The Night they Drove the US Down

In 1969, The Band, a  roots rock group that backed the famed folk singer, Bob Dylan, released a song lamenting the deprivations of the Confederacy before the Union onslaught in the American Civil War. People in the Southern states were starving, and on the verge of defeat in the face of Northern supremacy.

The South has waited a long time to exact revenge for the humiliation imposed on them by the victorious North. They began by capturing the White House and much of Congress to the extent that by 1878 they could enact laws that prevented many of the freedoms bestowed on former slaves from achieving fruition.

Many people have predicted that the South Would rise again, often with the implied promise that things could return to the way they once were, with white men in charge, and everyone else in metaphorical chains. This is what the Republican Party has become.

Republicans and their conservative allies want to destroy the power that Washington has over the states and return power to the wealthy and powerful in the Confederate states. They do not want to do this because they feel that the people of those states should have more of a say over their own affairs. They do it because they want to impose their own dictates on the people.

Conservatives attack everything that provides Washington with legitimacy. Any government is only as strong as the people allow or wish it to be, without that support, government soon loses credibility and legitimacy and becomes easy prey for dictators, warlords, nobles, and the corrupt.

Conservatives have been very astute in their attacks on political power centers. The policy that they embrace allows them to prevent government from achieving anything of value, or attending to the very real needs of the people. Since government is seen as inept, and incapable of achieving anything of value, people’s opinion of Congress plummets.

Conservatives have been successful in this endeavour. By obstructing the business of Congress, the people’s opinion of Congress has indeed plummeted, to all-time lows in the teens or below. The American people are losing faith in the very system that has ensured two hundred years of union, with the exception of the Civil War in the 1860’s.

Democracy, as I have pointed out before, is a very fragile system, easily shredded, as it has been even in democratic nations. It often does not take much. When people’s faith in the ability of the system to provide the necessary infrastructure, jobs, and security, they look around for alternatives.

In Germany after the disaster of the Great War, democratic institutions were reinstalled under the Weimar Republic, but did not last long. The crippling reparations imposed by the Allies on Germany with the Treaty of Versailles destroyed its economy, resulting in a decade of hyperinflation, unemployment and social discord. The Depression years also left scars and allowed extremists to take power.

At one stage it was difficult to tell whether Communists or Fascists would take power, but ultimately it was the fascists in Germany that rose to power. The democratic institutions in Germany were shredded and replaced with an autocratic dictatorship.

We cannot say that Republicans are anywhere near as Machiavellian and brutal as the Nazis, but their thrust is to drive Democrats from power and assume that mantle in the most efficient way they can. Their actual policies are unpopular with the people, as poll after poll shows, so they need to achieve power in other ways.

Many conservative states have  instituted laws that prevent large swathes from voting. This is not done directly by forbidding people to vote, rather it is done in more subtle ways, using voter ID laws that force people to produce an ID in order to vote. This imposes a rather subtle poll tax on people who may have no need for ID, may not be able to afford it, or get to a government office to obtain ID.

Conservatives produce legislation in other ways, to gerrymander districts to favor their political party, or cut the number of voting days, produce ballots twelve pages long as was done in Florida. The number of voting machines or voting places is reduced, to make sure that fewer people are able to cast ballots.

These methods are all intended to take the vote away from people who are considered marginal, or minorities, the poor, or the infirm. The idea is to win elections not through the supremacy of ideas, but by rigging the ballot, just as is done in most third world countries. Then, conservatives can claim that they won the election fair and square.

The conservative attitude towards democracy is that it is there for them to attain power and keep the opposition from gaining power. Democracy ought to be not about power, but about representing the best interests of all the people in a district or state, and ultimately what is best for the country.

The most nefarious method used by conservatives to grab power despite having lost an election, is by preventing any legislation from passing, other than what they want. The coming financial debacle in the form of the sequester is a case in point.

During the 2011 debt ceiling debacle, where Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling unless there were dramatic and drastic spending cuts, an instrument dubbed the sequester was used as an agreement between the President and the Republicans.

The sequester was introduced to prevent the United States from default on its sovereign debt, which would have happened had the debt ceiling been breached. The result would have meant a partial shut down of government, during which payments to federal employees may have been delayed, or people furloughed, at least temporarily.

According to the provisions of the sequester, government spending must be reduced by more than the increase in the debt limit. No revenue increases were allowed at all to help allay any increase in spending. In addition, spending cuts to the tune of some $1.2Tn were specified to offset the increase in the debt limit of $1.2Tn.

These cuts are to be across the board cuts. It is the budgetary equivalent of taking a meat cleaver to your body to lose weight. Instead of using intelligent budgetary measures that include efficiency cuts and revenue increases, as the President has advocated, Republicans proposed a slash and burn approach.

They want to cut everything in sight without doing the hard work of deciding where inefficiencies can be found and tackling them. The hardships that will be imposed on vast swathes of the American economy are entirely unnecessary and arbitrary. The fact of the matter is that arbitrary cuts to federal spending will only cause more pain because of unemployment, a faltering economy, and social unrest.

Republicans are quite successful in making sure that government does not work and is seen as inept. That is the idea behind the crises that they manage to create throughout the year. It becomes close to impossible for businesses to plan without certainty in the economy, for people to invest in an environment specifically made to be unstable.

The impact of these cuts will be seen over time, but their full weight will hit the economy harder as time passes. The Department of Defense will be affected, as will Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and Nuclear Security, the State Department and Intelligence communities

The Republicans are blaming the President, saying that he signed the bill and therefore it is his fault. The fact that they used the debt ceiling to impose draconian spending cuts on the country is irrelevant to them. They want the President to get the blame for their obstructionism, thus demonstrating their anti-democratic ideology.

Republicans are refusing to budge on the sequester, with the result that a million Americans could lose their jobs. It looks as though they are again going to hold the country to ransom and force cuts on the country.

This country has gone from crisis to crisis, resulting in investment losses in the stock market, uncertainty in the jobs market, an unwillingness of businesses to hire. These crises can be laid at the feet of Republicans, who are driving the country off a cliff. This economy cannot bear more financial stresses imposed by Republicans.

Republicans are achieving precisely what they want, and people are losing faith in the system. If it continues down this road, democracy will not survive, and I have my doubts as to whether the union itself will survive.

This is what happens when extremists are given political power. They are incapable of cooperation, incapable of playing by the rules. The country cannot run efficiently if they keep taking their ball home.

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