Republicans who serve the rich—who’ve been stealing them blind.
Doubt that? Well, take a look at the latest con—Trump and the Republicans’ tax cut for the rich. They threw a few temporary scraps to the middle class, actually increased taxes on the poor, and gave away the store to the rich and corporations. It was sold under the old, trickle-down, supply-side scam, but as the evidence shows, almost none of it trickled down. Instead it is being used to fill the coffers of corporations, CEOs and shareholders. Goldman Sachs estimates that companies will enrich shareholders by as much as $1.2 trillion from stock buy backs as a result of the tax cut. Stock-buy backs used to be illegal, by the way, because they were seen as a way to manipulate stock prices. With the sabotage of government, there’s no one worrying about such things. Meanwhile, estimates are that workers and wage earners will see little in the way of gains from the cut, and what they do see will be more than offset by changes in the tax code for the majority of middle class Americans. Oh, and the tax cuts for ordinary income are temporary, while those going to corporations and stockholders are permanent.
So, what the corporatists, conservatives and the ultra-rich have accomplished is to create a “side” which denies science, eschews critical thinking as elitist, identifies the potential source of their redemption—an effective government—as the source of their problems, and accepts the scapegoating engineered by the plutocrats that tells them a host of “others” are the cause of their decline in prospects.
To meet this “side” at some mythical halfway point is to enable a vicious con of unprecedented size that enslaves and impoverishes the very people it pretends to represent. It endorses the ignorance, hate, greed, and victimhood that the plutocracy relies upon to keep the people who support them conned, impoverished and disempowered.
The Democrats have been AWOL on this debate, however. Indeed, they’ve embraced much of the false narrative the plutocracy has manufactured. As a result, progressives have stayed home, voted third party, or left the top of the ticket blank.
Now here’s the irony: the only people who are likely to solve this problem are real progressives, and the only way they can solve it is to reject the right’s false narrative, not compromise with it. If they turn out in numbers sufficient enough to take back the House and the Senate, then we can begin to restore truth, accuracy and context to their rightful place in our national debate and restore government’s ability to stand up to the plutocrats instead of representing them.
All we need for that to happen, is a party controlled by progressives. But as Tom Perez proved with his endorsement of the neoliberal Andrew Cuomo, and the DCC showed with their attacks on real progressives, no such party exists at the moment.