How the Right Tears Down America

America surely has problems, but the Republican Right tends to ignore its role in causing them and now – under President Obama – exaggerates how bad the situation is, writes former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren.

By Mike Lofgren

Barton Swaim, former speechwriter for Mark Sanford, the walking governor of South Carolina, is now a disillusioned conservative pundit. In his latest opinion piece, he denounces Republicans’ belief that America is “off track” solely because of President Obama, and that putting the right people in power will put us “on track.”

Swaim argues against this by saying the “track” analogy is a faulty metaphor, because countries are not like vehicles. Policies are not interchangeable parts: once implemented, they imbed themselves in the political and social fabric. He is broadly correct.

President Ronald Reagan with Budget Director David Stockman. (Photo credit: Reagan Library)

President Ronald Reagan with Budget Director David Stockman. (Photo credit: Reagan Library)

He also says – surprisingly for a Republican – that the GOP’s insistence that Barack Obama’s presidency is some sort of fluke at best and a monstrous hoax on the American people at worst a silly delusion. “Obama was elected and reelected, fair and square, and . . . and the American public knew what it was doing.”

So far, so good. A large number of GOP politicians, from Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell on down, have treated Obama since the beginning of his presidency as illegitimate and as an enemy to be maligned and legislatively blackmailed rather than treated as America’s chief executive. This attitude gave us government shutdowns, a near-default on our sovereign credit, and some of the worst congresses in history.

But then Swaim veers off track himself, indignantly rejecting the “defamatory belief . . . that the reason the Republican base detests Obama so deeply is because he is black.” In not a single conversation with all the Republicans Swaim knew was Obama’s race even as much as a subtext in their denunciations.

Really? He must have hung out with a more refined bunch than I encountered when I was a GOP operative. Did the “Obama-was-born-in-Kenya” meme that took the GOP base by storm in 2009 just fall out of the sky like an asteroid, with no cultural “subtext” to it? And how about the degrading caricatures depicting the president as an animal that one sees at conservative rallies and in right-wing chat rooms? Readers can draw their own conclusions.

Next, Swaim swerves into full declinist mode, like an Oswald Spengler of the Palmetto State. Republicans need to acknowledge, he says, that “America is in decline,” and there is nothing we can do to reverse it, only “manage the decline.”

Again, really? Certainly, the country faces serious problems: domestically, our prosperity is more unequally shared than at any time since the days of Calvin Coolidge, and there is a chronic disinvestment in infrastructure. Abroad, we are too prone to assume every crisis requires military intervention.

How did this happen? Domestically, it was through economic policies begun by Ronald Reagan (and continued by Democrat Bill Clinton) and doubled down on by George W. Bush. Our struggle with the hydra of Middle Eastern terrorism was made vastly worse by the decision of Bush and a Republican-led Congress to invade Iraq – arguably the worst foreign policy blunder in our nation’s history, because its global consequences are graver and longer-lasting than Vietnam’s aftereffects.

But the only example that Swaim offers that we are in decline – that America is “fast becoming a European-style regulatory state” – is ludicrous. The actual, rather than statutory, tax rate that U.S. corporations pay, is less than the average among the developed countries. The corporate share of total federal tax revenue has dropped by two-thirds in 60 years.

Compared to Whom?

While economic growth since the crash of 2008 has been tepid by post-World War II standards, it is still far better than in the European Union. Obama’s stimulus program – which Republicans voted en bloc against – kick-started a stalled economy, while many E.U. countries, applying the GOP’s favorite nostrum of austerity, continue to suffer negative growth and high unemployment.

President George W. Bush in a flight suit after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his "Mission Accomplished" speech about the Iraq War.

President George W. Bush in a flight suit after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his “Mission Accomplished” speech about the Iraq War.

If America is declining, we must ask: compared to whom? In the 1990s, the E.U. seemed to have the potential to become a world-beating trading bloc. But one by one, erstwhile European tech giants like Nokia and Vodafone have plummeted out of the corporate top tier, while American firms like Apple and Google are hands down the premier tech firms on the planet. The 11 largest firms in the world by market capitalization are U.S.-based. And as the Brexit vote showed, the E.U. can barely hold itself together.

Crackpot alarmists like Michael Crichton once thought Japan would eat America’s lunch. But two decades of Japanese stagnation have made that prediction as silly as Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” spoof. It has been relatively easy for a command economy like China’s to force investment into capital and export goods, but it now faces a crisis of industrial overcapacity, weak banks, and ballooning corporate, consumer and state debt. Environmental pollution – which kills 1.6 million Chinese annually – may well be an existential show-stopper for that country.

America doesn’t just have the world’s most powerful military, it is well ahead in most international comparisons: we have the best flagship universities in the world, and they draw foreigners in droves to study, teach and do research. We have the biggest rosters of Nobel Science Prize laureates and Olympic medalists, we send space probes beyond the solar system, and American English, not Mandarin, is the world’s language of business, science and culture.

Yes, there are severe problems, as stagnation in the Rust Belt and the opioid epidemic attest. But I find it ironic that conservatives, who fancy themselves the most patriotic Americans, are eager to talk down America whenever they get the chance. When constructive, moderate conservatism curdles into right-wing reaction, cultural pessimism takes hold. The leitmotif of Donald Trump’s campaign is that the whole world is beating up on poor little us.

The self-pitying, pessimistic conservatism that is now fashionable theorizes that because a majority of Americans might disagree with its tenets, that majority is morally corrupted and the American experiment has failed. This corrosive negativity is one reason I left the GOP.

I am a strong critic of America’s politics, but I am confident our problems can be redressed with good faith and the will to succeed. This assumption that the country is condemned to decline is based not on evidence, but on the Schadenfreude that some people enjoy in fantasizing that their pessimism will be validated.

It is a curiously unremarked oddity that beneath the aggrandizing, tough-guy swagger of the Trumps, Limbaughs, and O’Reillys, today’s conservatives are a swooning passel of neurotics who see every temporary setback, every cultural trend they disapprove of, and every social change that most humane people would call progress, as evidence that America is inevitably doomed.

Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His latest book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, appeared in January 2016.


19 comments for “How the Right Tears Down America

  1. PlutoC
    July 20, 2016 at 11:54

    America has been torn down:
    – 77% of US wealth owned by the top wealthiest 10%.
    – More than 50% of income goes to the top wealthiest 10%.
    – The bottom 90% are neglected, which is a contradiction of ‘democracy.’
    – 90% of US media is controlled by 6 corporations.
    – Lying is the norm.
    – The President has a cell phone and internet kill switch.
    – NSA, CIA, DHS, FBI monitor, collect and store every bit of information from all citizens – bad and good.
    – Police, poorly trained, have been militarized with military grade armament and equipment.
    – The Posse Comitatus Act has been repealed allowing the  US military, with all its terrifyingly deadly force, to be brought to American communities to crush dissent and restore order.
    – Trade agreements, like the TPP, changes the US Constitution, is negotiated by 600 corporatists and not one representative of the people is ‘allowed’ to be included.
    – There are more than 300 million guns in America.
    – Money is free speech and corporations are people – fundamental rights of the Neo-Constitution.
    – Gerrymandering districts, political parties, RNC & DNC, primaries, and elections are increasingly fixed.
    – Racism is rampant.
    – Elected representatives work for the plutocrats, wealthy capitalists and corporatists.
    – Government regulatory agencies controlled by capitalist plants.
    – Torture is openly discussed and encouraged.
    – Government agencies meet with Silicon Valley companies to encourage back doors in encryption and cell phones without a representative of the people present.
    – Living wage jobs lost to computers and robots and outsourced leaving low wage temp jobs for the unemployed.

    This is not bluster or rhetoric; these are verifiable facts. Yes, certain groups, likely directed and supported by the plutocrats, wealthy capitalists and corporatists, convince the people that democracy is evil and that they know what’s best – fascism.

  2. JWalters
    July 18, 2016 at 20:44

    An excellent summary of the “crackpot” claims of the GOP. But I would replace the “crackpot” focus with the “criminal” focus. Under the control of the crooked casino owners on Wall Street, the GOP and their media cohorts brazenly and routinely LIE to the American people. This is the source of the extreme amount of dysfunction and chaos in American politics. It is intentionally manufactured chaos. It helps the criminals retain control, continue looting the country, and manufacture profitable conflicts at home and abroad.

  3. J'hon Doe II
    July 18, 2016 at 03:21

    (“The worlds greatest purveyor of violence… .)

    Everyday, somewhere in Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan as before in Libya and Iraq, children perish in air strikes.

  4. Jim Hannan
    July 17, 2016 at 18:16

    Almost everywhere in America, including desolate, rural areas, there is a right wing radio show playing. The main stars are Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, but also include Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and Meghan McCain. Both Rush and Sean are on five days a week, three hours each. All of the shows are devoted almost exclusively to tearing down Democrats, Obama, Hillary Clinton and anything that is associated with them. A lof of Americans, particularly rural Americans, spend hours in their car every day, so they can have tremendous exposure to right wing radio.
    Rush has a sly wit, so one can listen to him for awhile. Sean is just relentlessly focused on his task of promoting conservative values, his intro song by Florida Georgia Line sets the tone. Glenn is somewhat wacky, and unlike the first two, has not yet accepted Trump as his savior.
    One radio person to note is Michael Savage. There is a reason he has been banned from entry into the UK. He is skating a very thin line of overt racism and misogyny. In Rwanda in the 1990’s, it was the radio announcers that told their fellow citizens to take up the machete and kill the cockroaches. I think American radio is serving their listeners a more subtle message, but clearly that it’s ok to hate Democrats, liberals, feminists, etc.

    • The 700 Billion Club
      July 21, 2016 at 12:51

      It is also ok to kill them, in order to protect freedom, guns, foetuses, multi-national corporations, the “homeland”, the bible and jesus, values,…

  5. July 17, 2016 at 15:13

    Hi, Mike,
    I remember that we met in Washington back in 1983 when you and your wife were freshly arrived from Europe and you were looking for work on Capitol HIll. My best advice [I was already a Congressional staffer at thetime] was to find a prospective boss whose political profile matched yours. You ended up working for John Kasich. You survived on Capitol Hill for much longer than the average staffer, who either burns out and quits after a couple of years or snags a lucrative job with one of the K Street lobbyists as soon as possible. I salute your fortitude.

    I was pleasantly surprised to learn in recent years that you have not only seen the light and understood the Republican Party for what it really is, but that you have published an articulate account of your political rebirth in your well-received books and articles. Congratulations, Mike, and keep up the good work! I’m with you.

    Ronald Kenyon

  6. Bill Bodden
    July 17, 2016 at 13:02

    This assumption that the country is condemned to decline is based not on evidence, but on the Schadenfreude that some people enjoy in fantasizing that their pessimism will be validated.

    On the other hand the American empire has characteristics common to other empires before their declines and falls – obscene disparities in wealth among its citizens and policies that continue to make the rich richer and the poor much poorer and greater in number. There is also increasing militarism that rejects the warning about the rising military-industrial complex given by President Eisenhower in his farewell address in 1961.- Congress continues to give hundreds of billions of dollars each year to the most wasteful organization on the planet while many elements of our national infrastructures are in serious decay.

  7. Bill Bodden
    July 17, 2016 at 12:50

    America doesn’t just have the world’s most powerful military, it is well ahead in most international comparisons: we have the best flagship universities in the world, and they draw foreigners in droves to study, teach and do research.

    Our military hasn’t won a war since it defeated a couple hundred Grenadians during the Reagan years, the defeat of the pipsqueak Panamanian army, and the turkey shoot along the Kuwait-Iraq border in 1991 despite the Taliban in Afghanistan and the militias and other resistance in Iraq working with budgets that would be petty cash in the Pentagon. Our “flagship” universities might be the best when it comes to technology and science, but when it comes to producing leaders with moral character they are probably among the worst.

  8. Dtizkrieg
    July 17, 2016 at 06:30

    I can’t spend a whole lot of time here, but this article is not well argued. I’ll just put this out there: the author bemoans (rightfully) that we don’t spend enough on infrastructure; our corporate share of taxes have declined two thirds in sixty years; and we use our military to solve problems. Then he goes on to state how well our AMERICAN-BASED corporations are doing compared to the rest of the world. No kidding! Do you know why? Because their taxes have been reduced by two thirds over sixty years and they have the military paving their way around the world. Add to that a couple of things that he seemed to have forgotten: while these corporations have remained American based on paper, they’ve taken America’s manufacturing base, and its jobs, and given it to foreigners. Of course they’re doing well.

    The author seems pleased with the fact that our universities spend so much time teaching foreign students who’ll complete the Great American job heist by taking jobs here or continuing the “globalization” of jobs in their home countries.

  9. CremeCentre
    July 17, 2016 at 00:02

    Obama himself claimed to be born in kenya; locked his records, etc. he is a man with many secrets. Even the first lady said that; i saw her do it. I think it is more likely that dad is frank davis. Hence the secrecy.

    But he has allowed the neocon faction to fall on its face, time and time again; showing their bankruptcy while giving them enough rope to hang themselves while keeping himself in one piece. He is like Ali playing rope a dope while his would be masters exhaust themselves. He let neocolonia run its course. He has set it up for it to be sent out the door for good.

    His management of congressional relations was terrible and their treatment of him shameful.

    I think it is more his marxist and islamic sensibility that got him lampooned mostly, me thinks. Culturally, he seems too detached for white america, to your point.

    • Chet Roman
      July 17, 2016 at 11:00

      “He is like Ali playing rope a dope”

      Really? If that is the case then he is the “dope”. The neocons and their agents (Hillary, Ashton Carter….) are as strong as ever. Obama allowed the neocons (Hillary, Nuland, Gershman, et al) to overthrow the legal government of Ukraine and start another cold war with Russia. Obama allowed Hillary to overthrow the legitimate government of Libya, a stable state that had one of the best healthcare and educational systems in Africa, and turned it into a failed state and a home to ISIS. After a critical article on Obama’s policies by the uber neocon, Robert Kagan, Obama invited him to the White House to “explain” himself. The times that Obama acquiesced to neocon’s policies is a long list. Kagan now supports Hillary as does Obama. While Obama challenged the neocons on a few issues, like the Iranian agreement, he has been subservient to the neocons, neoliberal economic policies and the deep state.

      Let’s face it, Obama was out of his depth and was controlled by greater forces. He had little management experience, was groomed, funded and indepted to the wealthy elite (Pritzkers, Crowns…) and, like most Democrats over the last 30 years, has ignored the working class in favor of the wealthy and powerful.

      • Rob Roy
        July 17, 2016 at 23:51

        To the author of the article: “Did the “Obama-was-born-in-Kenya” meme that took the GOP base by storm in 2009 ….” The word “meme” is misused here.

        Also, you seem to equate the success of a country with the amount of consumerism it creates. Bad standard.

        To Chet Roman, thanks for your insightful comment.

    • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
      July 17, 2016 at 15:57

      Go be racist and stupid somewhere else.

  10. Erik
    July 16, 2016 at 18:38

    You have well sketched here and in The Party is Over the corruption of Reps and Dems by special interest money. Causes of US economic decline also include institutionalized robbery and destabilizing by the financial, investment, and insurance sectors, financial corruption of med/pharma, corruption of the legal/judicial system, and oligarchy denial of basic product/service standards.

    US political decline is due to oligarchy demagogues causing wars to demand domestic power as false protectors and accuse their moral superiors of disloyalty, just as Aristotle warned. As you note in The Party, so long as oligarchy controls elections and mass media, the tools of democracy, there is no democracy in the US, no democratic solution to the problem, and little hope of any solution.

    I would not blame boomers, or suppose that another generation will sweep away a hopelessly corrupt system or become informed activists. Whether Consortium, writers like yourself, and activists can help at this point remains to be seen.

    • Joe Tedesky
      July 16, 2016 at 22:46

      Erik, what you wrote here is spot on. I would like to further the discussion that America is great, but it’s greatness isn’t to be found in it’s instigating conflicts, and stretching out wars to a never ending quagmire of dreadful events, which are hard for the human mind to contemplate. After how many trillions of dollars spend in just this century on wars can we Americans point to something, and say, look what we got, when we blew it all up on killing people.

      No, America’s greatness is best when Americans of all walks share in its wealth, but we aren’t doing that at this moment. Instead, we are a country run by the oligarchs, and that one percent feels entitled to the point of them becoming so truly selfish that nothing else matters to them, but themselves. Bubbles, and more bubbles, is what America thrives on these days.

      A hubristic sense of world hegemony is the order of the day. America could rule the world with soft diplomacy if it were to wake up and recognize this potential, but this would not sell weapons, and that is now one of America’s biggest exports. I’m hoping that a Tulsi Gabbard, or someone who maybe got turned on to politics through the Bernie movement rises to the top, and puts this country on the ‘right track’, and I don’t mean on the right wing track. Why just to move towards the center would be a left movement, if ever there was one.

      • Erik
        July 17, 2016 at 06:24

        I agree, Joe, that America was great, but is now almost hopelessly corrupted. It is hard to say that America is great now, because it is so diseased: the right wing always tries to credit the corruption with the strengths of America, when in fact the oligarchy is the disease that has sapped and eliminated those strengths, and turned them to corrupt purposes.

        We have almost lost the opportunity to extend the original greatness of America to the world, with our American Century since WW!-II spent in military adventures and selfishness, instead of solving the world’s greatest problems of poverty, ignorance, malnutrition, and disease, which we could easily have done instead, if our democracy had not fallen to a right-wing revolution. A humanitarian New American Century is still possible but extremely unlikely.

        I have a hard time believing that Tulsi Gabbard would try that, as she was apparently a military volunteer in recent years, when the US has fought for nothing good, and for no good reason. How that would inspire a humanitarian to volunteer I cannot imagine. But I seldom judge individuals and have little info so far.

        • Joe Tedesky
          July 17, 2016 at 10:44

          Erik, Tulsi Gabbard at this moment has HR4108 bill which she is trying to bring to the floor for a vote. HR4108 is a Bill where the U.S. must fight ISIS only in Syria. In other words, and I believe her Bill spells it out, no fighting the Assad government. Call your congressperson, tell them to help bring this Bill to the floor, and vote yes for it.

          The America which is the greatest, lives in every Americans heart. It’s the America where people have freedom, and where an individual can strive to gain an opportunity to improve ones life. It’s mostly an America that in reality doesn’t excess, and maybe never did, but none the less it’s an ideology buried in the American mind. It’s an America without the Patriot Act. It’s an America without a snooping NSA. It’s an America that doesn’t meddle in every corner of the globe, and brings the terrorist home to roost.
          It’s all the good stuff we point to, when describing this country. It’s the America the immigrants believed they would find. It’s probably an America that is only in our heads, but an America we could try to create…as someone once said, ‘Yes We Can’. It’s that America I want.

          • Erik
            July 17, 2016 at 15:43

            Good sentiments.

            Tulsi Gabbard introduced HR 4108 in the House 11/19/2015 (from the record):
            “Section 1… funds available to …. any …agency or entity of the United States … may not be …expended to provide assistance… to any …Syrian group or individual seeking to overthrow the government of the Syrian Arab Republic, unless, after the date of the enactment of this Act, funds are … appropriated by law for such purpose.”

            HR 4108 was referred to committee. The Nation noted that at the 1/12/16 House Armed Services Comm meeting, only MIC and State dept witnesses were heard. “Gabbard wondered why the United States is waging two “contradictory wars”: one to overthrow Assad and another to defeat ISIS” and said that if successful, this “would obligate the United States to spend trillions of dollars and the lives of American service members in the futile effort to create a new Syria.” It appears to be still in committee.

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