Summary: Now inequality has become too extreme to ignore. Now that the 1% has crushed all opposition, we begin to see the results of their successful counter-revolution. But we do not yet see the battle. Until we understand our past others will build our future. Here’s a first cut doing so.
The Universe was 5 miles long, and 2,000 feet across. Men scoffed at the legends of such things as stars, or the demented idea that the Ship was moving… for the Ship was the Universe, and there could be nothing outside. Then one man found his way into a forgotten room, and saw the stars – and they moved….
— Summary of Orphans of the Sky by Robert Heinlein (1951; based on two 1941 short stories), one of the early stories about a generation ship
Somewhere in our future lies the Third Republic
(1) A recap of the plot so far
During the long halcyon days of the post-WW2 summer America forgot about economic classes — and their cousin, social mobility. The reforms of the New Deal, the post-WW2 social programs (especially the GI bill, the ample funding to education (from primary to graduate-level), the civil rights legislation, and sustained growth of GDP and wages — all these fertilized the rise of a middle class and modest degree of social mobility. We came to consider that our due as Americans. We came to consider that as America.
All this culminated with the long boom (the debt-fueled expansion from 1982 – 2000, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the late 1990’s tech boom. America was exceptional, a new moment in history. Marx became a comic figure. “The only Marxists live in Berkeley and Albania.”
We forgot the century-long struggle that laid the political foundations for the middle class, a slow low-violence revolution. That meant we forgot that this was an unnatural state requiring work to maintain. We forgot we were the officers and crew of America, not passengers on the Love Boat.
But not everybody was happy with summer, and the core New Deal and civil rights reforms with made it possible. They planned a counter-revolution. They had patience, long-vision, and vast resources.
(a) Starting with Goldwater, the Republican Party’s “Southern Strategy” slowly returned the antebellum ideologies of racial separatism, States Rights, etc — to break the New Deal coalition, forging an instrument to wage the counter-revolution. There was no plan, just a “run to daylight” strategy of exploiting the internal contradictions and discontents that triumphant liberals had allowed to develop in their coalition.
(b) The Powell Memorandum: Sent by Lewis F. Powell, Jr. on 23 August 1971 (2 months before his nomination to Supreme Court) to Eugene B. Sydnor, Jr., Chairman of the Education Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Titled Attack On American Free Enterprise System, it outlined a strategy for large corporations to rollback much of the New Deal reforms on business and crush the unions (perhaps the key brick in the New Deal coalition and the middle class structure).
(c) The article creating the mythology of tax-cuts as the magic elixir: “Taxes and a Two-Santa Theory“, Jude Wanniski, National Observer, 6 March 1976
(d) In his 14 July 1978 testimony to Congress (9 years before becoming Fed Chairman), Alan Greenspan first described the “starve the beast” strategy: “Let us remember that the basic purpose of any tax cut program in today’s environment is to reduce the momentum of expenditure growth by restraining the amount of revenue available and trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.”
The great New Deal coalition built a new America. But the flower children of the boomer generation forgot that they were in a vessel. They thought they were frolicking in a meadow. Their political activism was limited to groups working to benefit themselves — such as ending the draft, opening the work world to women, rights for gays. Issues the 1%, as a class, don’t care about. Nobody bothered with the boring work of staffing the engine and control rooms, and running the ship.