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Dr. RichardWolff’s description of socialism as a longing for something more exposes a vulnerability in socialism that is easily exploited: Socialism’s attraction is, for many, shallow. Socialists want more, but who doesn’t? And once their longing is satisfied, those drawn to socialism by shallow desires drift off. FDR-era and later tweaks to Democratic Capitalism, once codified into law and regulation, filled many of the quality-of-life craters that inspired people’s longing for more

It was not just the propaganda emanating from furious capitalists that undermined American socialism; it was that many socialist voters were SINOs (Socialist In Name Only). Insufficiently educated in and committed to socialist theory, they were vulnerable to capitalist indoctrination. (It’s not indoctrination only when they do it, just as it’s not packing the Supreme Court only when they do it.)

Steady declines in union membership have the same cause: Many of the reforms unions succeeded in getting written into law ultimately undermined their members’ needs for a union, and those with shallow commitments to labor itself—I want better pay, hours, working conditions, and safety, and now that I have them, I don’t need the union—came to see unions as annoyances and resented paying dues. Unions’ use of capitalist tactics—lobbying and controlling the government—turned out to be their undoing. It is not a coincidence that current renewal of interest in socialism parallels current renewal of interest in unions, seen in attempts to organize Starbucks and Amazon. As it was pre-FDR, the energy source is the same: unhappiness, feeling short-changed, feeling cheated. Longing.

Constraints imposed during and after the FDR era succeeded in domesticating, or, depending on one’s viewpoint, hobbling, American capitalism. Most Americans viewed FDR as a savior—he was elected four times—but those whose money was redistributed and whose prospects for earning even more money were constrained viewed him as a tyrant. Yet no less committed a capitalist than Malcolm Forbes, the iconoclastic founder of Forbes Magazine, thought FDR had, by strategically lowering the US’s misery index, saved the country from anarchy, revolution, and—worst of all—socialism. 

Cynics have suggested that FDR, by reining in capitalism’s worst abuses, was buying people off, buying time, doing what was necessary to stave off revolution until capitalists could amass enough wealth, weaponry, tactics, and power to undo Democratic Capitalism’s constraints and contain subsequent misery-induced, trickle-up pressures. Whether that was the plan, it’s what’s happening.

Thus my fear for my nieces and nephews and for the joyful crowd at the bandshell: Never before have there been so many weapons available to impose and maintain control, to repress, to disappear dissidents (dissidents are what people with boats call those who, forced to tread water, have the gall to complain).

School Daze

Progressives frequently bemoan the right’s undermining of the US’s educational system, but just as one person’s domesticating is another person’s hobbling, one person’s undermining is another’s remodeling. The right has been remodeling the US education system for decades. Recognizing they could run for and easily win school board seats in lightly contested elections, the right embarked in the 1950s on a loosely organized effort to win majorities on school boards and turn them, and thus public schools, rightward. (Among the chief advantages the right has over the left is a truly spooky supply of patience.)

In 1961, in 9th grade, I was shepherded to an assembly. We entered the auditorium, sat, and then were immediately told to stand. We turned right to face the American flag located in the corner of the stage, put our hands over our hearts, and, under God, recited the Pledge of Allegiance. After we sat, the principal introduced a special guest speaker who was going to tell us about the evils of communism. The presentation began with black and white film of a class of Cuban grade-schoolers. According to the narrative supplied by our special guest, the Cuban students were instructed to stand, turn toward their flag, put their hands over their hearts, and pledge allegiance to Cuba. The speaker told us that the children were being indoctrinated with Cuban propaganda by Fidel Castro. I remember thinking we had just done the same thing. I wondered why Fidel Castro, whoever he was, wanted to indoctrinate me, and through the next few years mumbled the Pledge, thinking that pledging allegiance was evil. (I still kind of feel that way.)

Right-wing psychoses notwithstanding, small successes accumulate. Over ensuing decades, America’s educational dialog, in parallel with our political dialog, has, issue by issue, veered rightward. Now that the School Choice shibboleth has been firmly implanted and Charter Schools—publicly funded private schools substantially free of state oversight—are proliferating, the process is getting very near the end. Liberal, i.e., traditional American, values will, like minerals supplanting wood fibers in petrifying logs, be replaced. (Note that the bulk of money and pressure supporting the Charter School Choice movement comes from billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Betsy DeVos, John Scully, Doris Fisher, and on and on.) Charter Schools have never been about better education; they have always been about counter-indoctrination, cleansing American public education of traditional American thought that includes the idea of a public to which individuals have a responsibility. To anyone who will look, the implications are clear.

Charter Schools drain scarce funds from a public school system that, since FDR, has had one primary purpose—indoctrinating citizens in support of Democratic Capitalism—and redirects that purpose to support propulsez-faire, a version of capitalism that walks hand in hand with authoritarianism and its alter ego: imposed religious doctrine (doctrine being the root of indoctrination). This new educational paradigm will, over time (remember their patience), evolve. American history and mythology, the stories we tell ourselves to explain who we are and how we got here, will be revised. 

A subtly reinterpreted American past and not-so-subtly remodeled American dream will be provided us. All these factors will mesh to justify, rationally and logically, how authoritarianism and Christian-based morality are the proper, natural course of things. In the end, public education will have been remodeled to serve and protect a new status quo that will have been petrified. (At this turn of events, we should all be petrified.)

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When we think and talk about exporting democracy, most of us mean exporting Democratic Capitalism, the system with which we grew up and into which we were initiated: McDonald’s with minimum wage and child-labor laws. We assume, without interrogating those assumptions, that exporting democracy is a good thing, rarely considering the interdependent elements that a functioning American-style Democratic Capitalism—capitalism with a human face—requires: an open-to-all, free public education system that teaches people not only to read but also precisely how to understand what they’ve read; meaningful restraints on the impulses of individuals and organizations that are impelled to impose their values and agendas on others; broadly—not necessarily ubiquitously—shared values; a tradition of civil service that resists bribery, undue influence, and nepotism; a tradition of self-imposed discipline; a tradition of civilian leadership of the military; a tradition of civilian-led policing; broadly decentralized power (it was the inability of Trump factions to control decentralized vote counting and reporting that saved our republic); and common history and mythology. All of that must be inculcated—must be indoctrinated—so that it seems natural when individuals make choices that support the system. Decadence develops as this indoctrination decays.

Not every citizen has to share all of these, only enough. Functioning Democratic Capitalism requires a complex, multi-faceted infrastructure is a trickle-up system. It cannot be imposed on an unprepared population. Other versions of capitalism can, but Democratic Capitalism simply won’t function in small, poor countries with long histories of unbridgeable income inequality; unbreachable aristocracy; institutionalized serfdom; religious infiltration of and control of government; accepted systems of patronage, bribery, nepotism, and influence peddling; ossified clan relations; interfering foreign corporations; low levels of literacy; and non-complementary narratives of history and mythology. It’s just not fucking possible, and those who propose it are either cynical, not really believing it will work but with a hidden agenda, or delusional. Or both.

Democratic Capitalism requires that individual citizens behave responsibly in relation to Democratic Capitalism. For it to function in poor countries, old ways of getting along and understanding must be replaced, their history rewritten, their mythology reformulated to support new ways of seeing, understanding, and being in a new environment. The local past must be recast so that the present is understood in ways that allow visions of the future to change. All that takes time, yet otherwise eerily patient capitalists run short of patience in the face of a decline in quarterly profits.

Without all three legs of the infrastructure tripod—Physical (roads, power grids, vehicles and fuel, human physiological needs), Financial (currency, banking system, credit, jobs), and Political (education, mythology, history, culture)—Democratic Capitalism, doesn’t work. It can’t. But to the Chicago Bros, that doesn’t matter, because other forms of capitalism do work, albeit for fewer people, i.e., them, and can be imposed from the top down. Or, if there is a third leg is present, like there is here, it can be—in fact is being—amputated. (Distraction is an excellent anesthetic.)

Disappearing America Series:

Disappearing America: Feeling the Bern—Part 1
Monday, 28 November 2022

Disappearing America: The Red Menace—Part 2
Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Disappearing America: I Was Objective When I Started—Part 3
Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Disappearing America: It’s Only Faire—Part 4
Thursday, 1 December 2022

Disappearing America: More For Me—Part 5
Friday, 2 December 2022

Disappearing America: Indoctrination Nation—Part 6
Saturday, 3 December 2022

America Disappeared: What We Could Have Been Doing in the Shadows—Part 7
Friday, 4 December 2022