If “Good Government” Doesn’t Make American Lives Better Soon, the Coup of 2024 is Inevitable
You think things are bad in America now? Wait until hungry heads-of-households stop hoping for help and start stealing from stores or kicking in doors to get food for their kids. It’s already starting to happen.
We’re in an unacknowledged Second Republican Great Depression.
One in six families with children “lacked sufficient food in the past 7 days.” A survey completed just two weeks ago found fully 46 percent of American children live in renter households that are behind on their rent or lack sufficient food or both.
Americans once pulled together, and government worked
America’s seen hard times before. But those difficult times weren’t compounded by a political movement arguing that government shouldn’t do anything to help.
Growing up in the 1950s, my parents told me about their childhoods’ during what was then still called The Republican Great Depression.
My mom taught me how to squeeze the last little bit of toothpaste out of a tube by squeezing it in the hinge-side of a door, and how to ration toilet paper, two squares at a time. Dad impressed on me the importance of getting and keeping a good union job (he worked for 50 years in a tool-and-die shop), although I went off as an entrepreneur instead.
My earliest memories, when I was around five years old in 1956 — before dad got his good union job and was struggling, selling Rexair Vacuum Cleaners and World Book Encyclopedias door-to-door — was of going to what my younger brothers and I called “the cheese store.”
It was the Department of Agriculture’s surplus food shop in downtown Lansing, and we’d go there every weekend to pick up a 10-pound brick of American cheese, a 10 pound box of powdered milk, and a 25 pound bag of macaroni. I still have a love/hate relationship with macaroni and cheese, having eaten it for lunch and dinner for weeks at a time as a kid.
But nobody in the media or elected office was talking about tearing down the government in response to hard times. Instead, Americans looked to the government for help.
We trusted the government, because a generation earlier, in the 1930s, Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt had pulled the nation together. He showed us that government could be a force for good, fulfilling the vision of the Constitution’s Preamble that America was formed to “insure domestic Tranquility” and “promote the general Welfare.”
He told the country that the millions of Americans out of work, the “hobos” riding the rails, the panhandlers as young as 8 and as old as 80, were good and decent people who’d fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. It was our obligation, FDR said, to pull together with our government to help lift American families back up.
There was no cynical discussion of “welfare queens” and “fraud and waste” being committed by families broken by the Depression; instead, it was “we’re all in this together.”
The late actor Dennis Weaver traveled as a child with his siblings and mother from the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma all the way to the West Coast to pick strawberries to survive. I was honored to write the foreword to his autobiography, All The World’s A Stage, one of the best narratives I’ve ever read (outside of Steinbeck) of life in America in the 1930s.
As Dennis often told me, “Everybody knew somebody in trouble and people helped each other out.”
Reagan & his rich buddies set out to destroy government, and it’s nearly worked
Today, however, following 40 years of Reaganism and the GOP’s media arms’ constantly repeating the mantra that “government is the cause of our problems,” the Republican Great Depression of 2021 is playing out quite differently.
This crisis is far from over precisely because there’s a huge disinformation industry cranking out anti-US-government propaganda daily across America’s airwaves and on social media.
They’re doing it intentionally and specifically to benefit themselves in ways that go well beyond Fox News’ advertising revenues. There’s a method to their madness.
There’s only one force in the world powerful enough to constrain the behavior of rogue billionaires or rapacious corporations. You can’t stop them from raping the Earth or ripping off workers and consumers. Neither can I. Only government can do that.
Which is why America’s oligarchs began, in the 1980s with the Reagan Revolution, promoting the idea that government had gotten “too big” and was a “threat to liberty.” It had gotten big enough to regulate their behavior, to limit their greed, to prevent them from creating another (very profitable for the uber-wealthy) Great Crash, and they wanted government out of their lives.
So the corporations and billionaires got together in the 1970s, following the plan laid out in 1971 by Lewis Powell in his infamous Memo, and started the process of taking down government, replacing civil servants with yes-men and toadies for the rightwing billionaire agenda. (I document the entire process in my new book, The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy from the Ruling Class.)
Forty years of billionaire-promoted Reaganism, in other words, set up today’s crisis.
And today that same philosophy — that we should just let the “philanthropic” billionaires and “efficient” big corporations run everything, and “big government” shouldn’t play a role for good in our lives — is actively working to cripple President Biden’s efforts to bring this country out of our current crisis.
This is extraordinarily dangerous.
There’s a joke (sorta) going around: “What do you call a failed coup attempt?”
The answer, it turns out, is: “A rehearsal.”
The cancer of Reaganism and the boosters of that worldview are alive, well, and stronger than ever.
If Republicans succeed in preventing the Biden administration from proving that government can make Americans’ lives better, buckle up: The coup of 2024, already in post-rehearsal planning, isn’t going to fail like it did in 2021.