from Peter Radford
The aftermath of a coup attempt is one of those moments when a nation gets a really serious insight into its values. Do, for instance, its politicians rally around some higher set of principles, or do they slide quickly back into the day-to-day argy-bargy of political positioning and infighting?
Ours are perilously close to the latter. And this after their own place of work was invaded and trashed while they hid and cowered in sundry hiding places. Profiles in courage are few and far between right now within our politics class.
The reason is obvious: one of major political parties is complicit in the ruin of democracy and in the rise of a far right version of populism based on white supremacy, nativism, and grievances of various sorts. Perhaps this was the inevitable consequence of forty years of false doctrine and anti-social agitation during which the very word government became reviled and scorned by those swept along by that doctrine. Perhaps it was the inevitable consequence of the highly planned and disciplined attack on democracy orchestrated by the panoply of right wing think tanks and media outlets established during the late 1970s for the specific purpose of ruining the ability of the middle class to protect itself from our oligarchs and big corporate interests. Or, perhaps, it was simply neglect and complacency on the part of a voter population who bought into the saccharine and sanitized history fed them after World War II — a history in which Americans always wore the white hats and in which the constitution was not a piece of paper to be updated to suit each generation’s context, but which was beyond reproach and beyond amendment. Is it a coincidence that the last amendment to the constitution came right at the rise to ascendancy of the neoliberal elite?
Our bookstore shelves groan under the weight of recently published screes describing the imminent demise of American democracy. The topic has become an obsession in leftist circles throughout the country. These books all purport to describe how democracy ends, and they all target the rise of far right sentiment within the Republican party.
But these books are wrong.
The end of democracy was a long time ago. It came about when both our political parties succumbed the the false doctrines of extreme thinkers like Hayek and Friedman who both harbored deeply anti-social sentiments draped within a cloak of intellectual righteousness. The end of democracy began with the publication and circulation of the infamous Powell Memorandum amongst the members of the US Chamber of Commerce. That terrible, ideologically driven, document became the manifesto of the far right and of its corporate paymasters. The alliance forged between right wing economists and the corporate sector, which remains solid until today, is a significant aspect of the quiet revolution orchestrated by our oligarchs and supported by the veneer of intellectual rigor provided by economists driven by market sycophancy.
The demise of our middle and working classes was inevitable. The stagnation of wages was inevitable. The corruption of our government was inevitable. And the rise of Donald Trump was inevitable. As was the recently failed coup attempt.
That Powell memorandum set in motion a cascade of capture of the citadels of academia by the false doctrines of Hayek and Friedman. It encouraged the work of eager academics who were trying to make reputations for themselves rather than pursuing true rigor. The result was a steady trickle, within the business organization literature, of ideas that sought to cement the libertarian worldview and to supplant the earlier, more nuanced, post-war view.
The rise of this neoliberal order found a welcoming and well funded home in corporate America. The destruction of the myth of opportunity for all began right there. The blindness of the academic elite that proselytized liberty whilst abetting oligarchy is an astonishing feature of the past forty years. Still today ardent advocates of whatever it is they describe as liberty fail to see the loss of freedom that their ideas inevitably create.
So, here we are at a point of reckoning.
The decisions made over the next few days and weeks will determine whether America slides further into failed state status, or whether it pulls itself back from the abyss. Judging by the complete surrender of a large part of the Republican party to anti-social thought, and to their embrace of extreme methods in their attempt to maintain power, the odds of a full recovery are poor.
I have seen commentators talk about the kind of agenda we need to lift ourselves back up. First, they say, we need to occlude any chance for Trump to will political power in the future. That is obvious. He needs to be accused and convicted. He needs to be banished. Second, they say, we need to address the long term and deep malaise caused by the neoliberal ideology that has strangled our discourse. Good. Let’s begin with economics. Third, they add although tentatively, we must reform our system of government to protect its values and to make real its claim to be open to all equally. It never has been open to all: even after the passage of the civil war amendments the reality of racism was allowed to flourish throughout the nation.
I want to add a fourth: we need to revise our relationship with our large corporations. They are the source of political corruption with their flood of money and lobbying in Washington. They are the creators of most of our social-economic policies regarding the workplace, work/life balance, affluence, the distribution of wealth, and the pace of technological change. They play a pivotal political role. They are major political actors. Any healthy democracy needs to recognize this fact and regulate accordingly.
Our economy is administered. It is situated within, and is an artifact of, the rising complexity of life brought about by the steady accumulation of information humanity creates simply by living, interacting, and sustaining itself. The division of labor long since rendered obsolete any theories dependent upon a simple worldview of individual transactors inhabiting a low information landscape. Corporations are a necessary feature of the need to administer the mediation of economic activity in a landscape featuring a much more dense information concentration. We cannot avoid the need for administration. Business firms housed within the legal shell called a corporation are here to stay. It is our obligation, and our right, to call them to task for their attack on democracy.
We need corporate reform just as much as we need political reform.