The Con

I am a retired white male who spent his entire career as a small businessman – never once did I work for any government and as a self-employed businessman, never once did business with any government. Sometimes I felt as if government was in my way; sometimes I remembered that it was there to serve it citizens. That was a trade-off we all made.   The few times I became involved in the political process was with the provincial Progressive Conservative Party. Yet I voted Liberal federally. The differences didn’t seem that great. Going to University in the States in the early 1960’s, I was a Democrat. Kennedy versus Nixon was no contest.

I believed in a social safety net, in the role of government to keep its citizens safe, in the need for cooperation from all to make society work effectively, and in a free enterprise system that with hard work and luck could fuel hopes for a better life while still providing a living wage for all.

And, looking back, I don’t think I was much different from most people in the conservative, democratic, or liberal parties.   We believed in that trite phrase, a “Just Society”. Some more than others, to be sure.

But over the next 30+ years, something poisonous happened to the conservative movement. I puzzle often over that sad turn of events.   The PC’s and GOP have become so toxic with amoral egomaniacs that it’s hard to know where to start to try to understand.

What had happened to the conservative world? Was it merely, as Rebecca West said in “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon”, “Nearly always man’s inherent malignity comes in . . . .” or something more humane?

Politics is, of course, the art of the pragmatic. As hard as both left and right try to justify their actions with appeals to a more noble philosophical motivation, they’re both only truly committed to finding ways to win elections.   Having said that, the size and extent of the right wing’s drift into the realm of pandering to man’s greedier instincts is both shocking and sad. As one writer said, the right has become a deadly cocktail of belligerence and intellectual sloppiness. Finding reasons for this drift is both revealing and discouraging.

It’s easy to assign the blame to Ronald Reagan, he of the simplistic mind and malleable nature who signaled a shift in political thought from what was possible to “what’s in it for me?”. The idea was to simply convert the nation into a world of few laws, a non-interfering government, and an open playing field for anyone wishing to chase the dollar by means fair or foul.   Even organized crime had to be impressed.

When you battle through the tired jargon of the right wing, you are forced to conclude they want a democracy that works for some, not all. They want an uneven playing field when it comes to sharing the bounty of this great land. They do not think we are our brother’s keeper. The do believe wealth should accrue only to those who fight the fiercest to obtain it, legally or otherwise. To the victor go the spoils.   Not very uplifting, but accurate.

So not everyone is equal. Birth, education, geography, color, religion, unfair competition are all factors that can impede, if not kill, a citizen’s hope for a good life. We know all that. But the GOP goes beyond that, starting with having no intention of mitigating those factors. They would never admit this publicly but they’ve become the party of the economic elite. And the vast majority of their captains and power brokers are white and wealthy, some very, very wealthy. In their world, they’d be the only ones qualified to vote. (There is, of course, much precedence for this elitism – the founding fathers, the British gentry, to name two). But such a presumptuous notion doesn’t sit well in a country where, in theory, anyone can become President and all can vote.

It’s a dilemma.   How do you preserve the illusion of representative government and deliver instead a plutocracy? How do you get people to vote against their own best interests?

In America, solving this problem was easier than first thought. It didn’t hurt that a sizeable portion of the country’s electorate was saddled with a terrible education and a vague sense that all was not right with their lives. With that foundation – or lack of foundation – the elites (I speak of economic elites here not intellectual or cultural elites) contrived to influence those voters possessing, in varying degrees, a toxic brew of poor thinking skills, pervasive drug habits, susceptibility to predatory advertising, long-standing racism and anti-intellectualism, and prey to the ever-present malignity of an evangelical Christianity that promised heaven while demonizing half the world. All the economic elite had to do was fill voters’ heads with lies, disinformation, and misconceptions. Influencing this vulnerable group became an art form based upon deception. Finding venal politicians who would do their bidding was even easier and, in many cases, delightfully inexpensive.

Keep in mind the overarching goal for the elite was to increase their wealth, preferably at the expense of the non-elites. This all probably started with a couple of billionaires (notably the Koch Bros) sharing thoughts back in the 1970’s. With liberalism in the ascendancy, they evidently worried about the future of a free market, free as in ‘free’ for them. By the way, you can substitute “Big Corporations” for “billionaires” without confusing anyone. And Canada’s conservative is roughly analogous to America’s.

So they set out to steer American thinking. It was daring plan that encompassed virtually every aspect of American public life. They established so-called think tanks; they funded talk radio where people could vent without being ridiculed; they bought educators and wormed their way into college curricula; they bought newspapers and television studios; they undertook campaigns to spread misinformation; and most of all, they bought politicians (mostly Republicans) at every level of government, right up to and including Presidents.   They were everywhere and nowhere to be seen. For years, they operated in comparative obscurity, slowly but surely changing the way America thought. The steady drip-drip of right wing propaganda succeeded in enlisting the support of the aforementioned toxic brew of voters, which, as it happened, turned out to be a very healthy segment of American society. This dramatic shift in voter allegiance was inadvertently nurtured by the semi-comatose Democratic party. These self-absorbed wizards concluded economic problems and voter unhappiness were being grossly overstated and, instead, they would continue to let Hillary trundle on, charging Wall Street a quarter of a million to hear platitudes.

Meanwhile, the cynical right recruited an electorate both angry and deluded.

Over the years, a phony world developed in which the so-called ordinary citizen was voting for a slate of politicians who purported to represent them but who were, in fact, bought and paid for by the billionaires. It was astonishing how effective this campaign to pervert the American mind was.   Why would so many millions of people buy into the claptrap of a free country with unlimited opportunity and riches for all when the majority were buried in a miserable existence that revealed the exact opposite? Maybe the only answer one can make without wincing is that it was a measure of the discontent. The billionaires expected and received the politicians’ support – pretty much exclusively. The GOP politicians fought to stop any government effort to help its citizens in any meaningful way. The effect was a much better world for the billionaires and little or no improvement for the poor or the middle class. It was – and is – a con of historic proportions.

But, as wildly successful as this campaign was, it still had a big problem. Its hard-core recruits represented something less than 40% of the electorate. How could the elites control Congress when over 60% of the country wasn’t necessarily buying their perverted views? The answers were gerrymandering and voter qualifications, the same two bad actors that have plagued American politics from the beginning.   With state-held majorities, they could freely re-draft constituency boundaries so as to ensure their candidate was elected. Complicating the voter registration process would guarantee the poorer constituents would opt out of the process.

Now we have the Trump Presidency. He rode to office on the coattails of the eilte’s campaign of misinformation. He benefitted hugely from the groundwork laid by those billionaires who managed to confuse the public and establish a bizarre world in which the average man could be convinced he was going to get help when the opposite was actually intended. Trump campaigned on the promise he would “drain the swamp” but his first few decisions indicated he is every bit a part of that billionaire clique, even if they privately loathe the ignorant windbag. Any hope for an improved economic world for the average person became more remote by the day.

With a GOP President, GOP-controlled Congress, a vicious media arm, and a right-leaning Supreme Court, the outlook for America was bleak. What America needed to know if it knew nothing else was that the sole goal of this billionaire clique was a nation in which the plutocrats and corporations could do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and no one, in or out of government, could stop them. Oh, and they did not wish to pay taxes. None. Zip.

This was an aristocracy of wealth. In behavior these billionaires more closely resembled the French aristocracy of 1788 than they did well-to-do American citizens. And so it is today.   They don’t want to know you; they don’t want to hear from you; they only want you to work and pay taxes, preferably at a low wage and a high tax rate. Just leave them to make profits and avoid the IRS. If you’re looking for some philosophical grounding in freedom and lofty language, forget it. This is entirely about greed.

You have to wonder when, and if, all those millions of people who voted for Trump and the GOP Congress will wake up and realize they’ve been had. The one positive to take away from this dismal assessment is that more than 50% of the electorate is NOT buying the big corporate/1% lie. They are the last line of defense.   That’s your neighbor.

Robert Alan Davidson

November, 2017.

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