There's a recurring pattern to American politics that began in the 1980s, right after the Supreme Court legalized billionaires owning individual politicians in 1976 with their Buckley decision.
Prior to that, Democrats and Republicans worked together to craft legislation that involved some compromise on both sides but moved, generally, in the direction of enhancing the general health and welfare of the American people.
This was how we got Medicare, Medicaid, long-term unemployment insurance, food stamps, housing support, job training programs, support for unionization, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Pell grants for college and dozens of other good policies out of Congress in the 1960s and 1970s.
But in 1976 the Supreme Court ruled that when an individual billionaire owned an individual politician that was no longer "political corruption" or "bribery," as it had been referred to since the founding of the republic.
Instead, the Supreme Court said in 1976 (and doubled-down-on with Citizens United in 2010), that money the billionaire was pouring down the throat of that politician wasn't actually money: it was "free speech" and therefore protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Thus, by 1980 the river of money from wealthy people into the Republican Party had turned into an all-out tsunami, floating Ronald Reagan into the White House.
About a third of American workers at that time were union members, and the unions heavily supported the Democratic Party, so the Democrats largely ignored this SCOTUS decision, continuing to be funded by working people through their union dues. But the GOP eagerly took everything the ultra-rich offered.
As a result, Democrats kept trying to legislate on behalf of the American people, but the Republicans went to war against anything that didn't explicitly help the very, very rich and the big businesses that made them rich.
This began the pattern we've seen repeated over and over again since 1980:
- Republicans use billionaire money to achieve political power, then screw things up terribly while helping their rich friends steal huge piles of government money, both through corruption, no-bid contracts and massive tax cuts for the rich.
- The American people figure this out as the middle class collapses (bringing the entire economy down with it as in 1992, 2008 and 2020), and the voters reject the Republicans and toss them out of power.
- Democrats take over and start the slow and painful process of putting the country back together.
- In response, Republicans go to war against the Democrats, refusing to compromise and refusing to consider anything that helps the average American while deploying lie, disinformation and distraction campaigns.
- li>Paralysis ensues and the American people become cynical about the Democratic Party's now-failed efforts, and the Republicans, using dark money and billionaire help, come back into power. Then the cycle begins all over again.
The most disheartening part of this cycle is that the Democrats refuse to fight war on the same terms as the GOP; generally speaking, they're still trying to collaborate and compromise, working for what they think is best for the country. They want government to work for the people.
Republicans love war and Wetiko
Back in the 1990s, when I was writing The Last Hours Of Ancient Sunlight, I interviewed the late Jack Forbes, the brilliant professor of Native American Studies at UC Davis. He explained to me the ancient Native American concept of Wetiko, a mental illness he said was brought to this continent by Europeans and defined by a willingness to fight all-out genocidal war.
The idea of all-out genocidal war was largely unknown to Native Americans at the time: few tribes were willing to utterly destroy their competitors and seize others' land (except during famine) because that land had the ghosts and holy spaces of the other tribe on it.
Forbes explained to me that this left Native peoples with three terrible choices: run away; stand your ground and die; or fight back in the same way and using the same tactics as the invaders. This last choice was the most terrible, because you essentially became your tormentors, losing your soul in the process.
Since the Reagan Revolution of 1981, political battles in America have taken on a similar dynamic.
What Democrats have struggled with for 40 years now is that you can't work for the people and fight an all-out war at the same time, especially when Republicans have structural advantages (Senate Democrats represent 41.2 million more people then do Republicans, but power is 50–50) and Republicans are willing to let people die from lack of affordable access to healthcare or lack of government action against Covid.
So the Republicans fight their Wetiko wars, and throughout the Clinton and Obama years won their wars easily because those Democratic administrations still thought they were negotiating and bargaining in good faith.
Which brought about that pattern: whenever Republicans got back in power, they looted the nation and screwed things up again while helping their billionaire buddies steal as much as they could, until the voters got fed up and kicked them out again. And the cycle starts all over again.
By way of looting the country when they're in power, Republicans massively lower their donors' taxes, deregulate polluting industries, drill loopholes into the tax code, and further corrupt politics to the advantage of the billionaire and corporate class.
Deregulation and lowering income taxes are functionally the same thing in their impact on America; they both pull out the underpinnings of democracy itself.
Democracy requires the collection of reasonable taxes, elected leaders with a social conscience, and support from a majority of the people who know they can vote without intimidation and actually see those desires translated into legislation.
Republicans are at war against all three of these things. War is all they've known how to do since 1981.
They fight bloody political war after bloody political war, leaving behind the "social issue" of dead gay men in the 80s, dead drug addicts in the 90s, dead farmers and homeowners who committed suicide in the early 2000s, and the young men and women who sacrificed their lives in unnecessary but very profitable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to mention a half-million Americans who died while Trump and friends were looting the nation over the past four years.
These Americans all laid down their lives and died for the Republican Party so the religious hustlers, racists and billionaires could keep picking Uncle Sam's pockets.
The Democrat's "For The People Act," aka HR1, is an important first step toward cleaning up our politics, ensuring election rights and bringing transparency to government.
Still, though, there are those who say Democrats must become like Republicans and use lies, obstruction and underhanded tactics to defeat Republicans. This Wetiko strategy, however, would rot the soul of the Democratic Party.
Instead, Democrats must loudly call out Republican's Wetiko political wars, and inform the American people what's really going on. The GOP hasn't negotiated in good faith since 1981, and isn't today. They just want to loot the country and "own the libs."
Thus, telling Americans the truth is job one. When the people are truly informed, they almost always do the right thing.
Originally posted on thomhartmann.medium.com.