America can’t fix the economy if conservatives demagogue healthy debate
One of the most frequent lines of attack by today’s conservatives is to call anyone who disagrees with them politically a socialist or a communist. These reactionary witch hunts aren’t new. They were pioneered during the 1950’s Red Scare by Republican Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. It was one of the most demagogic and shameful periods of American history.
Unfortunately, McCarthyism is in vogue. To hear today’s paranoid Republicans, one would think that we were under imminent attack by a revanchist Soviet Union. They see communists under every bed sheet and socialists lurking in dark alleys.
Ironically, for many Americans, their favorite part of America is its socialist programs. Without them, millions of people would be destitute or unable to see a doctor or retire. Most Americans want the ability to send their children to a free public school. Those who rabidly oppose socialism sure do love their perks like Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare and social security. Socialist programs are so popular, they are considered third rails of politics –albeit Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) seems eager to jump on the electrified tracks to sabotage these beloved programs.
One Republican trick is to conflate Cuban communism and Venezuelan socialism with successful, wealthy Democratic Socialist countries in Scandinavia. In doing so, they profoundly disrespect their voters and assume they are too obtuse to know the difference between these forms of socialism or find these countries on a map.
Venezuela and Cuba are plagued by oppressive dictatorships where citizens lack political or human rights. Paradoxically, these countries represent the authoritarian aspirations embodied by Donald Trump and championed by millions of Republican voters. Any cogent person can see that the political styles of Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have more in common with the late Fidel Castro or Nicolas Maduro than they do with leaders of Canada or Finland.
But maybe Republican politicians simply know their base and don’t have the character or leadership to educate them? Who can forget Tea Party protesters ignorantly demanding that the federal government, which runs Medicare, get their hands off Medicare? We should also remember Donald Trump’s rare moment of truth when he said he “loves the poorly educated.
We should never disrespect the uneducated, but it lacks statesmanship to deceitfully pander to the lowest common denominator and troll for easy votes. Unfortunately, instead of introducing facts and logic to their base, GOP “leaders” scare them with a constant stream of irrelevant wedge issues and emotionally polarizing distractions that have little impact on improving their lives. The weird result is that millions of Republicans, who are subsisting on government aid, relentlessly work to cut holes in the very safety net that is a lifeline for their families.
The conservative rabble doesn’t seem to be able to put two-and-two together. According to the annual World Happiness Report, the cheeriest countries on earth are led by: Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Luxemburg, New Zealand and Austria.
What do most of these forward-thinking countries have in common? Hmm…they have strong social safety nets that take care of their countrymen. They accomplish this while still maintaining high living standards and robust economies. Unlike millions of Americans, those in happier nations aren’t spending sleepless nights worried they might lose their health insurance if they lose their job. They aren’t living paycheck-to-paycheck, with one misstep leading to bankruptcy or homelessness. They aren’t food insecure or concerned that if their children go to college, they will be saddled with lifelong college debt.
“It is astonishing how much stronger longevity gains were in European countries since 1990, and that is true even if we focus on the richest U.S. areas,” said economist Hannes Schwandt, assistant professor in Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy.
The Scientific American reports this week that people in Republican counties have higher death rates than people in Democratic counties. According to the article:
By 2017, Connecticut’s citizens had a five-year advantage in life expectancy over their peers in Oklahoma, which is a politically conservative state. They were near the top of the chart, whereas Oklahomans were near the bottom.
The true state of American misery can also be extrapolated from the “metoric rise” in injection drug use, as people try to numb the pain of their broken lives. Where drug use was once synonymous with major cities, today we find conservative rural areas dotted with meth labs and smack dens, signaling a loss of status, wealth and hope for the future. Instead of trying to improve their lot, they instead fulminate about drag queens they’ve never encountered and public school Critical Race Theory classes that never existed in their school districts.
In these post-industrial economic deserts, too many people aren’t making ends meet. They desperately need increased public assistance to retrain them with new skills and basic funding in which to rebuild their shattered lives. Tragically, they have been brainwashed by a cruel conservative movement to “lift themselves up by the bootstraps,” while failing to realize that they are barefoot and bleeding. The situation will deteriorate as forced births in anti-abortion states will create unwanted children and increase poverty.
I’m not arguing to replace capitalism, but to make it more dynamic, reduce its sharper edges and reform it to offer more opportunity. The most lethal threat to democracy and capitalism isn’t from Democratic Socialists, who want to emulate more successful societies, such as Canada, Denmark, or Norway. The threat certainly isn’t from the five lonely, remaining Marxists on college campuses, who have virtually no power. By far the biggest challenge to America’s economic and political systems are from crony capitalists and greedy monopolists. As they create policies that make Americans poorer and more desperate, exasperated voters become politically radicalized and drift towards fascism. This scenario doesn’t end well for anyone.
Fierce competition has always been the keystone to capitalism. It’s not about the rich unfairly leveraging their wealth to get richer. To keep raking in all the money, they need to convince you that they are indispensable visionaries, job creators and once-in-generation geniuses. They are desperately trying to persuade you to see them in this artificial light, so they can justify special treatment.
Please don’t misunderstand my words or distort them as anti-wealth or anti-capitalist. There are legitimate business titans that are worth every penny, such as the late Steve Jobs. They deserve the accolades and enormous wealth for revolutionizing society. If you’ve truly earned your laurels, we owe you a debt of gratitude. Sail off happily into the sunset on your yacht, to rest on your private island. Bon voyage.
But many of the high rollers, who want to be held in such high esteem, haven’t earned their accolades. They are midlevel minds with mediocre records – yet they are earning as if they are inventors. Much of their money is derived by legally looting their companies, in the sense that they increase their income by cheating workers out of fair wages and by slashing benefits. These are ill-gotten gains that turn capitalism into what I refer to as “crapitalism”.
What do I mean by “crapitalism”? It’s the distortion of market forces to line the pockets of CEO’s while line workers fall out of the middle class and into poverty. According to The Economic Policy Institute (EPI):
CEO compensation has grown 1,322% since 1978, while typical worker compensation has risen just 18%. In 2020, CEOs of the top 350 firms in the U.S. made $24.2 million, on average — 351 times more than a typical worker.
A 2019 Institute for Policy Studies report estimates that 80% of S&P 500 companies pay their CEO over 100 times more than they pay their median worker. That means it would take 100 years for the average employee at one of these companies to earn what their CEO makes in a year.
I sincerely ask our mostly conservative critics, who doggedly defend the status quo: Do you think that CEO’s magically became 1,322% smarter since 1978, or have they simply figured out innovative accounting techniques to grossly inflate their worth? If you believe it’s the former, can you provide evidence of their brilliance? Is it their diet? Perhaps it was attending Tony Robbins motivational retreats?
Obviously, the economy has been hijacked. The robber barons defend their plunder by accusing those who oppose their scheme as “unamerican” or “communists”. While they hire marching bands to distract the downwardly mobile crowd with renditions of God Bless America, they waltz to the bank depositing your money.
With the conservative movement, particularly the judiciary, permitting virtually unlimited money in political campaigns, the interests of this fortunate demographic are disproportionally represented in Washington. The Brennan Center reports, “Ten years after the creation of Super PAC’s, wealthy interests use them to funnel billions into elections and make a mockery of contribution limits.”
It’s now “pay to play” in Washington, and those who are wealthy can afford to enter the high stakes poker game. The rest of us are playing checkers outside in the rain. The result is that the top 1% of U.S. earners are now holding more wealth than the entire middle class. How is anyone who claims to love their country okay with this?
For capitalism to be successful, it must have stringent regulations with objective referees. A level playing field must be created and scrupulously maintained or the system gets out of whack, like it is today. If we allow the monied to operate with impunity and unfettered self-interest, it’s unlikely the result will be in the best interests of society.
What we end up with is an unhealthy, imbalanced ecosystem that creates a handful of “winners” and a multitude of losers. The quickest way to kill the golden goose of American capitalism is for a handful of self-inflated elites to hoard the golden eggs. This is not about promising equal outcomes, as Republicans dishonestly say, but providing equal opportunity in the marketplace.
Every person in America with a great idea or strong work ethic should be able to achieve the possibility of success and build a comfortable life. They should be able to raise a family, if they choose, purchase a home and take yearly vacations. If their child has academic capabilities, they should be able to go to college without amassing crushing debt. Every American should be able see a doctor when they are sick – and shouldn’t have to humiliate themselves by setting up a “Go Fund Me” page, to beg and guilt friends into paying their exorbitant medical bills. And, after a lifetime of hard work, every person should be able to comfortably retire, without fear of destitution.
Conservatives would call this fair vision of a stronger America “communist”, when it’s common-sense capitalism. They would slime it as “socialist”, ignoring how countries that take better care of their people’s basic needs are happier, healthier and have greater social cohesion. Unfortunately, the American right would prefer America burn than trying to learn from other countries. But true patriotism isn’t reflexively defending your country’s flaws from critics. It’s learning from mistakes to improve life, increase prosperity and create a better future.