Why Right-Wing Governments Can’t Seem to Handle a Crisis

by | Oct 18, 2023 | Politics, Corruption & Criminality

Photo by Jametlene Reskp

Why Right-Wing Governments Can’t Seem to Handle a Crisis

by | Oct 18, 2023 | Politics, Corruption & Criminality

Photo by Jametlene Reskp

The right wing faces crises with incompetence or cynical exploitation: Bush and Hurricane Katrina; Netanyahu and Gaza; Trump and Covid, or tossing paper towels at hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann

Over at The New York Times yesterday, Jerusalem-based reporter Isabel Kershner writes about the horrors of the past two weeks and the worries Israelis have for how the ongoing war against Hamas may go.

“All this is happening,” she notes in the article’s third paragraph, “amid a total breakdown of trust between the citizens and the state of Israel, and a collapse of everything Israelis believed in and relied on.”

She then quotes a Tel Aviv author, Dorit Rabinyan, who speaks of the sobering reality Israelis are facing because they’d chosen Benjamin Netanyahu as their prime minister:

“We have woken to a terrible sobriety about whose hands we put our fate in. … We thought we had military superiority, but there’s a feeling that someone up there forgot why he is there.”

What happened? Instead of taking seriously now-confirmed warnings about a coming Hamas attack shared by Egyptian and, apparently, US intelligence, the prime minister was instead occupied by “months of political and social turmoil over the divisive plans of Mr. Netanyahu’s ultranationalist government to curb the judiciary and undermine the country’s liberal democracy.”

And even now, she notes, one of the great frustrations of Israeli citizens is “Mr. Netanyahu’s refusal so far to openly accept any responsibility for the Oct. 7 disaster.”

Netanyahu’s authoritarianism and corruption are making it more difficult for Israel to deal with the horrific crisis Hamas has inflicted upon them. To deal with the crisis, he had to surrender some power to form a coalition/crisis government.

Here in the US, we had a similar experience, although, unfortunately, nobody moderated the corruption and incompetence of the Bush administration. President George W. Bush and his Vice President, Dick Cheney, were repeatedly warned that Bin Laden was “determined to strike inside the US.”

Bush, however, was busy trying to get Congress to pass a trillion-dollar tax cut for billionaires and Cheney was in secret meetings drawing up maps of the Iraqi oil fields that he and George would pass out to crony companies if they could find an excuse for a war.

Bush got his final and most alarmed warning from the CIA on August 6, 2001, a full month before the attack. Instead of putting the FBI and airport security on full alert, Bush decided to leave DC and take the longest vacation in presidential history, keeping him out of town until after the attack.

This was all just one month after Bush had attended a G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, where the Italian government had mobilized a battery of anti-aircraft missiles to protect the venue because of credible threats that Osama Bin Laden was planning to have his men hijack passenger jets to crash into Bush’s hotel, a threat that was well known to Bush and Condoleezza Rice.

Similarly, Donald Trump was warned by both China and his own scientists in December of 2019 and again in January of 2020 about how deadly and contagious Covid was and how it could potentially kill over a million Americans. He largely ignored the warnings (other than telling Bob Woodward about it), instead attending rallies and doing rightwing media hits non-stop, until hospitals in New York and Connecticut were having to use refrigerated trucks as morgues.

After only one month (March) of paying attention to his scientists and locking down the country, when the April 7th, 2020, New York Times front page headline proclaimed that the majority of non-geriatric Covid victims were Black people in Blue states, Jared Kushner came up with the bright idea that letting people die and blaming it on Democratic governors would be “an effective political strategy.”

Thus, that was the week Trump ended the lock-downs and began pushing people back to work, leading America to suffer the highest Covid mortality rate in the world with at least 500,000-700,000 unnecessary deaths. People who believe Trump continue to get sick and die to this day because of his lies about Covid: citizens today in Red counties are twice as likely to die of the disease as are Americans living in Blue counties.

The common denominator between Bush, Netanyahu, and Trump—and all the unnecessary deaths on all their watches—is that all three are corrupt far-right demagogic politicians who put their own personal wealth and power above the good of their nation.

That is, by and large, the norm for rightwing governments worldwide. Because they generally rule against the will of large parts of their populations, they instead spend their time figuring out ways to raid the public treasury or exploit their position in government to hang onto power.

Examples include:

  • Bush’s attempt to hand the 2.6 trillion-dollar Social Security trust fund over to New York banks;
  • Cheney’s massive military bailout of the company he’d nearly bankrupted as CEO and his desire to seize Iraq’s oil fields on its behalf;
  • Netanyahu’s multiple corrupt deals for which he’s now under indictment,
  • Trump’s hustling Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar for billions to be paid out via his son-in-law and the LIV Golf Tour, his kids hustling Trump properties from the White House, his relentless lies while in office, etc.  

It turns out that philosophies of governance matter. Hugely.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference” and Democratic administrations have taken it to heart ever since that 1933 speech.

When Democrats have control of Congress and the White House they pass all sorts of legislation to advance the public good, aid workers, care for the poor and disabled, strengthen public education, and provide for the needs of ordinary people. Occasionally they overreach or their programs don’t work or even backfire; they then fix them or try something different.

When rightwingers run our government, though, they pass laws like Taft-Hartley that gutted union rights, rip up voting rights, make it easier for fossil fuel companies to pollute and timber companies to clear-cut, and dial back people’s access to welfare and healthcare programs. And, of course, start wars (Grenada, Iraq/Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq) and pass tax cuts for their billionaire patrons.

Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton, Obama, and Biden all proposed and put into law sweeping programs to build America and enhance the public good ranging from Social Security, the right to unionize, the minimum wage, Medicare, food stamps, Medicaid and greater funding for education.

Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Bush, and Trump all went for tax cuts for billionaires and worked to gut or privatize the agencies, infrastructure, and programs Democrats had set up.

There’s a reason for this.

  • Leftwing governments believe in democracy, and so try to accomplish what’s best for the majority of people while protecting the rights of the minority; rightwing governments practice autocracy on behalf of the morbidly rich. Sometimes, like the old USSR or modern Venezuela, repressive and authoritarian rightwing governments pretend to be left-wing, but the police state aspects of their governance give the game away.
  • Rightwingers don’t see democracy as a benefit or even an ideal; they see it as an impediment to further comforting the already-comfortable while enriching themselves in the process. Instead of building up disaster preparedness through strengthening, for example, FEMA, they work to redirect those government dollars back to their friends through things like $600 billion a year in oil industry subsidies and over $20 trillion (cumulatively) in Republican tax cuts to billionaires since 1981.

The result—when rightwingers are in charge—is government that’s not paying attention to real threats and, when they come, responds with profound incompetence or cynical exploitation. Bush and “heckofajob Brownie”; Netanyahu and Gaza; Trump and Covid, or his cynically tossing paper towels at hurricane victims.

Bush was not only incompetent in allowing 9/11 to happen despite multiple warnings that he refused to respond to, but when it did happen he tried to use it to his own political advantage and that of his Vice President by lying us into two unnecessary and illegal wars. After all, way back in 1999, as he was still planning his run for the White House, he told his biographer, Mickey Herskowitz:

“One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief. My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it. If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”

Rightwing governments rarely put the good of the people of a nation first; instead, it’s axiomatic that they achieve and wield power by scapegoating minority groups—usually racial or religious—and suppressing both voting rights and the rights of women to full participation in society.

While there have been a few self-declared left-wing authoritarian kleptocracies in history (most notably the USSR), the vast majority have been rightwing in their origin and nature. And, over time as their corruption becomes evident, their citizens grow to hate them.

In fact, over the past few years Spain, Brazil, and most recently Poland have rejected rightwing, bigoted, kleptocratic governments in favor of a return to normalcy and a progressive democracy. Israel could be next. The United States took a big step in that direction three years ago when we overwhelmingly rejected Donald Trump.

Nonetheless, the hard right here in America has funding from multiple “libertarian” billionaires, social media oligarchs, and a bought-off and corrupt Supreme Court that has legalized political bribery, making it much harder to dislodge authoritarian Republicans.

In fact, here in America, Jim Jordan is about to reboot Donald Trump’s attempt to damage Americas readiness and defense of democracies around the world if he achieves the speakership.

A popular meme today, predictive of the dysfunction of the Trump administration and the GOP-run House of Representatives, is: “Elect a clown, expect a circus.”  

But a much wider and internationalized perspective could rewrite it as: “Elect a right-winger, expect a poorly-handled crisis and an explosion of great wealth at the top.”

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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