Sep 15, 2015

September 15, 2015: We Laughed at Reagan Too, Intelligent Enough to Understand, Save It From Itself

“You know, we laughed at Reagan too, and Nixon, and ‘’ol Two-Cows’”

                        -----from “The Quotations of Chairman Joe”


Economist Paul Krugman, in a piece appearing in the New York Times, (1) entitled “Republicans Against Retirement” had this to say concerning the dynamics emerging in the Republican contest for the party’s presidential nomination:


“Something strange is happening in the Republican primary — something strange, that is, besides the Trump phenomenon. For some reason, just about all the leading candidates other than The Donald have taken a deeply unpopular position, a known political loser, on a major domestic policy issue. And it’s interesting to ask why.


The issue is Social Security. Most GOP candidates want to modify it with the outright intent to kill it into privatization. George W. Bush tried it after the 2004 election claiming he had earned the political capital to ‘reform’ Social Security. Of course it was a loser and Republicans ran away as fast as they could from touching Social Security.


So what is Donald Trump’s position? He wants to save and expand it.” (2)



Then Krugman answers his own question:


“The answer, I’d suggest, is that it’s all about the big money.


Wealthy individuals have long played a disproportionate role in politics, but we’ve never seen anything like what’s happening now: domination of campaign finance, especially on the Republican side, by a tiny group of immensely wealthy donors. Indeed, more than half the funds raised by Republican candidates through June came from just 130 families.


And while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. Two years ago a pioneering study of the policy preferences of the very wealthy found many contrasts with the views of the general public; as you might expect, the rich are politically different from you and me. But nowhere are they as different as they are on the matter of Social Security. By a very wide margin, ordinary Americans want to see Social Security expanded. But by an even wider margin, Americans in the top 1 percent want to see it cut. And guess whose preferences are prevailing among Republican candidates.


To most Donald Trump is a caricature. However the media has the ability to make a caricature into a contender. One must not forget that the demise of the middle-class began with an actor, Ronald Reagan. He was a caricature backed by an ideology that has inflicted unmeasurable damage to the middle-class. Soon after, George W. Bush, another caricature, another bastion of incompetence, used two wars and tax cuts to transfer America’s treasure to a wealthy few.


Chuck Todd interviewed Donald Trump recently. The intent to provide legitimacy to Donald Trump was evident. All bases are covered in case Trump breaks through. That Fox News took Donald Trump’s side in the spat he had with Megan Kelly is also probative.


It turns out the one percenters may turn over the 2016 election to a one percenter. Either way, they win. That is why a grassroots political revolution is necessary to get a real middle-class populist elected.” (2)


It is easy to characterize Donald Trump as being a megalomaniac without a hair stylist but, as Krugman rightly points out, we very well may underestimate him at our peril.  The Donald, it appears, is no fool.  As noted in the previous post, lying not very far beneath the veneer of the tea-bagger movement, now the base of conservatism, are deeply held suspicions not only of the elites but of the emerging concentrations of economic power.  What we may be witnessing is the emergence of a grass-roots firestorm that spans nearly the entire current political spectrum from Tea-Party libertarians to the emerging New Deal Democrats.  A fire fueled by the growing inequalities created by the present order and the resulting foreclosure on the American Dream.  ‘The Donald’, as he has come to be known, may well be far ahead on the curve within the conservative movement, for the lingering possibility is there that when the Tea Baggers wake up and find that they are not seen by the 1% as their natural allies, they will no longer be so willing to go to the ramparts in defense of the insurance, banking and energy cartels. 


Trump is smart enough to understand that what Barry Goldwater represented is still the driving force among grass-roots modern conservatism; that is a deep distrust of the ‘eastern’ establishment representing as they do the eastern moneyed interests.  While the ‘astro-turf’ movements financed entirely by the likes of Dick Armey’s ‘Freedomworks’ and other billionaire-funded political action groups have worked assiduously to mask over the differences, by putting the middle class upon the economic rack and ratcheting up the pain level out of a perverse sense of sadism, the radical wrong may have brought about the undoing of their ‘blessed state of nature’; and that undoing may be manifesting itself in the growing candidacy of one Donald Trump.


Trump, understanding the immense stake the voting public has in programs like Social Security, is now seen as the only Republican contender to stand foursquare in support of the program, to the point of echoing Bernie Sanders in a call to increase Social Security and Medicare benefits.  Moreover, for the first time in a generation, we now have a Republican candidate actually talking about raising taxes!  Trump has not only been found criticizing the levels of CEO pay in this country but is about the country advocating an increase in taxation for hedge funds, derivatives, and other financial instruments. 


It is worth noting that the first casualty in the Republican race for the presidency was none other than the GOP’s most experienced governor.  Rick Perry, governor of Texas for a record 14 years, called it quits earlier this week leaving Rand Paul to ponder what it says about a party that would jettison so quickly it’s most experienced executive.  The answer is that the public has grown so distrustful of its political elites that it hold in near absolute scorn any record of political accomplishment.  As a result, not only do we find ‘The Donald’ way out in front of the pack but registering in at number 2 is another candidate with no record of public service, a retired neurosurgeon from Detroit named Ben Carson.  While it is still early, and it will be months before the electors of this nation go to the polls to make a ‘serious’ choice, it is nonetheless telling that the two candidates with the least experience are garnering the most support within conservative ranks.  This speaks to the alienation of the electorate; a deep distrust of the political elites which the voters rightly see as being nothing but the water-carriers for the moneyed interests.


It remains to be seen if Trump is in the pocket of the 1%, or that his candidacy is simply another neo-con ploy to co-opt the middle class.  Trump is too much a loose cannon to know for sure, but I suspect, in this context, the Trump is much more of a ‘populist’ candidate than Krugman gives credit. Should he prevail, he will be in a position to perhaps redefine American conservatism by taking the movement out of the hands of the money-changers and giving it back to the people.  He may also, in the bargain, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and, in so doing, save the Republican Party from itself.


1. Krugman, Paul “Republicans Against Retirement”, New York Times, August 17, 2015



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