The Anti-American GOP15 July, 2010
How’s that for an inflammatory title? I think I can support it, though.
Democracy is the philosophy which holds the United States of America together. The rules apply to all. We all pay taxes1, taxes which we, through our elected representatives, have agreed to pay as an admission fee for a civilized country. We all obey the same laws, laws which we, through our elected representatives, have agreed to obey to make our lives safer. Yet one of our major political parties, the Grand Old Party, the Republican Party, is attempting to short circuit this grand experiment in self-government.
Democracy cannot be enforced at the point of a bayonet2. It is a social and governmental compact to which we, as citizens and residents, have agreed. The idea that all men are created equal, that there are certain inalienable rights which apply to all, requires fealty to the idea that we all must follow the same rules, tolerate the same red tape, stand in the same lines. We expect there to be no special privileges such as the hochadel of the 1600s enjoyed, such as the lords of England enjoyed, such as the party members of the USSR enjoyed.
But democracy also requires three basic conditions — literacy, free time, and wealth. And, since the Reagan Revolution of the early 1980s, what has been under attack by the new conservatives? Education and middle class wealth, and the free time that wealth created.
Literacy is a requirement for a working democracy. The ability to read and understand regulations, rules, laws and issues is essential. If Americans lose the skills needed to understand important issues, and the ability to understand that which keeps our democracy running, democracy as we know it will not survive. Education is the key to understanding. Education is under attack by the new conservatives.
The new conservatives, wholeheartedly supported by their conservative religious cohorts, are systematically undermining the science curriculum within our public school systems. Attempts to force creationism (most recently under the guise of Intelligent Design) into the schools has destroyed the underpinnings of our science curriculum. By substituting ‘goddidit’ for a rational theory which explains the physical observations, the right created an environment in which good teachers, teachers who actually understand their chosen subject, are forced out of public schools. This insertion of blind belief into our science curriculum makes it far more difficult for American students to join the scientific community.
The new conservatives, wholeheartedly supported by their conservative religious cohorts, are systematically undermining the history and social studies curriculum within our public school systems. Texas has removed from the state education standards references to some of the minds which helped to create a working democracy. Nationwide, attempts to force the Christian Nation idea into America’s public schools undermines the study of history and makes it far more difficult for students to understand how we solve problems. Without that understanding, an understanding of the philosophical roots of our chosen government, a person’s ability to be a full citizen is lessened.
Systematic underfunding of our education system, including fighting tooth and nail any plan to make higher education more affordable, coupled with the undermining of effective curriculum, is pushing American public education toward the edge. Will America allow our education system to be pushed over the edge into ineffectiveness?
Democracy requires the existence of the wealth which creates free time. To fully engage in democratic discourse, a citizen must have the temporal space in which to pursue the needs and ideas of one’s community. Without time, we are reduced to mouthing 10-second sound bites and short protest phrases. Unions, and the regulation of business, had created a workforce with the requisite free time to become fully engaged. Regulation and unions are under attack by the new conservatives.
Unions fought (literally in many cases) for the 40-hour work week. Unions fought for vacation time. Unions fought for minimum wages and the right to unionize. But in the last 30 years, we have seen the decimation of unions. What few laws existed which protected a worker’s right to unionize were gutted. Mega companies devoted to the worship of lower costs have helped to push high wage jobs overseas to low wage sweatshops thus destroying the jobs of union members. The middle class factory worker has become an endangered species in the new America.
Beginning in the early 1900s, the federal government began to regulate business. The creation and enforcement of laws regarding worker safety, wages, hours, and finances created a stable business world in which companies could make money while still providing workers with a livable life. And part of that livable life was free time. Time one could fill with political pursuits.
The deregulation and union-busting by both Republican governments and by their big-business allies has put the squeeze on the American middle class. In the past 30 years, income for working families has barely edged higher (though it was dead flat for the past 8 years) while the income of the richest Americans has skyrocketed. The higher cost of education, housing, fuel, food and medical care coupled with the stagnation of wages has forced American workers to work longer hours, take fewer vacations, and has limited their free time. Less money means less time to support the issues of concern within a community. Without that time, without the ability to be effectively politically active. Will we continue to remove the majority of Americans from political discourse.
The policies pursued by the GOP for the past 30 years, policies of lower taxes on the rich, business deregulation, union-busting, the encouragement of overseas manufacturing, the denigration of knowledge, the gutting of public funding for schools and colleges, have all led the American middle class into an increasingly uncomfortable vice. Fewer educational opportunities, fewer protection of hard won wage and time protections mean we must work more hours just to stay even. And working more hours means less time to engage within the democratic process.
As the GOP continues to attack education — the education which supplies the social literacy needed for an effective democracy — our political discourse will decline. As the GOP continues to attack the economic freedom of the middle class — the economic freedom which supplies the time to be politically active — our ability to fight for a government of the people, by the people and for the people, will be undermined. Which will allow the Republicans (and the Democrats who are so afraid of Faux News that they are willing to betray their philosophy) and their wealthy supporters to write laws favouring the corporation over the individual, the corporation over the environment, the corporation over safety, the corporation over the consumer, the corporation over the government. It will be a democracy in name, but not in fact.
1. Yes, everyone pays taxes. Even when I did not pay federal income taxes, I still payed state income taxes, fuel taxes, and sales taxes. The Earned Income Tax credit helps working families with some of those taxes, but everyone pays taxes. And the working poor pay a far higher percentage of their disposable (after living expenses) income than the rich.
2. Germany, at the end of World War II, was redemocratized at the point of a bayonet. But Germany already had a tradition of democracy, created by wealth and literacy. Japan had less of a tradition of democracy, but the literacy and (potential) wealth was already there. These two examples have enough ‘yeah, buts’ that I still feel confident saying that democracy cannot be forced on an unwilling or unready people.