Little different from Middle Eastern extremists, the Bundy militias and their ilk confabulate an alternate world to justify their rage at loss of status and a feeling of societal betrayal. Times are changing and the old men and their older power structures are collapsing, crushed by new ideas and youth.
Once, not long ago, the cowboy and the frontier U.S. west were idealized as portraying American values. The legendary independence of westerners and cowboys hid a strong dose of government spending and investment. The movie and television heroes of my youth were invariably western and emphasized the quiet man with a gun rounding up the bad guys.
Heroes like Roy Rogers and Sky King carried guns and brought bad guys to justice. Later in my youth, Twilight Zone and Star Trek were the shows that captured my attention. Television that appealed more to an urban kid.
The Andy Griffith Show and similar programs began to portray country living differently and less violent. The country was changing when, by the 1950s, even the South and the Midwest were mostly urbanized. The myth of the self-reliant rancher and farmer was being subtly replaced with laughter and nostalgia.
The areas of the country last to host urban majorities remain the most conservative. Reagan, a former western actor himself, knew how to speak to people who felt threatened by the urbanization of America. The myth of independent action strangely coupled with the need to follow strong leaders created the conservative coalition now being torn asunder in the presidential primaries.
The Republican presidential candidates are feeding outrage stoked at the speed of the nation’s changing values and traditions. Their audience and their scapegoats are changing quickly also. While their followers decry ‘big government’, the issue is much broader now. Creating seats at the table for women and minorities, does not steal chairs from white males but it most certainly dilutes their influence and perceived value. In a blog some time ago, I wrote what I thought was happening.
Workers are being crushed from both sides — more work for the same pay, while taxes creep steadily up. The government empowers corporations to impose demands on small businesses and workers that enable a race to the economic bottom. The Cruz/Trump success is getting these small business people and workers to blame those below them on the economic ladder rather than the government and corporate elite who are the actual culprits.
Republican presidential candidates now seize upon the message that ‘hard working Americans’ are being slighted and robbed by government policies. The message works because it is true. Where the blame lies is the real misdirection. While immigrants, minorities and ‘takers’ are blamed, the real perpetrators, business executives and politicians, are heralded as the saviors rather than the cause.
Business and conservative political agendas merge to form a mutually self-serving agenda that stifles competition and creates oligopolies. This coalition shares the profits among themselves and transfers the costs to the worker and taxpayers. Working diligently, corporations and governments have denied wage and hour protections for employees while shredding the safety net designed to protect workers. The cost to the taxpayer is huge.
This sleight of hand and misdirection is possible because of the conservative base’s already devout belief that government is the problem and business is the answer. The Bundy militia terrorism (it is no longer a peaceful protest when you bring guns and threaten to use them.) against the government is a blatant attempt to steal land from the taxpayers. Land designed to benefit the very ranchers now attempting the theft. Essentially, they demand more corporate theft under the guise of ‘American Values’.
Democrats, liberals and moderates must demonstrate how the Republican and conservative embrace of Reaganism causes government to be the problem. Democratic candidates for president should address this problem that citizens know to be true – then explain how to change the process with the peoples’ support and votes. In the New York Times this week, two columns exposed how corporations and big government are robbing the taxpayer.
In Nevada, the state legislature tripled fees for homeowners with solar panels at the behest of energy company lobbyists. This big government move makes solar panels less attractive and breaks previous agreements to homeowners.
In North Carolina, factory farmers recently passed legislation stifling both first amendment rights and whistleblower protections. This big government legislation may increase consumer health risks/costs and guarantee factory farm profits. Apparently, consumers cannot know where their food comes from and how it gets there.
Americans, especially middle aged males among them, long for a return to fairness and equal opportunity. Democrats should embrace this desire and promise to build on it. Facts will not convince them but identifying the real takers just may.