America has been Poisoned - Where's the Antidote?
This year will be an unprecedented referendum on democracy. Fully sixty percent of Americans will have an “election denier” Trump-humping Republican on the ballot this November
Our country has been poisoned, and if we don’t remove the poison and start using the antidote America may soon be completely unrecognizable as a “free” nation. It’s taken 50 years, but we’re now at the point of maximum crisis.
First came the poison of big money corrupting politics.
Back in 1971, Lewis Powell thought he saw a communist threat in Ralph Nader. Literally: he named him in his infamous manifesto, the Powell Memo, arguing that calls to regulate auto safety with seat belts and soft dash boards (Nader’s book Unsafe At Any Speed) were simply the first steps toward a socialist takeover of America.
“Perhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business,” Powell wrote, “is Ralph Nader, who — thanks largely to the media — has become a legend in his own time and an idol of millions of Americans.”
Nader (who wrote the Foreword to my book The Hidden History of Monopolies: How Big Business Destroyed the American Dream) and people like Rachel Carson, with the environmental movement her book Silent Spring had inspired, threatened, Powell believed, the core of America’s free enterprise system.
Regulation, Powell (a tobacco lawyer) asserted, was just step one to a total Stalinist takeover of America.
“The overriding first need,” Powell wrote, “is for businessmen to recognize that the ultimate issue may be survival — survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people.”
The following year Richard Nixon put Powell on the Supreme Court, where he personally authored the 1978 Boston v Bellotti decision that claimed billionaire and corporate money in politics wasn’t bribery or corruption (as it had been under the law since the founding of the republic) but merely an exercise of First Amendment-protected free speech. Money wasn’t money: it was speech.
That decision greased the path for the later doubling down with Citizens United, and produced a tsunami of corporate money that flooded into the GOP in 1980 (at the time the Democrats were largely funded by labor unions; their embrace of corporate money would come in 1992 with Bill Clinton’s “New Democrats”), floating Ronald Reagan and his neoliberal Reagan Revolution into power.
Since then, big business has discovered that the investment of a few million dollars into buying politicians could produce billions or even trillions in returns. When morbidly rich hedge fund guys poured a million or so dollars into Kirsten Sinema’s coffers, for example, she demanded changes to the Inflation Reduction Act that saved them fourteen billion.
That’s one hell of a return on investment, and similar deals are made every day now: the entire GOP and the “corporate problem solver” Democrats are all in on the scam.
Whether its money from fossil fuel, big pharma, big chemical, big banking, big airlines, big telcom, big tech, or any other billion-dollar industry in America, the entire GOP and a handful of Democrats in the House and Senate have their hands out. Literally, no other developed country in the world allows this democracy-killing corruption that five Republicans on the Supreme Court legalized.
Next came poisonous memes designed to turn working people against each other.
The morbidly rich and the corporations that made them that way hate labor unions, aka “democracy in the workplace.” Unions reduce their profits and inhibit their ability to maximally exploit their workers; unionized workers demand accountability, a word anathema to corporations.
Reagan promoted the idea that “union bosses” were exploiting union members for their own advantage and, even though the argument made no sense (unions don’t have stock or bonus systems like corporations, so “union bosses” get a salary just like everybody else), it was picked up by the media that was, itself, run by corporations unhappy about being unionized.
TV shows in the 1980s and 1990s routinely featured corrupt or mobbed-up “union bosses” as parts of their plots, while state after state adopted “Right To Work For Less” legislation, authorized by a Republican Congress over Harry Truman’s veto in 1947, that make it difficult for unions to survive.
Right-wing radio and Fox “News” echoed the message, and, since Reagan’s election, we’ve seen union representation go from about a third of all Americans to around 6 percent in the private workplace today.
Along with the poisoning death of our unions came the destruction of the American middle class. When Reagan came into office some estimates put the middle class — a single family’s wage-earner being able to buy a home, a car, take a vacation, put kids through school, and save for retirement or have a pension — at around 60 to 65 percent of American families. Today it’s under 45 percent.
Conservatives then set about poisoning American race relations.
This is not to say everything was hunky dory, but in the 1960s and 1970s we were making real progress. Politicians from both parties — with the broad support of the American people — passed Voting- and Civil Rights laws, we made good faith efforts to integrate schools and workplaces, and even television shows in the 1990s, led by Norman Lear’s genius, brought positive portrayals of non-white and non-straight people to white people’s TV screens in a big way for the first time.
First came Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” openly welcoming southern white racists into the GOP. Next, tragically, in 1988 George HW Bush proved that appealing to white racism could still win elections with his notorious Willie Horton ads, setting the stage for two generations of race-baiting Republican politics that reach its zenith with Donald Trump’s racist declaration about “Mexican rapists” when he announced his candidacy in 2015.
The right continues this strategy today, promoting racial and religious fear and hate with Muslim bans, generating hysteria about Brown refugees on our southern border, and fighting to block any true portrayals of American racial history in our schools.
Hustlers, with help from the GOP, poisoned Christianity next.
Reagan’s campaign hired born-again alcoholic George W. Bush to work out a deal to integrate the evangelical movement — which prior to 1980 was non-political and even supported abortion rights — into the GOP. Jerry Falwell became the face of this church-and-state merger, spewing his own brand of poison.
The week after 9/11, Falwell and Pat Robertson solemnly agreed on TV that the attack on the Twin Towers was merely their god’s punishment for America tolerating “sin.”
"What we saw on Tuesday,” Falwell said on Pat Robertson’s TV show, “as terrible as it is, could be minuscule if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.”
“Jerry, that's my feeling. I think we've just seen the antechamber to terror. We haven't even begun to see what they can do to the major population.”
Falwell then doubled-down:
“The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad.
“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularise America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”
Robertson, nodding vigorously, added:
“I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government.”
And now we have evangelists like the newly reinvented Mike Flynn — a convicted and pardoned secret foreign agent who spied on us from within the White House — traveling the country today calling, essentially, for replacing our democracy with an authoritarian “Christian” government like in Russia and Hungary (and Germany and Italy in the past).
“If we are going to have one nation under God,” Flynn tells audiences repeatedly, “which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God, right?”
Forget about the teachings of Jesus in The Sermon on the Mount and the Parable of the Goats and Sheep in Matthew 25; get yourself an AR-15 like Flynn recently strutted with on-stage.
The NRA and weapons manufacturers then poured the poison of guns across our land.
Using the money Republicans on the Supreme Court authorized with the Bellotti and Citizens United decisions, combined with Scalia’s twisted Heller decision, the Supreme Court and the NRA have unleashed an epidemic of gun violence in America.
The average of all countries in the world is 9.86 guns per 100 civilians. The United States is highest in the world at 120.5 guns per 100 people. Yemen, which is in the middle of a war with Saudi Arabia and dealing with an internal insurgency, comes in second at 52.8.
No other nation is even close; even Afghanistan and Iraq average around 20 deadly weapons in the hands of every hundred people. European and Asian countries range from 10 to as low as 1 gun per hundred people.
Over on Fox “News,” one brilliant idea to deal with the slaughter of our children in our schools was to issue “Ballistic Blankets” to every school. This is how sick and twisted the Republicans taking money from the gun industry and their allies have become.
Twenty years ago, car accidents were the leading killer of children and youth: today it’s guns. This year, almost 11 out of every 100,000 children died from guns while only 8 per 100K died from car crashes. Nothing in America kills more of our children than the 400,000,000+ guns in which our country is awash (and that have made billions for the weapons industry).
White Supremacists are doing their best to poison our police and military.
There’s an active movement among white supremacist groups to spread the poison of fascism, racism, and hate to the government employees who carry the authority to legally kill people. As ABC News reported last March:
“Based on investigations between 2016 and 2020, agents and analysts with the FBI's division in San Antonio concluded that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists would ‘very likely seek affiliation with military and law enforcement entities in furtherance of’ their ideologies, according to a confidential intelligence assessment issued late last month.’”
“Semi-Fascist” MAGA Republicans are poisoning our system of governance.
President Biden rightly called out the MAGA faction of the Republican Party; they are actively working to undermine our republic and replace it with their beloved autocratic strongman models of Orbán’s Hungary, Bolsonaro’s Brazil, and Putin’s Russia. They’re even promoting Hungary and Orbán on Fox “News,” doing fawning specials from Budapest featuring the Big Man himself.
In multiple Republican-controlled states, legislators have not only made it harder to vote — particularly for low-income people, minorities, and college students — while openly working to terrorize Black voters. Ron DeSantis recently paraded a group of mostly Black “illegal voters” in Florida, while Texas politicians have promoted far and wide their arrests of Black “felon voters.”
It’s all about trying to terrify Black people away from the polls, if less severe efforts like outlawing “Souls to the Polls” by ending Sunday voting aren’t enough to swing elections to the GOP.
The Brennan Center documents how:
“As of January 14, legislators in at least 27 states have introduced, pre-filed, or carried over 250 bills with restrictive [voting] provisions.”
Dozens are now law.
Meanwhile, Republican appointees on the Supreme Court let Republican Secretaries of State cancel the voter registrations of over 20 million Americans in the last dozen years with their Ohio decision.
The Supreme Court has also allowed Republican secretaries of state to reduce the number of voting machines and voting locations, particularly in Black, Hispanic and college town neighborhoods, to force people wanting to vote into long, discouraging lines.
And they’re poisoning our social and news media.
In early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry Wallace to, as Wallace noted, “write a piece answering the following questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?”
Vice President Wallace’s answer to those questions was published in The New York Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan.
“The really dangerous American fascists,” Wallace wrote, “are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way.”
As if he had a time machine and could see the “conservative” media landscape today, Wallace continued:
“The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.”
Today CNN is moving to the hard right, purging itself of voices willing to call out the GOP’s embrace of fascism. There’s a network of “nearly 1300” websites purporting to be those of local newspapers but are really rightwing propaganda operations, and dozens of actual rightwing “local” newspapers that are often stuck for free in people’s mailboxes.
Putin, Trump, Orbán, Xi, and other autocrats are trying to poison democracies worldwide.
Donald Trump famously embraced autocrats, dictators, sheiks, and killers while snubbing leaders of democracies and working to destroy NATO and the United Nations. His family recently received a $2 billion gift from the dictator of Saudi Arabia, and G-d knows how many billions MBS wired into one of Trump’s personal offshore accounts.
Meanwhile, Russian and Chinese intelligence services run disinformation campaigns that fill social media with lies and information designed to tear democracies apart; they’re having considerable success in their efforts, including putting Trump in the White House in 2016 and pushing through Brexit.
Republicans in Congress are even openly opposing Ukraine in their valiant battle against Russia’s terrorist campaign: most recently it was 11 Republican Senators and 57 Republican members of the House who proudly voted with Putin over America and Ukraine.
Rand Paul, who secretly carried a stash of documents (from Mar-a-Lago?) to Russia on behalf of Donald Trump to hand-deliver to Putin’s intelligence service, even argued that we should end the Espionage Act, while his Republican colleagues are demanding Congress defund the FBI.
This November we can deliver the antidote to all this GOP poison.
This isn’t the first time “conservative” racists and fascists have poisoned America.
The oligarchs of the Confederacy did it in the first half of the 19th century, and progressive President Abraham Lincoln defeated them in the Civil War.
And the first third of the 20th century was haunted by the rise of the Klan and the Republican Great Depression, until progressive President Franklin Roosevelt declared political war on them, saying, “[T]hey hate me, and I welcome their hatred!”
As FDR and his Vice President Henry Wallace showed us, the most effective way to reverse the effects of “semi-fascist” poison in the bloodstream of our body politic is for progressives to take power and put both the nation and the middle class back together.
FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower — two Democrats and a Republican — renewed the faith of the American people in the government our Founders created and many died to give us.
They taught us that civic engagement — voting and participating in our political system — is the best antidote to semi-fascist poison.
Forty years of Reaganism, as I lay out in my new book The Hidden History of Neoliberalism: How Reaganism Gutted America, is best remedied by purging right-wing poisoners from political power and then taking active steps to rebuild our nation.
Steps that Republicans and a handful of sellout Democrats would have fought tooth-and-nail in their service to spreading the semi-fascist poison of giant corporations and the morbidly rich. They profit from keeping working peoples’ wages and benefits low, exploiting student debt, and forcing our public schools into crisis with bizarre CRT laws and book bans.
President Biden and Democrats in Congress are off to a good start, but if they lose control of Congress this fall it could spell doom for the American experiment.
This year will be, more than anytime else, an unprecedented referendum on democracy. Fully sixty percent of Americans will have an “election denier” Trump-humping Republican on the ballot this November.
Time is short and both the danger of fascism and the opportunity to renew America are at our doorsteps.
We all must double-check our voter registration (they can be challenged by Republicans even in Blue states) and do everything we can to wake up friends and neighbors to this very real danger to our republic.
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To get a better idea of how this all started I suggest a book by Nancy MacLean "Democracy in Chains". A real page turner. In it she follows the career of James Buchanan who labored in the wilderness from the early 1950's, crafting his policies until he met Charles Koch in the 70's. Koch being the masterful businessman that he is, took over Buchanan's policies and framework. With the millions he poured into it, it took off until it is what we have today. That book gives a more comprehensive and detailed critique, necessary to fight this ideology.
So, the solution is for progressives to step up. Agreed. They need to support voting rights, women's rights, healthcare, continue the Build Back Better green agenda, fix the judiciary, fix the media. Some of these things are obvious and simply require legislation, good solid legislation, backed by funding and oversight, that can't be ignored in red states. Other things may be more difficult, especially fixing the media. Starting by dismantling media conglomerates is a good first step, but we need to do more than just that.