Blowing the lid off the billionaires’ big con — and its deadly link to the coronavirus pandemic
About 75 percent of Americans trusted the federal government to “do what is right” when polled during most of the last years of the Eisenhower administration and early years of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency.
In 2019, when the Pew Research Center released its most recent poll of public trust in the government, only 17 percent of Americans trusted their government. It’s so bad that throughout 2020 armed protesters showed up nationwide to protest the “tyranny” of having to wear masks during a pandemic, and then stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election, all cheered on by the then-President of the United States and multiple rightwing media outlets.
This is no accident; it’s the result of a four-decades-long campaign by some of America’s richest people to tear apart the governing fabric of our nation, kicked off by their man, Ronald Reagan, proudly proclaiming at his January 20, 1981, inauguration that, “[G]overnment is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Put yourself in the place of the heir to a multimillion-dollar fossil fuel empire, a situation akin to the “heroic” brother and sister who inherited a railroad from their dad in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged:
- If you don’t have to pay to dispose of cancer-causing byproducts from your refineries but can simply vent them into the air, and you make more money.
- If you can cut wages and threaten employees because they don’t have a union, you make more money.
- If you can run a pipeline across sacred Native American land atop a major national aquifer with minimal safety oversight, you make more money.
- If you can hide your money from the IRS because the agency has had its budget slashed so badly that it can no longer do expensive audits of morbidly rich people, you can keep more of the money you’ve made.
- If you can get the government to cut social programs and public education, thus lowering your taxes, you can keep more of the money you’ve made.
So how do you pull this off, when every one of these things hurts average Americans?
Easy. Just embark on a 40-year-long campaign, through think tanks, right-wing media, and massive PR efforts to convince average Americans that government is the cause of, not the solution to, their problems. Convince working-class Americans that gutting government is a good thing that will ultimately help them in some mystical, magical way through the incredible “invisible hand” of the marketplace.
Lewis Powell, a lawyer for Big Tobacco, launched the movement to do just this with his infamous memo in 1971, and billionaires have funded and promoted politicians who jump on board the “government is evil” bandwagon ever since.
And it’s largely worked, if the “trust in government” statistics compiled by the Pew Research Center since 1958 are accurate.
Back in 2011, I was up late one night watching, as I recall, Bloomberg News on a hotel TV. The American host was interviewing a very wealthy German businessman at a conference in Singapore.
Amidst questions about the business climate and the conference, the host asked the German businessman what tax rate he was “suffering under” in his home country. As I recall, the businessman said, “A bit over 60 percent, when everything is included.”
“How can you handle that?” asked the host, incredulous.
The German shrugged his shoulders and moved the conversation to another topic.
A few minutes later, the American reporter, still all wound up by the tax question, again asked the businessman how he could possibly live in a country with such a high tax rate on very wealthy and successful people. Again, the German deferred and changed the subject.
The reporter went for a third try. “Why don’t you lead a revolt against those high taxes?” he asked, his tone implying the businessman was badly in need of some good old American rebellion-making.
The German businessman paused for a long moment and then leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees, his clasped hands in front of him pointing at the reporter as if in prayer. He stared at the man for another long moment and then, in the tone of voice an adult uses to correct a spoiled child, said simply, “I don’t want to be a rich man in a poor country.”
There are a few wealthy Americans who understand this. But the billionaires who fund the Republican Party and right-wing media think it’s perfectly fine to rip the financial and political guts out of their own nation if it makes them a few extra bucks.
They’ve funded and facilitated movements like the Tea Party and the Boogaloo Bois, media outlets like Fox News and Breitbart, and organizations like the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, and ALEC. They throw piles of money at Republican politicians, so long as they never stray far from the “deregulate, cut, denigrate” line about American government.
And over and over again, they’ve been successfully pulling this off for the past 40 years. The most recent example is the disaster we saw in Texas just in the past two weeks.
As investigative reporter Greg Palast reports, “Until 1992, the USA had just about the lowest electricity prices in the world and the most reliable system. For a century, power companies had been limited by law to recovering their provable costs plus a ‘reasonable,’ i.e. small, profit. But in 1992, George H. W. Bush, in the last gasps of his failed presidency, began to deregulate the industry.” Reaganism struck again.
Similarly, a Morning Consult poll was just released with this headline: “With Congressional Stimulus Fight Looming, 76% of Voters Back $1.9 Trillion Plan, Including 60% of Republicans.” Yet every single billionaire-owned Republican in Congress opposes this.
As this nation shudders from a crisis of confidence in government during a deadly pandemic that has-unnecessarily-killed more than 500,000 of our fellow citizens, let’s remember who brought this about. And all for a few extra pieces of gold.