I've been depressed the last few days watching Trump destroy the future of the U.S. economy with draconian immigration policies and now tariffs. But to understand what Trump Republicans are really doing, you have to read this amazing piece from Alternet by Lynn Parramore.
The first half of this post introduces the late economist James Buchanan, who with Charles Koch, unleashed the corporate takeover and dismantling of public institutions, like the ones we've seen here in Wisconsin. The second half puts Wisconsin on the frontline, quoting a section of the book by Nancy McClean, Democracy in Chains, that may explain a lot.
If you've ever wondered how we got to this point, wonder no more:
“Despotism may be the only organizational alternative to the political structure that we observe,” James Buchanan had written in The Limits of Liberty. If you have been wondering about the end result of the Virginia school philosophy, well, the economist helpfully spelled it out.
James McGill Buchanan was incensed at what he saw as a move toward socialism and deeply suspicious of any form of state action that channels resources to the public. Why should the increasingly powerful federal government be able to force the wealthy to pay for goods and programs that served ordinary citizens and the poor? Buchanan insisted that people were primarily driven by venal self-interest. Crediting people with altruism or a desire to serve others was “romantic” fantasy: politicians and government workers were out for themselves, and so, for that matter, were teachers, doctors, and civil rights activists. They wanted to control others and wrest away their resources: “Each person seeks mastery over a world of slaves,” he wrote in his 1975 book, The Limits of Liberty. The people who needed protection were property owners, and their rights could only be secured though constitutional limits to prevent the majority of voters from encroaching on them, an idea Buchanan lays out in works like Property as a Guarantor of Liberty(1993). Buchanan saw society as a cutthroat realm of makers (entrepreneurs) constantly under siege by takers (everybody else) His own language was often more stark, warning the alleged “prey” of “parasites” and “predators” out to fleece them.
Buchanan wanted a private governing elite of corporate power that was wholly released from public accountability … Suppressing voting, changing legislative processes so that a normal majority could no longer prevail, sowing public distrust of government institutions— all these were tactics toward the goal … everybody knows that free markets have externalities and other problems. So he wanted to keep people from believing that government could be the alternative to those problems.”
Koch preferred Buchanan to Milton Friedman and his “Chicago boys” because, quoting a libertarian insider, Friedman wanted “to make government work more efficiently when the true libertarian should be tearing it out at the root.” Buchanan and his associate Henry Manne focused on such affronts to capitalists as environmentalism and public health and welfare, expressing eagerness to dismantle Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare as well as kill public education because it tended to foster community values. Feminism had to go, too: the scholars considered it a socialist project.
“40 percent of the U.S. federal judiciary,” writes MacLean, “had been treated to a Koch-backed curriculum.” despite the rhetoric of Virginia school acolytes, shrinking big government is not really the point. The oligarchs require a government with tremendous new powers so that they can bypass the will of the people. This requires greatly expanding police powers “to control the resultant popular anger.” The spreading use of pre-emption by GOP-controlled state legislatures to suppress local progressive victories such as living wage ordinances is another example of the right’s aggressive use of state power.
Could these right-wing capitalists allow private companies to fill prisons with helpless citizens—or, more profitable still, right less undocumented immigrants? They could and have. Might they engineer a retirement crisis by moving Americans to inadequate 401(k)s? Done. Take away the rights of consumers and workers to bring grievances to court by making them sign forced arbitration agreements? Check. Gut public education to the point where ordinary people have such bleak prospects that they have no energy to fight back? Getting it done.
Would they even refuse children clean water? Actually, yes. The Koch-funded Mackinac Center pushed for legislation that would allow the (Michigan) governor to take control of communities facing emergency and put unelected managers in charge. In Flint, one such manager switched the city’s water supply to a polluted river, but the Mackinac Center’s lobbyists ensured that the law was fortified by protections against lawsuits that poisoned inhabitants might bring. To many, this sounds grotesquely inhumane.
People who “failed to foresee and save money for their future needs” are to be treated, as Buchanan put it, “as subordinate members of the species, akin to…animals who are dependent.’” While Americans grapple with Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency, we may be missing the key to changes that are taking place far beyond the level of mere politics. Once these changes are locked into place, there may be no going back.
Some pointed to what happened in Wisconsin in 2011. The newly elected governor, Scott Walker, put forth legislation to strip public employees of nearly all their collective bargaining rights, by way of a series of new rules aimed at decimating their membership. These rules were more devilishly lethal in their cumulative impact than anything the antiunion cause had theretofore produced. What also troubled many people was that these unions had already expressed a readiness to make concessions to help the state solve its financial troubles.
Over in New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie started attacking teachers in startlingly vitriolic terms, one headline, “Teachers Wonder, Why the Heapings of Scorn?” Why indeed?
Equally mysterious were the moves by several GOP-controlled state legislatures to inflict flesh-wounding cuts in public education, while rushing through laws to enable unregulated charter schools and provide tax subsidies for private education. In Wisconsin these same G OP-controlled legislatures also took aim at state universities and colleges, which had long been integral components of state economic development efforts—and bipartisan sources of pride.
Then came a surge of synchronized proposals to suppress voter turnout. In 2011 and 2012, legislators in forty-one states introduced more than 180 bills to restrict who could vote and how. Most of these bills seemed aimed at low-income voters, particularly minority voters, and at young people and the less mobile elderly. As one investigation put it, “the country hadn’t seen anything like it since the end of Reconstruction, when every southern state placed severe limits on the franchise.”
The all-out campaign to defeat the Affordable Care Act. The White House had worked from a plan suggested by a conservative think tank and tested by Republican Mitt Romney … Yet when the plan was presented to Congress, opponents on the right almost immediately denounced it as “socialism” … they shut down the government for sixteen days in 2013 in an attempt to defund it.
When the Republicans would not agree to conduct hearings to consider the president’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant in early 2016, even the usually reticent Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas spoke out. “At some point,” he told the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, “we are going to have to recognize that we are destroying our institutions.”
William Cronon, a University of Wisconsin historian and the incoming president of the American Historical Association, did some digging after Governor Walker’s attack on public employee unions … His investigations convinced him that what had happened in Wisconsin did not begin in the state. “What we’ve witnessed is part of a “ well-planned and well-coordinated national campaign.” Presciently, he suggested that others look into the funding and activities of a then little-known organization that referred to itself as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and kept its elected members a secret from outsiders. It was producing hundreds of “model laws” each year for Republican legislators to bring home to enact in their states … rewrite tax codes, undo environmental protections, privatize many public resources, and require police to take action against undocumented immigrants. What was going on?
In 2010, the brilliant investigative journalist Jane Mayer alerted Americans to the fact that two billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, had poured more than a hundred million dollars into a “war against Obama.” She went on to research and document how the Kochs and other rich right-wing donors were providing vast quantities of “dark money” (political spending that, by law, had become untraceable) to groups and candidates whose missions, if successful, would hobble unions, limit voting, deregulate corporations, shift taxes to the less well-off, and even deny climate change.