A lifetime’s love of history has left me with two conclusions – history is abominably taught in America and America is an historical anomaly. Maybe that explains the right wing’s complete misinterpretation of current events and the really bad ideas they have for dealing with it.
America is the only place on earth where the revolution was almost completely and entirely political. Oh, sure, we talk about “no taxation without representation,” and push the idea that we rebelled because of unfair taxes, but the reality is a bit different. The American colonies were not suffering from vast poverty and hardship because of a tea tax. We were initially fighting for the representation part of that phrase. We wanted the same thing the Welsh and Irish would petition for a century later – equal representation in Parliament as British citizens. In the end, the system we established was not so much revolutionary as evolutionary – keeping the best ideas from Britain’s representative government and dumping the bad parts, like single-party control of all the branches of government.
Everywhere else, across the panorama of human existence, economics has been a driving force in revolutions, even those that appear to involve politics. When a native population has risen up against an occupying force, it is not just a matter of liberation, but the fact that occupiers suck the resources out of an occupied land and reduce the natives to poverty. The Arab Spring has been just such a set of revolutions. Ostensibly about equality and freedom, they began because the ruling elite was hogging all the good jobs through institutionalized corruption, nepotism, patronage and cronyism and allowing the rest of the population to sink deeper and deeper into poverty and despair.
In the 20th century, those economic revolutions took on a very clear political identity. Promises of expanded “safety nets” and opportunity for the poor if we can overthrow the ruling oligarchy evolved into the ideologies of communism versus fascism. Neither ideology is by definition a totalitarian governance system. They become that when whoever is in control eliminates all political opposition through repression, imprisonment or execution. Occasionally, the two ideologies get blurred, as in the Argentina of Juan Peron. The poor supported Peron because his best spokesperson, Eva Peron, sounded very communist, but his administration’s greatest allies were fascist regimes.
Communist revolutions have happened without too much violence, and some with no hint that they would lead to communist states. Venezuela and Brazil freely elected very socialist leaders. Egypt did as well, but the world was blindered by Mursi’s connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. Who knew the Brotherhood were, at heart, communists? That didn’t become apparent until they wrote their new constitution.
We Americans, having never actually experienced either pure communism nor pure fascism have been misled into believing that communism or fascism equals dictatorship. Worse, there are those on the right wing, like Glenn Beck, who have lumped communism and fascism, Stalin and Hitler, into the same trash heap and made their base think they are the same things. It’s not a position taken in ignorance, but a deliberate attempt to keep the easily persuaded from understanding the true nature of the so-called “conservative” movement in America. The right wing pundits and bloviators have also done an excellent job of wiping from people’s memories the definitions of liberal, conservative, radical and reactionary that we all learned in middle school or junior high school. They have turned “conservative” into a political ideology instead of a place on the spectrum of sociopolitical change. They have given “conservative” specific tenets, values, policies, none of which are truly conservative because conservatism is a desire to retain the status quo, not move a nation in one direction or another. The word “conservative” is being used to make fascism acceptable.
I once read a definition of the two opposing ideologies: In communism, the state owns the means of production. In fascism, the means of production own the state. Benito Mussolini had a better definition for his ideology: “Fascism should rightly be called ‘corporatism’ because it is the perfect merger of corporate and government power.”
So, what does all this have to do with Lawrence O’Donnell’s latest addition to his gallery of “vice-presidential candidates who will never be president”? Paul Ryan’s most recent “budget” proposal should disqualify him from membership in the conservative/fascist club. It is a path to communism.
On the surface, it appears that Ryan has finally accepted the idea of increased revenue to balance our budgets. In reality, his new “budget” simply factors in the tax rate increase passed by Congress on January 1, raising rates on those earning over $450,000 a year. Ryan projects that revenue increase would add $3.2 trillion to America’s coffers. In the next decade, the government should receive $40.2 trillion in revenue.
But to eliminate the deficit, balance the budget and start paying down the debt (things Clinton did before 2000), Ryan is also proposing some sweeping cuts in Federal spending. His idea is to cut $4.6 trillion from Federal spending over 10 years.
His budget is dependent upon the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, for openers. The Republicans keep expounding their mantra that the ACA will cost way too much money and produce no benefits to the tax payer. Therefore, it must be repealed. And that is just the beginning. His primary source of savings in the Federal budget is slashing health care spending – Medicare and Medicaid. Then, he would cut $1 trillion from “other mandatory” programs – farm subsidies, food stamps, student loans, federal worker pensions are the ones named. Without specifying how, Ryan calls for changes to the Social Security system.
The weirdest part of the Ryan budget is the plan for tax reform. Ryan wants a two-tier system, 10% and 25% and elimination of tax breaks. But he claims such a reform would not increase tax revenues. It is pure prestidigitation. Ryan does not explain what tax breaks would be eliminated or who would pay which tax rate or outline laws to close access to tax shelters.
Ryan states that his budget would add $1.2 trillion to the national debt, but reduce its ratio to the GDP from 76% today to 55% ten years from now, even though our external debt would rise from $11.8 trillion today to $14.2 trillion in 2023. He is basing his projections on a pipedream that America’s GDP will grow from $15.5 trillion to $25.8 trillion.
How can Paul Ryan’s budget kill America? Let me count the ways…..
The whole crisis-mode mentality over the debt is nothing more than fear-mongering for political power. Our current debt, though numerically large, is only 76% of GDP. It was 101% six months into President Obama’s first term. Hocus pocus, 25% of the debt is gone, or more to the point, our GDP has recovered enough to reduce the debt ratio. In 1946, our debt was 126% of GDP Now, THAT was a debt to get hysterical about. And it was not brought under control by slashing the budget, far from it.
Ryan does not address corporate taxes or tax shelters, two enormous problems in the structure of America’s economy. When he talks about closing loopholes and ending tax breaks, he’s talking about personal income tax, not the means by which General Electric and the major oil companies pay no taxes whatsoever, or the way that private equity companies like Bain pay 0.8% tax while trucking companies pay 30.9%, or how only small corporations pay the 35% tax rate. Ryan would eliminate the tax breaks for families, like the child care credit and earned income credit and mortgage interest deduction while protecting the corporations. Even lowering our rates would not balance against the loss of deductions and credits. We, the lower earners, would pay more taxes while the rich would still be able to use tax shelters. Remember how Mitt Romney keeps money in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands? Nothing in Ryan’s plans curtails tax shelters.
Just exactly how is our GDP supposed to grow if health care supports are removed? Does Ryan seriously believe that people who can’t afford health care today will magically be able to afford it tomorrow without Medicare, Medicaid or the ACA? Less money will be available for the health industry, and less for the health insurance industry too, as more and more companies are refusing to buy health coverage for their employees. More people will be sick, losing more time from work, losing jobs because of illness. Two huge industries will see shrinkage of earnings.
And losing a job will not result in receiving unemployment benefits in Ryan’s vision of a self-sufficient America. Don’t you know? Lazy good-for-nothings should not be feeding at the public teat, let’s make sure they don’t have unemployment benefits as an incentive to not work.
Cut farm subsidies? Farmers would have to increase prices to survive, if they chose to survive. Farms will fail, food prices will rise, and without subsidies, farmers will be more inclined to cut corners, the kind of corners that lead to e-coli outbreaks. Without food stamps, even more of America’s children will go hungry. Starvation will become a reality in America for the first time in decades. Do you know how old criminal gangs used to recruit young men? Food. It’s also how religions recruit converts.
What about our veterans? These men and women, both regular military and National Guard, have given ten years of their lives to a pointless, illegal war. Their programs are also on the line.
Eliminate Section 8 housing subsidies, and more people will be living in rat-infested tenements or in their cars. More children will be unable to go to school because they have no permanent address. Eliminating student loans means fewer kids would get a post-secondary education. Only the very rich would be able to put their children through school. With losses of federal funding for education and states wiping out teachers’ unions and benefits, public schools would deteriorate.
It already takes up to three years for the disabled to qualify for Social Security Disability. These are people who cannot work because of their medical conditions. We don’t even ask how they are supposed to survive those three years. Under the Republican plans, we would make it even harder for the disabled to receive support. SSI is an emergency program for those who cannot work temporarily. Think for just a moment what it would mean to you if you had no paycheck for six months. Frightening, isn’t it?
People who don’t have enough to eat, people who have poor housing and can’t afford medical care are susceptible to epidemics. The flu epidemic in 1918 killed more people than battle deaths in World War I. We have already started seeing how viruses and bacteria are evolving to become drug resistant. As our population becomes poorer, we will see more deaths from food contamination and contagious diseases.
How does this plan make Paul Ryan the harbinger of communism in America? He is setting up Americans to starve to death in the cold and dark. He is proposing dividing America into two classes – the super rich and the extremely poor. His budget will intensify our income gap, which is already one of the widest in the world. And we are back to what really causes revolutions – economic disparity.
The French and Russian revolutions took out the aristocracy and monied classes, literally took them out. The Cuban revolution and other communist revolutions succeeded in countries with huge income gaps and corrupt governments which supported the rich. The list is endless, the bloody revolutions that grew out of the frustrations and anger of the poor. Europe saw enough of these, even watched the pendulum swings between far right and left in Spain, Italy and Greece, and chose the middle path – strong socialist safety nets and free enterprise. Everyone believed they could succeed, no matter where they began life. That belief is essential to a stable society. When people are cold, sick, hungry and homeless, they revolt. It’s that simple. And when the authors of misery are so obviously fascists and oligarchs, the obvious driver of a revolution is communism.
It won’t happen immediately, but the seeds are already spread. Young people who graduated from college five years ago and are still stocking grocery store shelves while drowning in college debt are nursing their frustrations and anger over being dead-ended before they have even had careers. Retirees who had their nest eggs destroyed by the recession and are still working at 70, 72, and older, are simmering over the unfairness of not being able to enjoy the retirements they worked so long for. Middle-agers are watching their incomes shrink, just as they are being saddled with the burdens of adult children who can’t support themselves and parents who are unable to live alone, and terrified of reaching their own retirement age. We’re out here. We’re already on the edge or even over it. We have been denied the chances for stabilizing and growing our economy by the Republican Party. We voted for hope and change, not slavery to the banks and corporations, not widening gaps between us and our bosses. We voted for all Americans and all American businesses to share in the joint costs of our society.
The opposite of fascism is socialism. We can choose socialism. If our government chooses fascism and we sink further and further into poverty and deprivation, we are more likely to choose communism.