What is Needed to Secure Democracy? Conservative Courage

A common theme in B movies streaming on the internet is of the courageous individual who stands up against cruel bullies who’ve cowed everybody else in the script. I wonder if they inspire many conservative individualists to imitate their imaginary heroes by heavily arming themselves. The ground had been prepared by elements of the right wing movement to encourage that kind of mindset long before it was popularized by Reagan.  Since then it’s become the mantra of courageous individualism who have no need of a government nanny. 

How’s that working out?  Not so well considering the numbers of mass and drive by shootings, shootings in response to minor insults and infractions, random shootings, accidental shootings, etc. Nothing morally courageous about any of it.  More curious yet is the ease by which anti-American hard right activists, the so called Trump MAGA base, has bullied the entire conservative population into utter cowardice for fear the base will do what?  Withhold their votes?  Threaten retaliation?  What?  The MAGA crowd is small compared to the whole of the electorate.  Yes they are loud, threatening, sometimes violent, but everything they claim to stand for is a figment of their imagination.  They’re gifted propagandists and know how to inject their hallucinations into the public arena as if they were the real thing, and it’s a sad thing to see so many otherwise decent people taken in by them. The truth remains, they are an active threat to American democracy and the freedom of everyone.

Americans who consider themselves somewhere right of center but not extremists have the numbers and all the resources they need to take a bold, courageous stand against “the base” if they only have the will to do so.  What’s stopping them?  It seems to boil down to fears that leftist socialism is just around the corner, as is the old fairy tale that smaller government is better government.

Republicans and Democrats were united behind the “liberal American consensus” until the 1980s.  Hard core conservatives had long engaged in fear mongering about creeping socialism (Russian style), and the superiority of an unregulated market to be more efficient, competitive, and beneficial to the national prosperity.  Government over regulation, by which they meant any regulation, was preventing leaders of American business from having a free hand to see that operations were running at peak performance.  It was a fringe view but one backed by skillful propagandists who eventually convinced the majority of regular conservatives that the old consensus was a failed depression era model that never did work: only WWII was able to turn loose the industrial might of the nation.  It was time to face reality and return the federal government back to an earlier form in which it was small, meagerly funded, and responsive to whatever business leaders wanted.

There were four curious outcomes when right wing advocates gained enough power to change the direction of the federal government.  First, national debt and deficits ballooned while the means to pay for them were cut.  Precisely the opposite of what their manifesto promised.  Second, the size and complexity of the federal government increased, and its efficiency hobbled. Third, socialism, insofar as it could be used to benefit corporate America and the very wealthy, was happily embraced while ordinary Americans were told to be rugged individualists caring form themselves under economic and social conditions designed to make it difficult.  Fourth, to keep Americans from uniting behind a reenergized “liberal consensus”, as much as possible was done to divide the population into confrontational camps.  Race, economic class, educational status, urban, rural, coastal and mid-America, were exploited to create what today we call the culture wars.  It was the very old and very successful tactic of divide and conquer. 

It is time to move on to a new “liberal American consensus” – liberals and conservatives anchored by the majority of the electorate who are center-left/right.  The federal government is not the enemy.  It is the institution needed to maintain the unity of the Unites States of America and establish conditions under which no person is restricted from achieving all they are capable of achieving, and that the public health and welfare are enhanced and protected from abuse, degradation, and pollution.   Those more liberal will be bold in pushing for new ways to live onto the highest values of American democracy.  Those  more conservative will be cautiously committed to the same goals, but question how much change is really needed and how quickly it can be absorbed by the public.  Liberals will be more willing to raise revenues, while conservatives will opt for cost cutting.  It is in good faith negotiations that imperfect agreements will be worked out.  Unlike authoritarian governments, democracies muddle through, and the results work wonders for more people more fairly, civil rights more securely guaranteed.  What’s standing in the way?  Nothing, if conservatives have the courage to stand up to right wing bullying.

© Steven E. Woolley

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