When extremely wealthy individuals or gigantic global corporations complain that their taxes are too high, and that complying with government regulations is too difficult, they don’t readily engender sympathy from the public.
How can they convince you that it’s better for society to let billionaires pile up even more billions in personal wealth rather than pay taxes that the government will use to support scientific research, public and higher education, health care, airports, bank insurance, parks, railroads, interstates, medical research, disaster relief, bridge building and maintenance, water treatment, unemployment insurance, food safety, Social Security, Head Start, school lunch programs, education grants and loans, intelligence and security agencies, national defense and more?
And why should they be able to poison our air and water, passing the responsibilities for cleanup on to other taxpayers? Why should they be able to deny our insurance claims because of something buried in the fine print of the policies; force individuals into bankruptcy because of the exorbitant costs of patented medicines; channel profits overseas to avoid U.S. taxes; and destabilize the very climate of our planet, to mention only a few of the consequences of a weak regulatory system.
Since these greedmongers can’t count on public support by directly stating their goals, they pursue their objectives in other ways. They promote an ideology that government (which in a democracy is all of us) is the enemy, an enemy that wants to take away our freedoms. They claim that our government is incompetent, corrupt and wasteful, not worthy of our tax dollars, and that unregulated free-market capitalism is the answer to all our problems. (This last point is repeated ad nauseum, even though history demonstrates over and over that capitalism descends into ruthless exploitation and environmental destruction without the force of regulations. The financial meltdown of 2008 is just the latest example.)
Since the 1970s, both the Republican party and the honorable tradition of conservatism have been increasingly redefined and transformed by those promoting this simplistic, self-serving and untruthful political ideology. The greedmongers lavishly fund think tanks to churn out a constant stream of information across all forms of media to influence political and cultural discourse. They hire armies of legislative lobbyists, and they bankroll a network of “front groups” to serve greedmonger interests while pretending to be composed of ordinary, civic-minded citizens.
To fuel this government-is-the-enemy philosophy, this growing far-right movement seeks out issues that will generate and maintain anger against the government. They have reinterpreted and made a fetish of the 2nd amendment, attempting to convince citizens that restricting ownership of military assault weapons will lead to rounding up hunting rifles and then a United Nations takeover of our country. Instead of dealing thoughtfully and respectfully with complex, divisive issues such as abortion rights, affirmative action, and religious diversity, they simply use such issues to stoke resentment and rage against the government.
Many talk radio programs conduct this scorched earth propaganda war for hours every day. Every single Democratic initiative is not just a bad idea, but one of the worst ideas in the history of humankind and the very epitome of evil government. President Obama, who by historic standards is a centrist or slightly left pragmatist, is presented as a wild-eyed radical who hates the U.S. and is determined to orchestrate its downfall. And the “fair and balanced” motto of Fox News — with its stable of outraged, shouting, sneering commentators — has to be one of the all-time, top ten Orwellian uses of the English language.
The greedmongers also shovel money into political advertising to elect candidates who fall in line with their ideology. Recent judicial rulings have opened the floodgates for political contributions, which means opposition candidates face an onslaught of deceitful, vicious, smearing attack ads. Some voters are influenced by these ads, and other individuals are so turned off by the sleazy spectacle that they don’t bother to vote. Either outcome is a victory for the greedmongers.
With so much money in play for propaganda and attack ads, a growing number of politicians are afraid to oppose this far-right ideology. They have sworn uncompromising allegiance to slashing taxes and regulations, and they’ve adopted the government-is-the-enemy mantra.
The result has been political polarization and dysfunction. Not many years ago, no one could have believed the Republican Party would spend eight long years failing to act constructively on critical national issues, doing virtually nothing over this time except vilify President Obama and bitterly oppose all of his initiatives.
These are not small matters, and this is not business as usual. This toxic gridlock is weakening the U.S., allowing our neglected infrastructure to crumble, and harming our country economically, culturally, academically, militarily, and virtually every other way. Other countries have habitually looked to the U.S. for leadership, but they now watch with bewilderment and sadness as American democracy is brought low by self-inflicted wounds.
We need to be clear about what is happening. The greedmongers are sabotaging our democracy in order to maximize their personal fortunes. And with the constraints on money in politics largely removed, they are doubling down on their efforts, regardless of the costs to our country.
The one and only antidote to this threat is well-informed, motivated citizens. This has always been important, but it is absolutely critical in times such as these. The greedmongers have wealth and power, but they are overwhelmingly outnumbered. If enough citizens put in the effort to become well informed, and if they organize to take full advantage of their numbers, the greedmonger’s self-serving propaganda can be unceremoniously swept aside and their selfish behavior brought under control. We can restore the health of our democracy, and resume working together to fulfill the vast potential of our nation.
Jim Waggy is a writer, naturalist and environmental advocate.