The Cause of It All

Anyone you talk to will be happy to tell you the root cause of today’s social, economic and political ills, and I’ve certainly done my share of that. However, I’ve spent most of my time pointing at the liberal’s contribution to these upheavals. It’s time to turn to the other side of the coin—the hyper-individualism of the Right.

Suspicion of authority runs deep in the American soul, going back, perhaps, to King George. The mistrust runs from rich to poor. Working class lore declares government workers do nothing but obstruct, don’t know what they’re doing, and lack ambition. They are leeching off the rest of us. The “FREEDOM” that waves from the signs of Trump-lovers refers most emphatically to freedom from government. Corporate lobbyists   seek freedom from regulation. Conservatives believe the chief job of lawyers is to find loopholes in the law. I can’t count the number of people who shake their heads at the blunders of bureaucracy and declare, “That would never happen in business.” Indeed private enterprise stands for the opposite—efficiency, competence, and meritocracy. Education in democracy is limited to a one-off course in civics in junior high.

I’ve always found this view of freedom particularly male—freedom from the bonds and requirements of the community–and am reminded of DeTocqueville’s belief that the core strength of American democracy lies in its women; they are the moral center, restraining the male ego. And that, in turn, reminds me of the blockbuster movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest where a group of oppressed men cooped up in an insane asylum are ruled over by Nurse Ratchet, whose name is now synonymous with a dominating woman.     



To my mind, these cultural attitudes plus the revolutions against them in the Sixties, laid the groundwork for the counterrevolution—Reagan and the super-individualism of the eighties and nineties. “Take Care of Number One” became the motto of these years. I remember this cry coming first from the Women’s Movement as it demanded liberation from the subservient role given to home, community, and the raising of children, but I may well be wrong in that. In any case, it became the motto that freed capitalism from the constraints of morality and the obstructions of democracy. The magic of supply-side economic theory was that market behavior became natural law, freeing it from all of the messiness of human nature.

I do not blame Reagan for all of this; he believed the strength of our nation came from the combination of individual endeavor and morality. The problem was that women revolted against the subservience they’d been reduced to and deserted that role. “Respect, in this country,” one woman remarked, “comes only with the greenback.” To be clear, I don’t think they could have earned respect back in any other way; the problem is that, in deTocqueville’s view, their absense vacated the role of moral constraint on the ego for everyone—to say nothing of the raising of children.

Capitalism, once freed, ran rampant, creating obscene opulence for the rich in an ethical system whose sole rule was the bottom line. Corporations became predatory, searching for greater and greater profits, and the major drag, mentioned over and over, was “labor costs.” Industries moved overseas, pension plans disappeared, workers in whole industries became part-time, relieving their employers of benefits, and wages stagnated—all invisible to the number-crunchers of the growing empires. Trickle-down sucks up,  and drains the infrastructure to feed the insatiable profit margin .

All of this ended in the crash of 2008, as unrestrained capitalism has done repeatedly in our history, but it also greatly increased the people’s anger against government, which had fallen largely in control of the rich. I often wondered, in the years that have followed, what would have happened if the disenfranchised workers had joined with the liberals in demanding the government serve all of the people, and liberals had included the crippled workforce in their demands instead of limiting their efforts to minorities. Together they would have created a force sufficient to stop the predatory rampage of the corporations. Instead they produced a closed-minded gridlock of perpetual confrontation, frustrating the populace still further—ending in the rise of the man who promised to “fix it all” and gave voice to years of bitterness and hatred.

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2 Responses to The Cause of It All

  1. Patricia Bloom April 12, 2023 at 10:04 pm #

    Wow! That should be a New York Times Op-Ed. A remarkable analysis!

  2. Judy April 19, 2023 at 2:08 pm #

    Thank you, again, Patricia. I’m going to have to take time to work on some of these.

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