Richardt Stormsgaard: The decline of American democracy
Writers on the opinion page of The Union frequently decry the dysfunction and the chaos of our political system, which has reached new levels under Trump. However, the origins of our current problems of crushing economic inequality and deeply divided government began with Reagan, and the results 40 years later should have been entirely predictable.
One well-known Reagan quote went, “Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.” Reagan railed against the government, regulations and taxes, and resurrected the laissez-faire capitalism that had caused the global economic collapse in the 1930s, only a half-century earlier.
Out of its ruins, the liberal FDR administration revived the U.S. economy and created a war-time economy that enabled the United States to defeat the totalitarian scourges of Nazi Germany and Japan. After World War II, the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy/Johnson administrations controlled by liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans built an economy that created unprecedented economic opportunities and middle-class wealth for the American people with well-regulated stakeholder capitalism.
According to the Rand Corp., if the 1975 ratio between higher and lower-income Americans had persisted until today the median income of 90% of Americans would be more than double what it currently is, resulting in a staggering $2.5 trillion higher aggregate national income than today, and a yearly GDP 12% higher than today. While lower incomes in the U.S. have stagnated since 1980 due to the American trickle-down-economics, the lower incomes in most of the Western democracies have increased three to four times, according to the World Economic Forum, under varying forms of well-regulated free enterprise economic systems with adequate social safety nets.
In 1987 Paul Weyrich, the figurehead of the New Right and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, proclaimed: “We are different from previous generations of conservatives. We are no longer working to preserve the status quo. We are radicals working to overturn the present power structure in this country.”
Prominent Republican hard-liners advocated for “flushing government down the drain” as public investments in infrastructure, research, education and the American people plummeted.
Steve Bannon, the founder of Breitbart News and lead strategist and senior counselor to Trump, declared, “I am a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that is my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
Trump has taken the Republican Party to new depths as federal agencies and institutions, our rule of law, and our Constitution itself have been systematically degraded and violated by Trump’s efforts to subdue our government to his totalitarian whims. By last summer, independent fact-checkers had counted in excess of 20,000 verifiable lies uttered by Trump. His biggest and hopefully last lie as president has been that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from him.
In May, the Kellogg Institute for International studies released their 2020 report on “Varieties of Democracies.” The report is based on the findings of 3,000 international scholars and experts on the state of democracies in 178 countries. These findings do not yet reflect the current Trump coup in the United States, the world’s oldest and first democracy, like some Third World strongman. Here are some of the conclusions:
Our U.S. democracy has fallen from the seventh position to 39th in the world in just the past four years, and our elections have been downgraded from “free and fair” to “somewhat free and fair.” We are now ranked behind a number of Eastern European countries — including Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, and Slovenia — that only in recent decades became democracies while ours is the oldest in the world.
The United States is currently the only country in North America or Western Europe suffering from “significant autocratization.” India, Brazil, Russia, Turkey, Poland and Hungary, along with the United States, are defined as “rapidly deteriorating democracies,” and Trump has consistently coddled Putin while being directly hostile to the leaders of Western democracies that have been our traditional allies since World War II.
Both Russia and Turkey recently eliminated their constitutional two-term limits for their presidents after intense pressure from Putin and Erdogan, respectively. Trump during a rally in Florida congratulated Chinese Premier Xi Jinping for having secured the right to rule China for life, declaring, “He’s now president for life, president for life. And he’s great … And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”
Richardt Stormsgaard lives in Nevada City.
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