It is interesting, but we are taught in most history classes in this country, to believe in “liberty” and “freedom.” Freedom means that people in this country are endowed with certain “rights” which protect them against such things as unlawful searches and seizures, and cruel and unusual punishment. Freedom includes such things as the right to vote for representatives and senators, the right to equal treatment under the law, the right to worship as we please, the right to a trial by a jury of our peers and the right to pursue our own happiness the way we see fit. Freedom means many things to the citizens of this country including the freedom to express oneself, the freedom to petition the government for redress of certain grievances, the freedom to travel within the country as we please and the freedom to start businesses and earn a living.
These things were set out by our founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence from England and in the United States Constitution. We are NOT taught however, that all of these rights and freedoms were meant for rather rich, white, slave-owning and land-owning MEN. The founders never intended these rights to be for everyone, including women, blacks, Hispanics, immigrants or poorer folks.
But “liberty” is another matter entirely. To Republicans, liberty means the liberty to be free of any government restraints. It means the liberty to be free of taxes that go to help other people in the country. It means the liberty to have education benefit only those who can afford it by paying “full fare.” It means the liberty for corporations to run their businesses free from government imposed regulations, no matter what those businesses do. Liberty to Republicans means the right to make as much profit as possible without regard for the lives of the rest of the population.
So, in the Trump era, “Liberty” means freedom for rich people from, literally, the bonds of decency and fair play. Trump had absolutely nothing to do with establishing this ideal. He is a willing pawn, mostly because he is wealthy himself, in the game of rich, white men stealing as much as they can from our population as a whole. (Also interesting is how he hid behind government when he declared bankruptcy five times). Indeed, it is a game that has been quite a long time in the making. The MAGA slogan really means, “let’s return to the days when white men ruled this country as they pleased.” If you read the biographies of America’s wealthiest families (I have read quite a few now), it seems that they all made their vast fortunes from what now would be illegal enterprises. Old man Joe Kennedy made his fortune largely from insider trading deals in real estate and banking which would now be outlawed. The Koch family itself, made their fortune from infringing on certain patents that belonged to the old Standard Oil (Rockefellers) and winning lawsuits in courts that were packed with judges who favored them. There were, to be sure, some people who made their fortunes on the up-and-up, but most of them were not in the same ballpark as these families.
But the real problem with this view of government is that it originated on the sly, secretly and developed to a great degree, on certain college campuses in the country. One, most notably was the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. And, it continues to this day with a great deal of help from super rich donors like the Kochs, Scaifes, Mercers, DeVoses and Sheldon Adelson. They are funding ultra right-wing “think tanks” to rival ones like the Brookings Institution in order to develop people like Brett Kavanaugh who can position themselves to take over our court system and thus rule in favor of the rich and large corporations whenever disputes arise that can be adjudicated in the courts. Betsy DeVos was appointed Secretary of Education for the US. She is a staunch believer in privatizing education so that only rich people can afford it. She is not interested in creating a viable public education system although that is her job!
These families are certainly in the forefront of people who hate any appearance or reality of “welfare” or anyone “taking” from government. This includes workers rights, child labor laws and of course, pensions. They believe in strict survival of the fittest laws. If you can’t make your own fortune and provide for your family’s well-being (your estate), then it is just too bad. You will either die or become somebody’s “slave.”
Indeed, Charles Koch believes that “Goodness in man can only grow in a climate of liberty,” and of course, by liberty he meant that corporations, especially wealthy ones like his, had to be left alone to do as they please and then their “goodness” would come about naturally! Certainly, what he didn’t understand is how the “good” people of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory locked all the exits so that their workers couldn’t “escape” and thereby perished in a terrible fire. These “good” people employed children in textile mills in the 1840s, thereby not letting them be educated in schools. These “good” people refused to pay auto workers a decent wage in the 1920s and 1930s. So, labor unions had to come into existence in an effort to redress some of the wrongs that these “good” people perpetrated on ordinary folks. Teachers’ unions arose because municipalities would not pay them a decent enough wage to enable them to live in the city they served. These are the very people that others entrusted with the lives of their children! Of course, rich people didn’t have to send their children to public schools. So, what did they care about how public school teachers were being paid.
And, of course, coal-burning energy plants and other chemical plants like those of DuPont and Dow, would, of their own “goodness” refuse to dump chemicals into waterways and refuse to pollute the atmosphere.
There are a few large corporations which have a history of treating employees well. Perhaps 3M, IBM and maybe Google or Apple. But I would bet that they are very few and far between. As a matter of fact, Amazon just raised the minimum wage for their workers to $15 per hour. Isn’t that great? However, in the same breath they took away bonuses and stock options, the very things that helped their workers the most. If you reinvested your IBM stock over the years, you might just have enough for retirement!
So, it is folly to believe that if corporations were left to their own devices with no government regulations, they would treat their workers well. These people are just greedy, plain and simple. No amount of “liberty” will change this. But people like the Kochs and now Trumps, are determined to proceed ahead with their plans of “freeing” corporations to do as they please in the name of the almighty dollar. And, they are putting judges and others in place who will see to it that things go their way.
The problem is, that these folks DO NOT CARE ABOUT ANY OF THESE THINGS! Have you seen this president talk about ANY of it? These people don’t believe in helping anyone. Their notion of government is that it should only exist for them. There should be no unions! (Look at the state government of Wisconsin under Scott Walker). There should be no freedom of the press! (Look at how the elected president talks about them). The only thing these people care about is MONEY! They want to be free of any restraints to making as much money as they possibly can. Here is a religious leader, Pat Robertson (an evangelical) who is willing, just today, to forgive the Saudis for killing a journalist because this country sells his country arms and munitions!
When Republicans talk about “the American People,” they are not talking about you and me. This is a major mistake that Republican voters make. They think it sounds great that they have lower taxes, a stronger military to protect them and a “tough” president who will stand up for their rights. But, this president and all his Republican enablers couldn’t care less about you if you aren’t a millionaire. The tax cuts for you and me will expire in a few years, but for the millionaires and billionaires, they are permanent.
So, if you are an average American worker, unions and the “government” have stood up for you and your “rights” for over 70 years now. If it wasn’t for government, there would be no integration, no workers’ rights, no Social Security, no farm-aid, no freedom of religion, no Medicare, no electricity in some rural areas, no internet for those same areas, no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press and no safety nets for anyone.
There are people in this country, very powerful and rich folks, who believe that “Liberty” means to let them do what they want with the economy, taxes, government and the “rights” of the rest of the people in the country. They want low or no taxes on themselves and their businesses. So, where will the money come from to fix the crumbling infrastructure? Where will the money come from to improve education? Where will the money come from to improve transportation? Where will the money come from to improve the lot of the middle class?
Editor’s Note: Bill Lulow wrote his oped based on his response to the book written by Nancy MacLean “Democracy in Chains.” This book can be found on Amazon.