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Schubart: Conservative Decline

We may be finally witnessing the death throes of the conservative “trickle-down” mantra that advocates for lower taxes on “job creators” and “hands-off” government regulation.

This philosophy enthralled Reagan’s “moral majority,” who also challenged the rights of women and many non-whites by opposing abortion, birth control, gay marriage, voting rights, and immigration.

More recently, ultraconservative factions have championed the unfettered right to carry guns anywhere, isolationism in an international world, limiting voting rights to themselves, and opposition to an inclusive health care plan. No wonder we’re seeing suicide by lifestyle and declining life expectancy among disadvantaged white men and women seduced by this hollow belief system. The question is… what will replace it?

If, as Calvin Coolidge says, “the business of America is business,” we’re pretty much there. Under the guise of “free market capitalism,” business now owns a major share of the legislative branch of our democracy. Corporations have been accorded the same rights as citizens and many are concerned that through the policies of the new administration, they may soon dominate the executive and judicial branches as well.

Reducing taxes on the richest Americans has created the greatest wealth-gap since the Depression. Historically, such inequality has been a precursor to revolution –either armed or peaceful. It’s also accelerated the deficit and dashed hopes for needed infrastructure investments.

Corrupt lobbying against regulation regulation has led to virtual monopolies in telecommunications, Pharma, airlines, energy, retail and other industries – leaving them free to focus solely on share value and profits, ignoring consumer satisfaction and public safety.
Deregulation has wrought havoc in for-profit college education, burdening students with inadequate education and crushing debt. In the energy sector, it’s destroyed whole environments and killed workers. It’s allowed our food supply to industrialize around sugar, nicotine, and chemicals, and in healthcare, it’s casually watched Pharma addict and kill thousands, profit by patent manipulation, and deny government agencies any right to negotiate pricing. America is 5% of the world population and consumes 80% of its opiates.

I’m an optimist who believes we may finally be ready to let go of lowering taxes and reducing regulation in favor of investing in resilient, healthy communities by adopting new government priorities, like access to healthcare, education, jobs, housing, childcare, and infrastructure investment. And in so doing, we’d be heeding other words from Calvin Coolidge, reminding us that “We’re all in the same boat.”

Bill Schubart lives and writes in Hinesburg. His latest book is Lila & Theron.
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