Had Enough of Republicans? From Reagan’s Promise to Trump’s MAGA Chaos

by | Jun 11, 2024 | Opinions & Commentary

Image by Filmbetrachter from Pixabay

Had Enough of Republicans? From Reagan’s Promise to Trump’s MAGA Chaos

by | Jun 11, 2024 | Opinions & Commentary

Image by Filmbetrachter from Pixabay

The bottom line is that we as a nation, voluntarily or involuntarily, have now had the full Republican experience. Which is why we’re no longer listening to the Republican politicians’ BS.

Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann

Donald Trump tells us we are experiencing “American carnage” and the solution is to round up and put into concentration camps 11 million immigrants; imprison prosecutors, judges, Democrats, and reporters he says criticized him; and replace the FBI and our court systems with his own armed cadre that is loyal to him. The Proud Boys are stepping up again, and he is embracing them.

Seventy million Americans—and commentators across the massive rightwing media ecosystem—agree with him, as I learned Friday when I debated a conservative talk show host in New York before an audience of hundreds of rightwing (and a small handful of liberal) talkshow hosts and program directors at the nation’s largest convention of talk radio and television media. (Glenn Beck was the keynote speaker.)

How did we get here?

The 1970s were a pivotal decade, and not just because it saw the end of the Vietnam War, the resignation of Nixon, and the death of both the psychedelic hippie movement and the very political (and sometimes violent) SDS, which I had joined. Most consequentially, the 1970s were when the modern-day Republican Party was birthed.

Prior to that, the nation had hummed along for 40 years on a top income tax bracket of 91% and a corporate income tax that topped out around 50%. Business leaders focused on running their companies, which were growing faster than at any time in the history of America, and avoided participating in politics.

Democrat Franklin Roosevelt and Republican Dwight Eisenhower renewed America with modern, state-of-the-art public labs, schools, and public hospitals across the nation; nearly free college, trade school, and research support; enforcement of antitrust laws which produced healthy small and family businesses; unions protecting a third of America’s workers so two-thirds of us had a living wage and benefits; and an interstate highway system, rail system, and network of new airports paid for with tax dollars that transformed the nation’s commerce.

When we handed America over to Ronald Reagan in 1981 it was a brand, gleaming new country with a prosperous and thriving middle class. And wealthy people were doing well, too.

The seeds of today’s American crisis were planted just ten years earlier, in 1971, when Lewis Powell, then a cynical lawyer for the tobacco industry, wrote his infamous “Powell Memo.” It was a blueprint for the morbidly rich and big corporations to take over the weakened remnants of Nixon’s Republican Party and then seize control of the institutions of America.

Those groups, inspired by Powell, decided to take his advice and infiltrate our universities, create a massive, billion-dollar conservative media infrastructure, pack our courts, integrate themselves into a large religious movement to collect millions of votes, and turn upside down our tax, labor, abortion, and gun laws.

That effort burst onto the American scene with the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan.

By 1982 America was agog at the “new ideas” this newly-invented, billionaire-owned GOP was putting forward. They included radical tax cuts for the rich, pollution deregulation, destroying unions, ending Roe v. Wade, and slashing the support services the New Deal and Great Society once offered people (because, Republicans said, feeding, educating, or providing healthcare to people made them “dependent”).

Their sales pitch was effective, so we’ve now had 43 years of the so-called Reagan Revolution.

It’s time to simply say out loud that it hasn’t worked. For example:

  • Republicans told us if we just cut the top income tax rate on the morbidly rich from the 74% it was in 1980 down to 27% it would “trickle down” benefits to everybody else because, they said, the “job creators” would be “unleashed” on our economy.

Instead of a more general prosperity, we’ve now ended up with the greatest wealth and income inequality in the developed world, as over $50 trillion was transferred over those 43 years from the bottom 90% to the top 1%, where it remains to this day. The middle class has gone from over 60% of us to fewer than half of us. Because of 43 years of Reaganomics, it now takes 2 full-time wage earners to sustain the same lifestyle one could in 1980.

  • Republicans told us if we just deregulated guns and let anybody buy and carry as many as they wanted, wherever they wanted, it would clean up our crime problem and put the fear of God into our politicians.

“An armed society is a polite society” was the bumper sticker back during Reagan’s time, the NRA relentlessly promoting the lie that the Founders and Framers put the Second Amendment into the Constitution so “patriots” could kill politicians. Five Republicans on the Supreme Court even got into the act by twisting the law and lying about history to make guns more widely available.

Instead of a “polite” society or politicians who listened better to their constituents, we ended up with school shootings and a daily rate of gun carnage unmatched anywhere else in the developed world. The number one cause of death for American children (and only American children) is bullets tearing their bodies apart.

  • Republicans told us that if we just ended sex education in our schools and outlawed abortion, we’d return to “the good old days” when, they argued, every child was wanted and every marriage was happy.

Instead of helping young Americans, we’ve ended up with epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and—now that abortion is illegal in state after state—a return to deadly back-alley abortions.

  • Republicans told us that if we just killed off Civics and History classes in our schools, we’d “liberate” our young people to focus on science and math.

Instead, we’ve raised two generations of Americans who can’t even name the three branches of government, much less understand the meaning of the Constitution’s reference to the “General Welfare.” And forget about trying to explain to them the difference between Hitler’s fascism, Stalin’s communism, and the modern-day governments of Russia, Hungary, and China.

  • Republicans told us that if we cut state and federal aid to higher education—which in 1980 paid for about 80% of a student’s tuition—so that students would have “skin in the game,” we’d see students take their studies more seriously and produce a new generation of engineers and scientists to prepare us for the 21st century.

Instead of happy students, since we cut that 80% government support down to around 20% (with the 80% now covered by students’ tuition), our nation is groaning under a $2 trillion dollar student debt burden, preventing young people from buying homes, starting businesses, or beginning families. While students are underwater, banksters who donate to Republican politicians are making billions in profits every single week of the year from these bizarrely non-negotiable loans, the consequence of legally paid-off legislators (because of Clarence Thomas‘s tie-breaking vote in Citizens United).

  • Republicans told us that if we just stopped enforcing the anti-monopoly and anti-trust laws that had protected small businesses for nearly 100 years, there would be an explosion of innovation and opportunity as companies got bigger and thus more efficient.

Instead, we’ve seen every industry in America become so consolidated that competition is dead, inflation-causing price gouging and profiteering reign, and it’s hard to find small family-owned businesses anymore in downtowns, malls, and the suburbs. It’s all giant chains, many being sucked dry by hedge funds or private equity as we enter the cancer stage of capitalism. Few family or local businesses can compete against such giants.

  • Republicans told us that if we just changed the laws to let corporations pay their senior executives with stock (in addition to cash) they’d be “more invested” in the fate and future of the company and business would generally become healthier.

Instead, nearly every time a corporation initiates a stock buyback program, billions of dollars flow directly into the pockets of the main shareholders and executives—while workers, the company, and the businesses themselves suffer the loss.

  • Republicans told us that if we just let a handful of individual companies and billionaires buy most of our media, a thousand flowers would grow and we’d have the most diverse media landscape in the world. At first, as the internet was opening in the 90s, they even giddily claimed it was happening.

Now a small group of billionaires and often-rightwing companies own our major media/internet companies, radio and TV stations, as well as local newspapers across the country. In such a landscape, progressive voices, as you can imagine, are generally absent.

  • Republicans told us we should hand all our healthcare decisions not to our doctors but to bureaucratic insurance industry middlemen who would decide which of our doctor’s suggestions they’d approve for payment and which they’d reject. They said this “pre-approval” process would “lower costs and increase choice.”

Instead, in all of the entire developed world—all the OECD countries on 4 continents—there are ~500,000 medical bankruptcies a year…and every single one of them is here in America.

  • Republicans told us if we just got rid of our unions, then our bosses and the companies that employ them would give us better pay, more benefits, and real job security.

As everybody can see, they lied. And are still working as hard as they can to prevent America from returning to the levels of unionization we had before Reagan’s Great Republican Experiment.

  • Republicans told us if we went with the trade agreement the GHW Bush administration had negotiated—NAFTA—and then signed off on the WTO, that we’d see an explosion of jobs.

There was an explosion; lots of them, in fact, as over 60,000 American factories were blown up, torn down, or left vacant because their production was moved to China or elsewhere. Over 10 million good-paying jobs went overseas along with those 60,000 factories.

  • Republicans told us global warming was a hoax: they’re still telling us that, in fact. And therefore, they say, we shouldn’t do anything to interfere with the profits of their wealthy donors in the American fossil fuel industry and the Middle East.

The hoax, it turns out, was the lie that there was no global warming—a lie that the industry spent hundreds of millions over decades to pull off. They succeeded in delaying action on global warming by at least three decades and maybe as many as five. That lie produced trillions in profits and brought us the climate crisis that is today killing millions and threatens all life on Earth.

Five Republicans on the Supreme Court told us that if we threw out around 1000 anti-corruption and anti-bribery laws at both the state and federal level so politicians and political PACs could take unaccountable billions, even from foreign powers, it would “strengthen and diversify” the range of voices heard in America.

It’s diversified it, for sure. We’re now regularly hearing from racists and open Nazis, many of them elected Republican officials, who would have been driven out of decent society before the Reagan Revolution. American political discourse hasn’t been this filled with conflict and violence since the Civil War, and much of it can be traced straight back to the power and influence of dark money unleashed by five billionaire-bought-off Republicans on the Supreme Court.

  • So now Donald Trump tells us it’s time to make take the next big step—to reject democracy—as the logical outcome of the Reagan Revolution.

He says—if we just abandon the rule of law and make him an uncountable “emperor for life”; punish with prison his political enemies; make women, Blacks, and Hispanics second-class citizens; end immigration for everybody except Scandinavians; and forge alliances with Russia, North Korea, and other dictators around the world—that life in America will become wonderful.

The bottom line is that we as a nation, voluntarily or involuntarily, have now had the full Republican experience.

And now that we know what it is, we’re no longer listening to the Republican politicians who are continuing to try to sell us this BS.

Americans are increasingly disgusted when they hear Republicans sermonizing about deficits (that they themselves caused).

Or welfare (that they damaged and then exploited).

Or even whatever they’re calling “faith” these days, be it the death penalty, forcing raped women and pre-teen girls to give birth against the threat of imprisonment, or burning books.

Not to mention Donald Trump’s sinister threats to inflict “revenge” on the Americans he sees as his “enemies,” to eliminate pollution controls that protect our environment in exchange for a billion dollars in fossil fuel industry donations, and to give his billionaire donors another massive tax cut, paid for by average Americans like you and me.

We’re over it, Republicans.

A new, progressive America is being birthed from the ashes of the Reagan Revolution and you can’t stop it much longer.

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.

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