During the run up to last weekend’s TPAC Trumpapaloozza festival in Orlando, we have been served with a yuge shift in ReTrumplican political thought as long time “conservative” pols and pundits have pivoted to embrace communism and abandon defense of free market capitalism.
The apparent impetus for this evolution was the decision of multiple private, free market, capitalist corporations to enforce their own, private, capitalistic rules for using their services. It has long been capitalist dogma that free markets, allowing corporations to do as they please, is always best. So corporations should be allowed to set their own conditions for people wanting to work for them:
- Accept the lowest pay and benefits the corporation thinks it can get away with paying;
- Work under the least safe conditions the corporation sets;
- Live in Corporate housing, when the corporation can require it;
- Buy at the company store, rather than at lower cost places;
- Do not meet with union organizers;
- Do not attend liberal churches;
- Do not even talk to your neighbors about how you feel about corporate restrictions.
The ReTrumplicans are handing the Democratic majority a free chance to restore the balance that Ronald Reagan destroyed.
Such restrictions on employee life have been considered permissible corporate behavior. Such restrictions necessarily impede open competition, the pretended purpose of capitalist dogma. But that’s OK, as long as the result is increased profits. The prohibitions against talking (or even listening) to union organizers, or pro-employee preachers or advocates for workplace safety or pollution control are all considered legitimate corporate restrictions, since they are calculated to maintain and increase capitalist profits.
But from time to time, the interests of corporations come into conflict with each other. This seems to happen at times of industrial transition. When new technologies make old, established businesses less profitable, conflicts arise, often in unexpected ways. As self-powered vehicles started to become common in the early 20th century, they quickly undercut the more expensive horse-powered vehicles. Gas-powered trucks were cheaper to operate than horses were to maintain. And trucks took up less space than horse-drawn wagons in crowded cities. So trucks and cars displaced horses, wagons, carriages and the extensive support industries that surrounded horse-powered life.
Tangentially, the introduction of self-powered vehicles made clear to urban residents that the massive volumes of draft animal waste that filled their streets and flowed in the gutters was not inevitable. People’s thoughts turned to the idea that government could regulate the dropping of animal waste everywhere. At the same time, science was advancing the notion that animal and human waste posed quantifiable health risks, giving rise to calls that government should regulate what people saw the it could regulate.
Within the lifetime of some LA Progressive readers, the development of radio, film and then television undercut the markets for theater and book and magazine publishers. And the internet has all but destroyed the business of local newspapers.
There was a time when Republicans supported the concept that businesses which operated under the protection of government regulations and restrictions on competition should share a little of their benefits with the public. So the “Fairness Doctrine” was implemented to require that those who profited from government protection in communications share some of their communications access with differing voices.
But as the power of the communications industry became clearer, Republicans started to oppose the concept of fairness in broadcasting. Ronald Reagan ended the Fairness Doctrine and essentially gave control of broadcast media to corporate control. Almost overnight, dissenting voices were silenced under the tidal wave of Morton Downey- and Rush Limbaugh-style ranters, always too scared of debate to allow any alternate opinions to challenge theirs’.
As the internet started to evolve, it quickly became apparent that pornography was going to be the big moneymaker for Internet Service Providers (ISPs). And those service providers instantly saw that the small but very loud business of fundraising off of psuedo-religious “anti-porn” campaigns might be turned to attack ISPs. So they spent millions of their new earnings to buy protection from Congress, as so many businesses have in the past.
The result was the Communications Decency Act, enacted in 1996, which protected ISPs from liability for promoting pornography, one-sided political programming, and which promoted a consolidation of media. Before 1996, thousands of radio stations around the country were independently owned and programmed. As a result of the act, a handful of corporations have consolidated ownership of all broadcast media in the nation, and have stamped out variety in musical programming, as well as diversity and dissent in news and other programming.
The Act encouraged ISP corporations to consolidate and to impose their own rules for how their services could be used. Not surprisingly, the rules were all crafted to increase corporate profits, and the right of corporations to grab personal data from users. In order to appeal to the widest range of people, and to discourage public calls for fairer regulations, the corporate rules often include provisions prohibiting promotion of violence, and discouraging overt race, gender, religious or cultural bigotry.
People generally went along with the private capitalistic corporate rules for ISP use. Until The Donald got frustrated. Once ISPs started to block posts by him, or for him, that consciously, intentionally violated the ISP’s rules for use of their services, the Republican Party changed its traditional position. Corporate ISPs should no longer be able to enforce their private, capitalist rules for customers to follow. The government should step in to force ISPs to allow use of their facilities for the benefit of government-approved speech.
This is really an about-face as the Republican Party transitions to the ReTrumplican Party. But it doesn’t mean any shift in some core values. Last week’s announcement by alt-white lawyer Megan Kelly that she’s pulled her children out of schools that insist on teaching them about “social justice” (i.e.: equality and civil rights) reminds us how deeply the emotions of bigotry still run in ReTrumplican circles. Schools that teach the wrong things—the truth—like corporations that try to enforce their own capitalist rules, are now fair game.
It’s sort of reminiscent of the bolsheviks fighting the Tzarists on their right, while simultaneously attacking the Mensheviks on their left. What is exposed is not any effort to benefit the masses, the base, “their people,” but rather a naked drive for power and the profits it can yield. As always, mere truth is a casualty.
It is a hopeful sign that the Republican Party now acknowledges that there must be some limits on capitalistic behavior—some regulation of corporations to keep them from acting only in pursuit of short term profits. Sure, what the ReTrumplicans are talking about is Soviet or “ChiCom” style regulation of public expression, both silencing dissenting voices and compelling private actors to voice what the rulers want voiced.
But they are acknowledging that the Fairness Doctrine was a vital part of free discourse. Since communications channels are limited, even moreso under the consolidation driven by the Communications Decency Act, it is to the public’s benefit that the government require communications businesses whose profits are dependent on government protection, to give time for the voices of those who disagree with corporate policy. The ReTrumplicans are handing the Democratic majority a free chance to restore the balance that Ronald Reagan destroyed.
Whether the Democratic Congress steps up and acts on this opportunity to restore fairness in government protected communications may depend on citizens. The pols won’t act on their own.
But if they were to hear from constituents that the Fairness Doctrine was something to restore, and modernize to cover government protected ISPs, the current dominance by corporate right-wing media could be broken.