Americans Begged Politicians for Peaceful Progressive Revolution for 40 years: Will It Happen?

Somebody needs to tell the politicians: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”


On March 13, 1962 President Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Today we have armed militias in our streets; violence in our state capitols, school boards, and on airplanes; and just ten months ago we saw an actual attempt at violent revolution in our US Capitol.

What happened to the “peaceful revolution”?  A quick glance at the past 40 years of American history answers the question while giving us a modern insight into Kennedy’s prescient warning.

After 12 long years of the Reagan/Bush presidencies (1980-1992) Americans were exhausted. They wanted a peaceful revolution away from Reagan’s embrace of Milton Friedman’s neoliberalism.

There were the continual tax cuts for rich people pushing federal money to the top 1 percent; the war on working people that saw the unionization rate in this country collapse; and the repeated attacks on our nation’s social safety net including a Social Security “reform” that doubled Social Security taxes while taxing SS benefits for the first time since the program started in the 1930s.

Reagan raised taxes on working people 18 times, eliminated the ability of working-class people to deduct interest payments on their credit cards and car loans, all while cutting taxes on the morbidly rich from 74 percent all the way down to 25 percent. CEO pay exploded and, lacking tax revenues, our nation stopped maintaining and building infrastructure.

For the first time since WWII working class wages had gone flat while expenses, particularly for housing, transportation and healthcare, exploded.  Republican politicians largely stopped holding town halls in their districts and were spending their time with lobbyists instead of constituents.  The gutting of America’s middle class was underway and we knew it. 

We wanted something different, a peaceful progressive revolution.

So along came this young guy from Hope, Arkansas in 1992 and promised that revolution with his “New Covenant” stump speech.

“The most irresponsible people in all of the 1980s,” Bill Clinton said, “were those at the top of the ladder: the inside traders, quick buck artists, and S&L kingpins who looked out for themselves and not for the country.”

And it wasn’t just the “greed is good” hustlers left over from the Reagan era. 

“CEOs,” Clinton told us, “who pay themselves 100 times what they pay the average worker, shouldn’t get big raises unrelated to performance. If a company wants to overpay its executives and underinvest in the future or transfer jobs overseas, it shouldn’t get special treatment and tax breaks from the Treasury.”

While the Reagan administration had been lovingly in bed with billionaires and giant corporations, the 1992 Democratic Party Platform said, “People in public office need to be accessible to the people they represent. It’s time to reform the campaign finance system, to get big money out of our politics and let the people back in. We must limit overall campaign spending and limit the disproportionate and excessive role of PACs.”

After Reagan’s deregulations, hustlers like now-Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott had moved into the healthcare industry (the company he was CEO of was convicted of the largest Medicare fraud in American history) and everyday people were paying the price.

“All Americans should have universal access to quality, affordable health care,” Clinton told us, “not as a privilege, but as a right.”

Instead, Republicans killed Clinton’s healthcare reform efforts while America got 8 years of neoliberal economic policies as he signed NAFTA and thus continued Reagan’s process of moving over 60,000 factories and millions of good-paying jobs to China, Mexico and Vietnam.  Clinton tragically echoed Reagan’s talking points, declaring “the end of welfare as we know it” and an “end to the era of big government.”

Healthcare became more expensive and health insurance companies seemed to delight in throwing people off their coverage because a pre-existing condition had flared up. The number of people being imprisoned exploded, even as crime went down.

So we went for a another peaceful revolution and ended up (aided by a little help from 5 conservatives on the Supreme Court and the last-minute purge of 57,000 largely African American voters from the rolls in Florida) with George W. Bush in 2000.

On the campaign trail, Bush had told us he was going to give tax cuts to average Americans, rather than just shower money on rich people like Reagan had done. 

“[B]y far the vast majority of my tax cuts,” he promised Americans, will “go to the bottom end of the spectrum.”  Of course, that’s not how it worked out at all: his tax cuts for the rich and giant corporations are still in place, still costing us around a trillion every year.  Not to mention the two wars he lied us into and never put into his budgets.

And, although he’d (unsuccessfully) ran for Congress in the late 1970s on the platform of privatizing Social Security and Medicare, Bush promised us he’d reformed.

“The Social Security surplus must be locked away only for Social Security,” he told worried Americans

Instead, he pushed through a “reform” that made it a criminal matter if Medicare administrators tried to negotiate pharmaceutical prices, while opening a huge hole to gutting and privatizing the entire Medicare system with the notorious “Medicare Advantage” scam which has now moved about 40% of seniors from actual Medicare to private and usually for-profit “Advantage” health insurance with in-network requirements and continual battles over payment for services.

Then came Barack Obama in 2008, making promises of a peaceful revolution that were even more grand and progressive than Clinton’s.  He promised to:

  • Allow Medicare to negotiate for cheaper drug prices

  • Make it easier for workers to unionize

  • Create 2 million new jobs by building new infrastructure across the nation

  • Close “loopholes” in the deductibility of CEO pay

  • Eliminate “special tax breaks for oil and gas companies: including repealing special expensing rules, foreign tax credit benefits, and manufacturing deductions for oil and gas firms.”

While Obama restored our nation’s reputation on the world stage and Obamacare was a big step forward, it did nothing about the Medicare Advantage scam and added billions to the profits of the health insurance industry.  Americans still didn’t have a “right” to healthcare, and deductibles and co-pays averaging around $5,900 a year are now wiping out working class families.

And, as if to add insult to injury, he refused for a year to use the bully pulpit of his office to shame or pressure Mitch McConnell into holding hearings for Merrick Garland, resulting in another crazed rightwinger on the Supreme Court.

So along came Donald Trump in 2016, promising even more progressive reforms: a new and peaceful revolution.  He would, he promised:

  • Give every American healthcare that is “terrific” and “so much better, so much better, so much better.”

  • Rebuild our aging infrastructure with a massive renovation program

  • Rescue and expand Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid without any program cuts

  • Make medical marijuana available to all Americans

  • Bring our jobs home from China, Mexico and Japan

  • Tax Ford and any other company that built another plant overseas 35 percent when they import those cars into the US

  • Force Apple to make its computers, phones and other products here again

  • End all income taxes on couples earning less than $50,000 a year while raising taxes on the rich so badly that his “rich friends will hate me” and, “It’s going to cost me a fortune”

  • Get rid of most corporate tax loopholes to fund his infrastructure programs

  • Require universal background checks for gun purchases and make sure “states are properly uploading criminal and [mental] health records”

  • Make federal funding available to help people addicted to prescription opioids and heroin

  • Stop lobbyists from corrupting politicians and “drain the swamp”

  • Guarantee healthcare to all Americans regardless of preexisting conditions or income

  • Give “six weeks of paid maternity leave to any mother with a newborn child whose employer does not provide the benefit”

None of that, of course, ever happened; in fact, in most cases, something like the reverse happened. Which is why he lost reelection by the largest number of votes in American history.

So, in 2020, Americans turned to Joe Biden who’s now actually trying to keep his peaceful revolution promises to:

  • Expand Medicare and let them negotiate drug prices

  • Provide free community college

  • Invest in green infrastructure

  • Give young families access to free or affordable pre-K education/childcare

  • And fund it all by closing tax loopholes for the rich while slightly raising rates on people earning over $400,000 a year and highly profitable corporations.

One hundred percent of Republicans in the House and Senate are refusing to go along with any of these things, while two bought-off Democratic senators are in open revolt against President Biden and Leader Schumer. 

Meanwhile, rightwing militias are getting into the faces of school boards and taking over positions on election boards.  There’s a continuous undercurrent of talk on their social media pages and groups about “a second Civil War” as they’ve increasingly adopted the Confederate “no surrender: we will use violence to get our way” black flag as one of their their own.  

President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are engaged in frantic negotiations with the two Democrats who appear willing to sink their party rather than betray their donors.  It doesn’t seem to be going well.

Somebody needs to tell them: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”