Thursday, August 6, 2020

An Outline of the History of the Radical Right's Rise to Power

By Christopher Aune

It’s come to my attention that virtually nobody understands the historical context of the current radical right-wing takeover of the government and overturning the Constitution. So, here are some points to consider.

  1. The Founding Fathers – esp. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson - debated whether the Constitution should foster rapid growth or empower individuals. Madison argued for rapid growth, free markets, unregulated interstate commerce, large companies and gleaming cities that benefit the surrounding countryside. Notably, Madison was very wealthy and owned slaves, and he was trying to protect his class in the Constitution. Jefferson argued for small businesses, family farms, individuals’ rights, and regulated banks and commerce. In the end, Jefferson relented because, despite winning the Revolutionary War, America was economically weak and the British Empire was mighty. The USA had to foster rapid growth and expansion to stand off a return by the Brits. 
  2. It turned out to be the right move, as the British returned to reclaim “their colonies” in the War of 1812, but lost.
  3. In 1828, the federal government imposed an import tariff aimed at limiting dependency on other countries. The Southern states labeled it the Tariff of Abominations because it resulted in retaliatory limits on Southern exports. But it was consistent with the Constitutional intent, because it fostered the strong growth of the North’s manufacturing industries. 
  4. John C. Calhoun, during his term as seventh Vice President (1825-1832), reacted against taxes and fiscal policy because he saw it as key to withstanding democracy’s threat to economic liberty. That is, he wanted to empower plantation owners over the will of the majority of Americans.
  5. James Buchanan, President from 1857-1861, was a Southern sympathizer from Pennsylvania. He chose four Southerners and three Northerners, whom were all Southern sympathizers. In 1857, Buchanan intervened in the Dred Scott case – which initially denied the enslaved petitioner’s request for freedom – and prevailed on a Supreme Court judge to create a majority and make the ruling apply more broadly to include all Western territories. This outraged Northerners who denounced it. Buchanan’s was considered a failed presidency, which led directly to the Civil War. 
  6. In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that U.S. state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools are unconstitutional; and ordered states to desegregate "with all deliberate speed."
  7. Around 1956, Professor James McGill Buchanan – with support of many others, including Milton Friedman – reacted strongly against the Brown decision. He formed a school of political economy at the University of Virginia. He spelled out and taught in great detail the case for “economic liberty,” that is, the benefit of few rules to constrain how a man might get wealthy, and great restraints on the government levying taxes on that wealth. Later, he pointed out that the majority of Americans would not support his ideas; and therefore, they could not win by persuasion. Therefore, they had to create “winning strategies.”
  8. In the 1970s, Charles Koch learned of Buchanan’s theories. In 1997-98, Koch invested millions of dollars in Buchanan’s Center for Study of Public Choice. It trained operatives to staff institutions funded by the Koch brothers, including the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, the State Policy Network, the Competitive Enterprise Institute , the Tax Foundation, the Reason Foundation, the Leadership Institute and dozens of others, plus Charles Koch Foundation and Koch Industries itself. Buchanan’s center has now moved to the Mercatus Center on George Mason University. Buchanan died in 2013. 
  9. Now-VP Mike Pence is heavily involved with the Kochs. When Pence left as Indiana’s District 6 Representative to Congress, Luke Messer, who first worked for the Kochs, replaced him. Pence’s brother, Greg, followed Messer in that elected seat. Senator Ted Cruz is another name most will recognize. 
  10. When the Senate Republicans rejected the evidence for impeachment in January 2020, they excused it, each using virtually the same wording, saying it was a political move by Democrats. By doing so, they failed to perform their Constitutional duty, putting politics over rule of law. Many were following the radical right leadership, fearing their Senatorial vote would be invalidated if they didn't march in lockstep. 

This is a bare-bones outline of how this line of thought developed and now comes to rule in the USA. The philosophy is this:

  • They are reacting to what they see as the ability of the federal government to force individuals with wealth to pay for more public goods and social services that they had no say in approving.
  • Their aim is to insulate private property rights from the reach of government, in particular by reducing the freedom of the many … by hollowing out resistance from the majority of voters.

To gain a more authoritative look at the history of James McGill Buchanan and Charles Koch, and their radical-right legacy, see Democracy in Chains, by Nancy McLean, the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University. 




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