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Beyond Trump: How the US Went Off the Rails

Beyond Trump: How the US Went Off the Rails

John Atcheson

Trump is not the source of our problems; he’s the result of them.

Wait, you say, how can having a president with all the impulse control of an infant’s alimentary canal—a man with all the strategic sense of a six-year-old ADHD patient; a narcissistic, mendacious, sexist, bombastic, thug—not be the source of our problems?

Well, to be clear, Trump is a big problem. But he’s not the cause of our problems.


From the article:

“…conservatives and corporations funded a network of endowed academic chairs, foundations, think tanks, and media outlets that allowed the rich to influence, and ultimately shape, the nation’s policy agenda, giving the cover of intellectual respectability to an ideology based on greed and self-interest…”

I’m reminded of John Kenneth Galbraith’s maxim: “The oldest exercise in moral philosophy is the search for a justification for greed.”

It’s the oldest, because no matter how many times it’s debunked, it keeps getting repackaged.


The Founders and Framers who wrote the anti-democratic U.S. Constitution were wealthy white men who distrusted democracy, so the “republic” they set up was a rigged system to keep the wealth and power in their hands, many of which were already stained by the blood of slaves and Native People.

The rise of corporations and the massive influence they have exerted on politics has further warped our entire system far from any chance at democracy. Indeed, capitalism is, contrary to the fervent beliefs (their religion) of libertarians, conservatives, and the followers of Freiderich Hayek and Milton Friedman, inherently antithetical to democracy because capitalism depends on economic and social inequality, which are fatal to democracy.

We now also know that capitalism is one of the main causes of the accelerating climate crisis, which will further inequality and further crush any chance of establishing democracy.

So the U.S. was never “on the rails” to start with, and it has only accelerated its death spiral since the corporate coup of 1886 (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad), which gave corporations the rights of human beings; and then Buckley v. Valeo (1976), which made money equal to speech; and Citizens United (2010), which opened the floodgates to even more financial corruption of the political system.


There it is friends. Add in the “security” developments from probable inside job of 9/11 and you’ll have the plan for America from both political parties, unfortunately.
Of course, it’s possible that a 45 story block long steel reinforced skyscraper can fall down in it’s foot print in seconds…without anything substantial hitting it. But very unlikely.


Good analysis of our situation, I would also insert the dumbing down of the population by underfunding and attacking public education into his 5 steps.


You might enjoy “Dark Ages America,” by Morris Berman.

By far the biggest problem in the US is the huge inequity in wealth and income. Without it, the strategic developments enumerated in the article would not have been possible. Almost every problem we have has its roots in this inequity. It gives the few the power to control every aspect of our society, and to direct and move income and resources from the many to the few. It is a obstacle to a solution to our problems. It is a huge waste and a misdirection of resources.

We are limited in this society not by our capacity to produce: we have the capacity to produce abundance for all – we are limited by our ability to buy that which we can produce, and that is because of of the giant slice of the income taken by the uber-wealthy. Supply is not the problem (as supply-siders argue): ask any businessperson if his business is limited by his/her ability to get supply, or rather by the ability to sell. If here was equity in income distribution, the limit would be our ability to produce as prospects became better funded.

If over the last several decades, middle class income had increased in line with productivity, ti would be more than double what it is today. The increase instead has gone in spades to the money grubbers at the top.

A huge redistribution is a sine qua non of an escape from the road to dystopia that we are on. Campaign finance reform would be a drop in the pond. A good start would be to restore tax rates on hgh incomes as under FDR.


Most of the article is about the details of the processes that were set in motion by the events described in the following quote:

"To understand why, we have to go back to the 70s, when conservatives and oligarchs launched a de facto coup that ultimately ushered in a New Dark Ages. Conservatives like Lewis Powell and Milton Friedman were mounting a counterattack on the progressive policies of the New Deal, in an attempt to make America more ‘business friendly.’”

The infamous “Powell Memo,” that few of us had even heard of until a decade or so ago, was the key that unlocked the floodgates, loosing the deluge described in the rest of the article. Anyone who has not read it in its entirety (about 30 badly typed pages, as I recall) should do so, as a fascist coup against this country and against democracy is precisely what it describes and urges. It was written by one of Nixon’s appointees to the Supreme Court, a wealthy corporate attorney who initially turned Nixon down and reconsidered only after providing said memo to the chair of the “education committee” of the US Chamber of Commerce, who had requested it.

One more key figure who must be included in that rogues’ gallery: A relatively obscure economist named James McGill Buchanan, whose story was detailed last year in Historian Nancy MacLean’s book titled Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Plan For America. Buchanan, like Friedman a product of the University of Chicago Economics Department, began his crusade in the 1950s in response to Brown v Board of Education, and by the 70s he was well along in providing theoretical underpinning (bogus, of course) from the byzantine arcana of neoclassical economics, for all the five steps described in the article.


Thank you for mentioning Nancy Maclean and her brilliant, incisive book---- a must read.

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I would add #6:

Write a book on resisting fascism and obscure history (looking at you Madeline Albright!)
Feign your horror over Trump’s fascism as a mainstream neoliberal politician (too many to cite) while masking the forces that produced it: i.e. fascistic neoliberal ideology as described in this piece by Henry Giroux:

"Trump is merely the blunt instrument at the heart of a fascistic neoliberal ideology. We need to be wary, to say the least, about those mainstream politicians now denouncing Trump’s fascism who while in power submitted, as Stanley Aronowitz puts it, “to neoliberal degradations of health care, jobs, public housing, and income guarantees for the long-term unemployed (let alone the rest of us).”[5]


How about the largest problem in the world is overpopulation because people cannot stop breeding?

I’m glad to know that some people are reading that. I’ve only read part, but I ran into Buchanan several times in my economics studies (mid- to late 90s, in my early 50s!) and wrote him off as just another crackpot among crackpots. My background is in the “STEM” fields, and I consider classical/neo-classical economics to be 90-97 percent claptrap, anybody’s guess what parts of the remainder might have some validity. I’m far from alone even among card-carrying economists, although many who don’t buy the whole paradigm accept a somewhat larger proportion of it. But as MacLean explains, Buchanan’s approach is especially toxic as he goes farther than others in pretending to provide a rigorous, scientific foundation for some of the most reprehensible ideology ever imagined.

One way of looking at this problem is to recognize that markets free from the meddling of kings and some of the more powerful guilds WAS a liberal idea when Adam Smith published his Inquiry . . . in 1776 (sic). It was a political and economic rebellion against that tyranny. But within a century the corporations had largely displaced the old feudal order and had themselves gone a long way toward becoming the new tyranny. One could also see the changes adopted by FDR (political) and Keynes (economic) as temporarily saving capitalism from itself, only to be discarded little more than a generation later with the counter-revolution described in the article.

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Exactly what I have been saying ever since Trump was elected! Trump is the symptom and result of the disease, of the corruption and mendacious illegal wars; of Fascist, Amerika. What is needed, in my view, is an antidote to this horrible miasma that has just about killed our nation, where millions rise up to heal this disease before it kills us all!


After the 1929 crash, economist John Galbraith was asked how long it would take for the US to recover. Galbraith’s response: “The previous dark ages lasted for centuries”. To prove Galbraith wrong FDR moved forward with the New Deal, thereby delaying the advance of the new dark ages by a half century.

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Something wrong there: JKG was born in 1908 (to a farm family in Ontario!), and completed a B.S. in Agriculture in 1931. Only after that did he up the study of economics (agricultural economics) on scholarship at UC Berkeley, earning his doctorate in 1934. He wrote The Great Crash: 1929 in 1955. Do you have a source for that comment? It could have been a retrospective from the book.

Second sentence should read, " Only after that did he TAKE up the study of economics."