Ronald Reagan and the Decline of a Great Nation

In a NYTimes opinion piece, Paul Krugman asserts that Reaganism died in 2020.

My question is how could it have possibly taken forty years?

Rhetoric is a powerful force in politics

In an arm-wrestle between unfettered capitalism and constitutional government, Reagan rolled up his sleeve and declared American government the enemy of the people. “Big government cannot solve our problems,” he famously declared. “Big government is the problem.”

It’s a very interesting feature of presidential rhetoric that a statement devoid of fact takes hold and is very hard to shake. Reagan used it as the very first president to actively come out as anti-government and Trump effectively used fake news to denigrate the American press forty years later.

Each carries its own responsibility for creating a form of class-war between the haves and the have-nots. Reagan began a path toward welfare for the rich (tax cuts) and crippling the middle class (union busting and job loss). Mr. Trump cashed in on Reagan’s forty-year legacy of income inequality.

Destroy the unions and privatize everything? Why Not?

Why is perhaps a more interesting question.

Reagan was Democrat, an admirer of FDR before Richard Nixon made a Republican of him. A union man as well, first elected to the Board of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in 1941, and subsequently re-elected six times.

As a Republican two-term governor of California, he put a freeze on government hiring and raised taxes in an effort to balance California’s budget.

Yet his first act as President was to fire the air-traffic controller’s union and begin a regime of cutting taxes for the rich, saying the benefits would ‘trickle down’ to the poor and middle class. He sought to diminish the influence of the federal government in individual lives, favoring state governments to more intimately legislate and regulate their populations, a flagrant dog-whistle to the racist southern states.

Too long a story for this piece, but there have been books written on the deconstruction of America and one of them is mine.

Then came Newt Gingrich

With his election, Reagan controlled the presidency and the Senate. But Republicans hadn’t controlled the House in forty years. With Reagan’s full support, House minority whip Newt Gingrich touted his Contract With America legislation just prior to the ’94 mid-term elections.

By definition, a newt is either a small usually bright-colored semiaquatic salamander or the author of the Contract With America. Much like a salamander, the contract came in changing colors, each appropriate to its audience.

The Contract With America

The Contract promised eight reforms within Congress, each of which was carefully crafted to ensure 60% popularity among voters and include no controversial issues. More than half of its text came directly from Ronald Reagan’s 1985 State of the Union Address.

Republicans in the ’94 mid-terms gained control of both the House and Senate during a Clinton administration.

The real purpose behind the contract

Obviously to take back control of the Congress, but far more importantly to control the rhetoric by that means.

Clinton was impeached over a blow-job and Republicans coalesced over ‘Newt language’ that encouraged words such as radical, sick, and traitors when describing Democrats and opportunity, courage, and principled describing Republicans.

Bipartisanism was over and done with and has not recovered in the quarter century since.

Radicalization needs oxygen to breathe

That oxygen came from persistent name-calling by Republicans and a decline in jobs that moved what was left of the middle class either upward toward wealth or downward toward poverty.

Some moved up, but most moved down and America began the suffocating trudge toward economic inequality, where 10% would eventually own and manage 90% of whatever there was.

The middle class is the Democrats base

Indeed it is and instead of defending that base, Democrats lost their sense of direction and fell into the waiting hands of Wall Street and the Banks. Political funding was more and more dependent on congressional lobbying laws and the Supreme Court’s support of corporate political spending.

Money was the beating heart of politics and Democrats fell in line to survive. What are moderate Democrats but conservatives in disguise?

The 10% are only 10%

True enough, but what happens when they control 90% of the money? We know what happens.

We get Joe and Kamala by a hair’s breadth, but the cards are stacked securely against them and the monied crowd doesn’t care who takes the blame for our pandemic inspired economic disaster. Get it over with. We’ll pick up the pieces and decide, as we always decide, who will serve and who will eat.

Reagan and Gingrich made lap-dogs of politicians and did very well at it.

Where we go from here is anybody’s guess, but it’s become an American law that there’s nothing surer, the rich get rich and the poor get poorer.

Music and lyrics here.

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