Will government programs you depend upon disappear? Republicans, and you may register in that column, intend to weaken or destroy programs that Americans have taken for granted since the 1930s and newer ones that tens of millions rely upon. These programs created and sustain a middle class that’s the greatest and most prosperous in the history of the world. They shelter ordinary people from the hurricanes of life.
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, civil rights and voting rights, and protections for workers, consumers, women, immigrants and anybody who’s not straight, and our public lands and air and water, lie in jeopardy. Effective public schools, wage and hour laws, restrictions on child labor, laws that allow collective bargaining by unions, and affordable health insurance could all go out the window.
Why do Republicans opposed these laws and programs? They’re broadly popular. They’re popular because they show effective government at work.
Today’s Republicans, however, don’t believe the government should work this way. Their rigid doctrine, unmoved by empathy, rejects the idea that there is a compact with the citizens that calls on government to step in when the chips are down, or when people are exploited.
So if government shouldn’t do this, they can’t let it. And when people are left wanting, Republicans then blame government in general and argue against the taxes that support it.
This argument goes back generations. Herbert Hoover, the millionaire mining engineer elected president in 1928, refused to unleash the power of the government to solve the unemployment and homelessness and starvation that rolled in with the Great Depression.
The Paul Ryan’s, the Mitch McConnells, the Donald Trumps live in the same world of fictional individualism. They’re blind to the real world in which, when people suffer unexpected troubles, they need their government and there’s no one else. Their blindness is their ideology.
Franklin Roosevelt succeeded Hoover and rewrote the compact between government and citizens. FDR’s New Deal recognized for the first time the responsibility the nation bore for its people. The depression had exposed the cruelties of laissez faire economics and the need to give, as no other entity could do, workers and the old and unemployed a fighting chance.
Translate the reaction and rhetoric, indeed the players, from then to now and hardly anyone can tell the difference. The rich man’s anti-New Deal coalition, calling itself the Liberty League, formed in 1934 with du Pont gunpowder and J.P. Morgan banking money. Then, as now, there were no effective limits on campaign contributions, and the du Ponts alone poured almost $1 million into the 1936 Republican campaign.
Just as the du Ponts foreshadowed Sheldon Adelson and Charles and David Koch, the Liberty League’s script gave a taste of right wing talk today. It promised an “unremitting” fight against “government encroachment upon the rights of citizens.” Lammot du Pont argued that “all government regulation of business . . . should be abolished.” His son Irenee du Pont talked about makers versus takers: “The Roosevelt administration practices the socialistic maxim ‘work like hell so that the parasites may get the benefit of your labor.'” And whenever Democrats mentioned the yawning gap between the richest Americans and all the rest, Republicans charged them with waging class warfare.
Reading socialism or worse into the New Deal was standard fare. The script hasn’t changed in eighty years. The Affordable Care Act, which extended health insurance to 20 million Americans who didn’t have it, is “socialized medicine” in the Republican playbook as they rush to repeal it with no replacement plan.
Now the smell of blood is in the air. Republicans are drooling in anticipation of Trump’s inauguration. So after the most vicious, intemperate, thuggish campaign from the right in modern history and the Electoral College victory of a narcissist authoritarian who trailed his opponent by nearly three million popular votes, who has chosen cabinet appointees who oppose the work of the departments they’re supposed to head, we are poised to return to what Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called “the old order” that preceded the New Deal.
The anti-government right has worked at this for years. And when they snatch away what have been fundamental facts of American life for as long as three generations, Americans will suffer.
President Obama urged citizens to take part and speak up.
If this matters to you, call the people who represent you in Washington.
Here’s where to find your representative: http://www.house.gov/htbin/findrep
Here’s where to find your senator: