This essay shares the first 8 paragraphs verbatim with my essay Hating America - The Social Cost.
Fewer than 1 in 5 Americans trusts their government or thinks it is a force for good.
Our own government. Self government. America’s government. The first Republic in over a thousand years, a government made up of and elected by the people, our government carried us from obscurity to world leadership in just a few generations. Now 4 out of 5 Americans hate and fear it. Why?
Because America’s governing party taught them to. The Republican Party taught Americans to hate their government.
What is America? What makes America unique? Our government.
Americans elected Republican Dwight David Eisenhower with the understanding that our system of government had saved the world from Hitler and Hirohito, from Nazism and Empire. During his presidency, all but the first two years of which were spent with Democratic Congresses, almost 3 out of every 4 Americans trusted our government and believed it had their best interests at heart.
By Lyndon Johnson’s presidency it was almost 4 out of every 5. Americans knew that our government was what made us America and what made us great. Americans were optimistic, pleased and proud. We were on our way to the Moon. We told our government to solve some problems and it did. Unfortunately Johnson also got us into an unpopular and unsuccessful war. I can’t say that there is cause and effect, but things did get uglier from there.
Twenty-eight short years later America elected Ronald Reagan based on the proposition that that same small-r republican American government that we had worked on and believed in since our founding, the government that we fought and won a civil war to save, government of the people, by the people, and for the people, was everything that was wrong with our lives. His party has pushed that message non stop ever since.
From here there are two different directions to continue this essay.
Political Considerations The Social Cost
The Democratic Party has, since at least the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, been the party of active government working to make life better for the American people. The reason Ronald Reagan told the American people to hate the government was because Democrats used government to help people. By calling out a few flaws – and of course there were flaws, there are flaws in absolutely everything – and focusing on those flaws every day, and talking about them every day, and getting more and more Americans every day to look at them, he could undermine everything the Democratic Party stood for. Democrats wanted to govern, to use government to help Americans, so Reagan said, Hate the government. Hating the Democrats was the obvious corollary.
The Democratic Party stood for the proposition that government could make people’s lives better. Democrats had spent 47 years proving it, but the improvements had become so much a part of everyday life that Americans quit noticing them and forgot where they came from. Of course we had highways; of course we had safe meat; of course the countryside was wired for electricity. Of course we had air traffic controllers looking into radar screens. Of course old people could get medical care and spend their final years under professional care if they required it. Of course veterans got medical care and disability payments. Of course we had Social Security, wasn’t it written into the Declaration of Independence? (No.) America entirely forgot that Democrats had given them all this and more.
Since the collapse of our economy in 1929 under Republican governance, Americans entrusted Democratic Congresses to legislate continued progress. From 1933 until Ronald Reagan’s inauguration Americans elected Democratic Congresses in all but two election cycles, four years. Two of those years were Eisenhower’s first two years, but it wasn’t a Republican Congress that granted Ike’s wish of an Interstate highway system from coast to coast. from Canada to Mexico. Eisenhower proposed it but Democrats made it happen.
in the depth of the Great Depression Americans looked around themselves and said, we’re in a mess. This entire country is in a mess. The only thing big enough to address that is our federal government. Democrats offered to use the government to help the people and by huge majorities the people said Yes.
The people did not have jobs. The government hired them. Paid them a living wage.
To be old was to be poor and miserable. The government created Social Security.
A handful of city people had electricity but nobody else did. The government created and partially funded Rural Electric Coops. While they were at it they dammed up the Tennessee Valley and turned it into a giant electric generating plant. Democrats led us through the greatest war in human history, and afterward they passed laws to educate, house, and care for the veterans who had fought it for us. For the first time in American (and possibly world) history, veterans too badly damaged by war to go back to work had decent medical care and a decent livelihood.
We still have things those government employees built for us; we still use them today.
For many years old people were reasonably comfortable, although today’s Republican party is undermining that every way they can. An American has to get older and older or sicker and sicker to get less and less of a livelihood after a lifetime of contributing to Social Security.
Veterans still rely on the benefits Democrats gave them then, although Republican budgets continue to whittle away at the value provided. A World War II veteran could get a college degree, could pay tuition, buy books, and find bed and board with his GI education benefits. Today that benefit will barely buy books enough for a degree; there is no need to even discuss tuition and lodging. Student veterans walk away with mountains of debt just as surely as other students.
Tens of thousands of Americans were losing life, limbs, sight, and mobility through workplace accidents. The government said, Do better, and business did.
Lake Erie died. The Cuyahoga River caught fire. 13 times. At least. Americans said, Fix that. The Democratic government did.
Deer, turkeys, wolves, and the bald eagle almost vanished from the earth, Americans said, Fix that The government did.
Children living along busy roads and highways were stunted and unable to learn. They were breathing lead with every breath. Americans said, Fix that. Democrats in Congress did.
95 years after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, and in direct violation of its clear language, Americans were still being denied the right to vote “…on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Americans of all races said, Fix that, and the Democratic Congress and President Lyndon Johnson did.
This may have been the beginning of the end.
Americans said, Our old people are spending our inheritances on medical care. They are impoverishing themselves just over being old and feeble. Fix that. And the Democratic Congress created Medicare.
I could go on. Americans turned to their government, over and over, and said, All over our country people are suffering, Things we value are becoming extinct. Our air and our water are not fit to breathe or drink. Fix that. Fix what you can. The Constitution says you, our government, are supposed to provide for the general welfare, Do that. And the government did.
And then Ronald Reagan said, This is terrible. When common people have live fish in their lakes and rivers, rich people make less money. When common people keep all their hands, arms, and fingers through their entire working careers profits are lower. What’s worse, very rich people have to pay large dollar amounts in taxes to make all these things possible. Government is Bad!
Only he didn’t say it like that. He laughed his charming grandfatherly actor’s chuckle and talked about welfare queens in Cadillacs. He said, “The biggest lie on earth is ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.'” People laughed and voted for him.
At the exact same time that he was saying that, Hurricane Frederick was blowing a giant hole in Alabama and Mississippi, doing more dollar damage than any other hurricane in American history. Although the agency had only been created (by a Democratic Congress) 3 months earlier, FEMA was able to provide a quarter of a billion dollars in aid and reconstruction for the victims.
FEMA, created by Democrats, came from the government to help Mississippi and Alabama. Reagan made fun of it. The voters of Mississippi and Alabams chose… him. And a Republican Congress.
And they’ve been getting slowly steadily poorer ever since.
My advice to Democrats is simple: get Americans to quit hating their government. Because until you do that you have no chance of getting elected. Telling them what you want to use government to do for them is not going to help get you elected as long as they hate and fear their government.
And, since Republicans do currently have control over the government, and since they have made it something to hate and fear with their policies, another look at talking about it.