Phony Democracy Lives in Darkness
More dire warnings about Social Security from Paul Ryan exemplify the basic dishonesty of political discourse in America. Michael Phalen of Social Security Works (see Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson’s excellent book of the same name) promptly called for vigilance and donations to resist Ryan’s renewed scheme for another “Simpson-Bowles” group—to jump-start Ryan’s pet project.
It’s particularly appalling that Ryan’s proposal came at an event promoting Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut, which overwhelmingly favors the wealthy. We always knew this was their plan: give money to the super-rich, then cry poor as an excuse to cut programs that provide a foundation of economic security to regular Americans. The reality is that Social Security has a $2.8 trillion surplus, can pay out 100% of earned benefits owed for the next 17 years and approximately 80% of benefits after that. And all we need to do is require the wealthy to pay their fair share and we’ll be able to protect and expand benefits for millions of Americans. Paul Ryan knows that Americans won’t stand for cuts to our vital programs, so instead of proposing legislation, they propose fast track commissions that shield Congress from accountability on important issues.
Politicians like Ryan manufacture anxiety about the future as part of a larger strategy to pit one demographic of American citizens against another, in this case fatalistic young workers against the elderly—knowing that many in the millennial and Generation X age groups think they’ll never get Social Security when they need it and like the seductive simplicity of libertarianism. Ryan’s promotion of angst about Social Security is a “sign” of an ever deeper societal pathology that enables right-wing propagandists like the Koch brothers to subvert unity among voters and erode our democracy for their own agenda.
Ryan would have nothing to complain about had Congress not dipped into our Social Security surplus to fund wars and pork barrel for decades. Yet its failure to replenish that Social Security trust fund is ignored. A minor adjustment in the Social Security tax to include higher incomes cannot even be mentioned in the right-wing dystopia of Washington, D.C. Ryan’s manipulation passes for truth with many, even though Social Security does, in fact, work. Medicare also works. Our family structure—and thereby our entire society—benefits from these prudent measures responsible leaders crafted in a bygone era of centrism and moderation.
Even in our current gilded age, with widening rich-poor inequality, there is still enough collectivism left in America to keep Koch and other oligarchs worried and seeking more erosion of our democracy. Far-right “talking points” are broadcast continually, to confuse, polarize and lure malleable voters into their winner-take-all fear zones. These tactics have worked famously, and the far-right machine is currently “mom and apple pie” all over our divided nation. Long ago, Fox News and conservative, AM-radio mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh perfected the polarizing manipulations of current events. Now Sinclair’s media empire looks poised to be made stronger yet, by the FCC’s willingness to end net neutrality. Unlike Teddy Roosevelt, the right today is unphased by deregulation, monopoly or even more dangerous oligopoly.
Extreme right-wingers in D.C. secretly dismiss many of the ideals and wisdom of our Constitution. Our founders’ intentions included fair and equal treatment for all, expressed in our Bill of Rights as promotion of “The General Welfare.” They envisioned growing opportunities for hard-working citizens to achieve security and perhaps prosperity, in a society where community spirit and assisting one another nurtured the “common good.” Libertarian code words now sow distrust of all these traditions among us, by referring to billionaires and oligarchs as benefactors—the “job creators” or “makers” (of prosperity). Using these talking points, FDR’s New Deal social safety net gets demonized, portrayed as an “entitlement,” often associated with handouts given to no-account “takers.” The fact is, we pay lifelong for these safety nets, also known as insurance policies. Yet no one in the right wing or the corporate media dares to draw a correlation with the myriad political gifts bestowed upon our corporate billionaires and oligarchs through special-interest legislation bought and paid for by their campaign donations.
Give-away legislation crafted by our pay-to-play political culture to benefit the “half of 1 percent” elites is the core sign of our pathological leadership system. This dependency relationship between big money donors and our political parties—to pay for winning office in national elections that now cost double-digit billions of dollars—cannot continue without destroying our traditional American way of life. Fairness and genuine “free market capitalism” are regularly trampled in faux elections like 2016’s, where meaningful content and deep discussions of our societal issues could not happen. There is an unspoken acquiescence to our elections remaining as charades, where campaign money raised, yammering about political process and vile attack ads dominate all else.
We live in a complex society. Voting well is a challenge. Yet the mainstream media leaves education and depth of content to chance. Perhaps everyone will start watching C-SPAN four hours a day to understand our enigmatic nation. But I doubt it.
Survey the wreckage of just a few of the crashes brought on within the context of phony democracy and irrational leadership—made inevitable by two-party acrimony. We do not talk about our historical elephants in the room, our record of bad decision-making. We deny the fundamental reality that Washington’s adversarial political culture is what brings us repeatedly to the edge of a cliff (usually fiscal, but perhaps existential). George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D rejected basic principles of capitalism to reward Big Pharma, by denying Medicare price competition for drugs. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was originally a Republican idea. But with Obama and the Democrats voting for it, political expedience made it poison for the right. A basic necessity for our nation remains a political football, and we all suffer from adversarial theatrics on both sides of the aisle.
Bush and Dick Cheney fabricated a war against Iraq with visions of enriching U.S. corporations (an abysmal blunder we’re all still paying for, by propagating new terrorists and widespread Middle East violence), and we give them busts in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Saudi Arabia’s radical schools have been the source of much of the Islamic terror we fear, and they are handed state-of-the-art arms to battle Yemen/Iran. Iran had a legitimate, elected leader whom we removed to install the hated Shah, leading to the revolt of 1979 and our U.S. hostage humiliation.
Like Fidel Castro in Cuba, we never forget an insult or our need for Saudi oil, and so we continue to ignore Saudi misdeeds and obsess about Iran’s sins. The worsening population displacements from Syria and Africa threaten to destabilize several European governments, with radical right-wing elements gaining strength. Brexit remains an unsolved quandary. And Washington ignores the risks of worsening population migrations, pretending the warming data from scientists worldwide, including Exxon’s and the fears of our own Defense Department for climate refugee crises, can be denied by labeling global warming a hoax.
Today, we await the likely downsides of an extravagant Trump tax law that experiments irresponsibly with disproven “trickle down” theories—rightly called “voodoo economics” by George Bush Sr. Recycled conservative and laissez-faire economic theories have devastated U.S. jobs for decades, via offshoring plants, robotics, sales tax favors for Amazon and tax havens or loopholes for all big corporations. Artificial intelligence is poised to become the next enrichment driver for a few and a job loser for the many. Ronald Reagan’s debt exploding adventurism in the 1980s and Bill Clinton’s inept leadership that later sabotaged a developing democracy in the former Soviet Russia by “shock doctrine” and other Milton Friedman-esque economic meddling (elsewhere worldwide as well, like Chile) are ignored, even in an era when Russia and Vladimir Putin are mentioned on mainstream media dozens of time a day.
But in a perfect world, where American citizens learn to protect their own prosperity and fight for economic justice through the power of knowledge, my short list and innumerable other stories of incompetent leadership would live on—and remain dinner-table fascinations for growing numbers of sophisticated voters. As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the fall of Lehman Brothers, well-informed conversations should include the obscene riches showered upon Wall Street perps (instead of jail for fraud), by Bush Jr. and Obama—during decade-long Fed support of Big Money elites, long after their 2008 “Too Big to Fail” bailouts.
“We the people” are routinely subordinated and harmed by our adversarial political system, flip-flopping almost comically from right to left and back again. It is a political system that chooses “party over country” policies consistently, that sabotages rational centrist collaboration and hypocritically serves the interests of our monied elites—all while pretending gentlemanly pomp and circumstance.
Payback for campaign donations and blind service to ideologies like Koch-financed libertarianism defines the incompetent governance that largely dominates Washington, D.C. Trump White House chaos, “Russiagate,” mass murders in schools and in Las Vegas, and sex scandals du jour are, in fact, the “symptoms and signs” of a society under siege from disconnected ideology, from hypocritical liars in power, from obsession with a “fast buck” economy and more. All of this is traceable to a system of leadership so broken that virtually no one sees a way to reinvent it. Even the most obvious cancer on our leadership system, Citizens United—another Koch Frankenstein—is growing more lethal. And, yet, it is accepted as incurable.
Read “Democracy in Chains” by history professor Nancy MacLean to learn of the Kochs’ stealth libertarian sabotage of traditional democracy, using the economic theories of James Buchanan.
As conservative columnist David Brooks wrote recently for The New York Times, the Trump administration may be so egregiously flawed and unprincipled that our self-righteous symbols of civilized propriety, parliamentary customs and the rule of law may never recover from the Damon Runyon theatrics we’re subjected to today from D.C. (as Brooks asserts is now the case in Italy, where political decadence has persisted post-Silvio Berlusconi).
It’s time to get involved. A “We Too” movement can “Make American Function Again.” Educated and confident in the power of knowledge, voters can elect rational leaders to a reinvented system of governance.