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When Will Americans Again Believe in America?
If the Democrats fail in restoring Americans’ faith in the ability of government to solve problems and serve the people, get ready. The next Jackson, Mississippi will be your town.
Philosophy matters. And philosophy turned into law matters a lot. Particularly in this brave new world of severe climate change.
Jackson, Mississippi has a crisis of clean water, which shouldn’t surprise any of us. Like Michigan was when Flint’s water supply was crippled, it’s a Republican-controlled state and Republicans will always prioritize tax cuts for the morbidly rich over building or maintaining infrastructure. Even in the face of climate-change-driven flooding.
Nine of the ten poorest states in the nation are Red states; that’s also no surprise. Republicans, after all, have philosophically opposed both unionization and the minimum wage since the 1930s. They believe that people will only “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” when they’re confronted with horrible poverty as the alternative. (The exception to this, of course, are the children of rich people, who must be allowed to inherit every penny without a “death tax” on their inheritance.)
Texas privatized most of their electric grid and then Republicans there passed a law letting the private power barons charge whatever the market will bear because their economic philosophy is that the best outcomes derive from the least regulation. When the climate-change-driven ice storm hit, hundreds died in the blackout and, afterward, some Texans got monthly electric bills that ran into the tens of thousands of dollars.
In twelve GOP-controlled states working people making around the minimum wage have no access to affordable health insurance because their non-union employers don’t offer it as a benefit and their states refuse to accept federal Medicaid money (which pays 90 percent of the costs). Republican philosophy is clear on the matter: healthcare should be the responsibility of the individual and their family, not the state.
Red states generally have the lowest levels of high school and college graduation because, of course, Republicans don’t think it’s the job of government to educate young people. That should be up to the parents, who should have been smart enough to be born into a wealthy family or, at the very least, be willing to go into debt to get Junior into a good private charter school.
As a result of this philosophy and decades of Republican-controlled governments citing it to evade their own basic responsibilities, Red states, almost across the board, have higher rates of:
Sexually transmitted diseases
Bankruptcies and poverty
Homicide and suicide
Robbery and aggravated assault
Dropouts from high school
Contaminated air and water
Opiate addiction and deaths
Income and wealth inequality
Federal subsidies to states (“Red State Welfare”)
People on welfare
Deaths from auto accidents
People living on disability
And it all comes back to philosophy.
It’s not like it’s a secret: Reagan told us this was the new GOP philosophy the day he was inaugurated on January 20, 1981, when he said:
“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people.
“Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”
Reagan was simply expressing a philosophy called neoliberalism, as I detail in my new book The Hidden History of Neoliberalism: How Reaganism Gutted America.
Neoliberalism preaches that government will always be inferior to the “free market” when it comes to making any sort of meaningful decisions.
Therefore, government should be hollowed out, taxes on rich people must be cut to the bone, regulations to protect workers and allowing unionization must be thrown out, companies should be free to find the cheapest labor anywhere in the world, and all functions providing for the needs of the people will be provided by voluntary organizations or private, for-profit actors.
Sadly, both Bill Clinton and, to a lesser extent, Barack Obama both bought into neoliberalism — as well as both Bush Senior and Bush Junior — giving us a continuous 40-year period of “the end of the era of big government,” “a thousand points of privatized light,” and “the end of welfare as we know it.”
For most of the past century it was possible for America to tolerate Republican neglect of public needs and infrastructure in deference to tax cuts for billionaires and the deregulation of corporations. It hurt the quality of life in both Red states and much of the rest of the country, created a student debt crisis, and gutted the middle class, but we were able to muddle through.
Now, however, climate change has set the entire nation up for disasters that are going to require massive action by both federal and state governments. There’s no way “individual responsibility” can deal with the level of destruction an out-of-control atmosphere can wreak on a community.
Forest fires are beginning to sweep the country, and, now that the warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, floods are devastating areas that used to simply experience substantial thunderstorms.
Sea level rise is going to affect tens of millions of Americans within a few short years, and the southeastern Red states, in particular, are not even close to the kind of preparations that will be necessary to avoid wide-scale death and disaster.
Thankfully, the Democratic Party has figured out that the warnings about neoliberal philosophy — that people like Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown, and Elizabeth Warren have been shouting for decades — were right. President Biden and the Congressional Progressive Caucus have done a lot to pull our nation back from the third-world-spiral that neoliberalism has produced in every country where it’s been seriously tried (Russia, Chile, Iraq, the USA).
We’re still tied to neoliberal philosophy by a number of “moderates” in the Democratic Party, the so-called “Corporate Problem Solvers” who take big bucks from special interests and then insert goodies in legislation for their donors.
Or like Joe Manchin inserting a provision in the Infrastructure bill stipulating that every dollar must be spent through a “public-private partnership” (a favorite neoliberal phrase) so somebody, somewhere can make a buck off rebuilding America.
But the tide is steadily turning, at least in Blue states and among most Democrats at the federal level.
Hopefully one day soon Americans will again believe in our nation, that democracy works without having to kowtow to the morbidly rich, and that We The People can provide for ourselves and each other, whether during times of crisis or just to get through the ordinary challenges of life.
If the Democrats fail in this vital endeavor of restoring Americans’ faith in the ability of government to solve problems and serve the people, get ready. The next Jackson, Mississippi will be your town.
Spread the word.