FLOTSAM & JETSAM: Why America collapsed: The role of Reagan

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Why America collapsed: The role of Reagan

Sam Smith - America is currently experiencing an internally caused disaster matched only by the Great Depression and the Civil War. While we are taught to regard such crises in political terms, a large number of cultural factors also made it possible for us to elect Donald Trump and suffer the consequences.

In 2003 I initially suggested that the First American Republic was over. But not until the Washington takeover by Donald Trump has this phenomenon  been widely discussed. What follows is one in a series of notes on some of the factors that helped to end the First American Republic, some of which are a copy or a remix of earlier writing. More will appear in coming days

From Grand Old Party to Greedy Old Prigs
Although there were signs of trouble as early as 1944, when the conservative Human Events magazine was launched, Republicans in general stayed within traditional American culture until the Reagan administration. There were exceptions, the most striking being Joseph McCarthy and his ilk, but on the whole Republicans represented a wing of American politics rather than, as at present, a political asteroid threatening to blow the whole place up. People such as Robert A. Taft and Margaret Chase Smith were like your grandfather and grandmother, out of touch with the times but still members of the family. Dwight Eisenhower was a moderate and Richard Nixon - for all his personal faults - was on domestic issues the last liberal president America has had.

That changed radically with Ronald Reagan, who applied principles he had used to sell Chesterfield cigarettes to hawk a toxic form of government described well by Robert Lekachman:

"Ronald Reagan must be the nicest president who ever destroyed a union, tried to cut school lunch milk rations from six to four ounces, and compelled families in need of public help to first dispose of household goods in excess of $1,000".

Of course, Reagan had help, including from Margaret Thatcher who served as his brains as he went around oh shucksing the voters.

There is considerable evidence that the collapse of the First American Republic began in no small part with Reagan's inauguration:

- The number of federal inmates increased from approximately 25,000 in FY1980 to about 170,000 today.

- From 1947 to 1979 family income of the bottom 20% went up 116% and those in the top 20% went up 99%. Between 1980 and 2009, the bottom 20% went up 15% while the top 20% went up 95%

- Middle class debt has leaped.

- Personal bankruptcies went up

- Student loan debt has soared.

- In the 1980s there were 50 corporations controlling most of the major media. Now there are six.

- During the Reagan administration the number of families living below the poverty line increased by one-third.

= Reagan began the dismantling of the labor union movement

There are other aspects of the Reagan years we tend to forget. For example, the Reagan administration was among the most corrupt in American history including, by one estimate, 31 convictions of top officials. By comparison 40 government officials were indicted or convicted in the wake of Watergate. 47 individuals and businesses associated with the Clinton machine were convicted of or pleaded guilty to crimes with 33 of these occurring during the Clinton administration itself.

David R. Simon and D. Stanley Eitzen in Elite Deviance, report that 138 appointees of the Reagan administration either resigned under an ethical cloud or were criminally indicted.

Reagan's policies also led to what was then the greatest financial scandal in American history: the savings & loan debacle which cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

In short, Reagan started the dismantling of the New Deal and the Great Society and the major progress of those eras. We have had not recovery since, and Donald Trump has made it far worse.