Regulation, progressive taxes, public education, and a social safety net are the means by which we create a sustainable economy that benefits all of us, Greg Camp argues.
First published in January 2020.
The turn of the new year brought with it the hashtag, #Roaring20s, to Twitter, used by the MAGA crowd to express their gleeful anticipation of economic growth, military power, and American greatness in a second Trump term.
Trumpism is a movement against history, a wish to retcon the past into simple glory that does not require us to admit that those days were anything but perfect. But it has been necessary for Trump and his supporters to be vague about when America was great in the past, since naming a specific period brings with it all the flaws of that moment in our history, as well as all the time — such as the Eisenhower years — when the rich were taxed at far higher rates in a booming economy, when Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt and Nixon cared about the environment, and when presidents like George H.W. Bush understood that international action had to be international to succeed.
“It has been necessary for Trump and his supporters to be vague about when America was great in the past, since naming a specific period brings with it all the flaws of that moment in our history.”
To pick the 1920s as a model for a new decade, though, is an odd choice. As an aside, we have not yet started the third decade of this century. The Gregorian calendar has no Year Zero, and thus we do not switch over until the 1st of January 2021. But more importantly, the roaring of the twenties was a tsunami, not the rising tide to float all boats, a decade of criminality and greed that raced into a crash.
The era got an early spark with Prohibition, a ham-handed swing of Carrie Nation’s hatchet at the personal behavior of the people. What followed was thirteen years of disrespect for the law on the part of the ordinarily law-abiding and the movement of organized crime onto the national stage. The gin-soaked patrons of speakeasies did participate in bringing jazz into the consciousness of the majority, and their individual rebellions acted as a reminder to the government that there is a limit to how far Americans will allow intrusions into their private lives, but rebels typically need illegal logistics to keep them going, and this drives other types of crime. America’s contemporary form of prohibition, our war on drugs, has a similar effect today. Both policies were tied in to racist fears — of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe in the first example and of Hispanics and blacks in the second — and the Trump administration has only exacerbated this paranoia.
In a reverse of the astrologers’ saying, as below, so above with regard to criminality. Donald Trump rode in on a decades-long stampede of letting corporations do as they please, while telling exploited workers that they are only free when their bosses are rich and unprosecuted. He is an astonishing combination of corruption and proto-fascism, but he is not without precedent. The 1920s had its own womanizing, incompetent president with health problems who was surrounded by subordinates who used the government to enrich themselves: Warren Harding. A key difference between Trump and Harding is that the latter understood his own failings. Celebrating the idea of a second Roaring Twenties reveals what Republicans are seeking to restore.
The economic balloon of the twenties is a fixation for the right wing, even though the rest of us know how the story ends. Reagan’s attacks on taxes and regulations are also nothing new. The notion of trusting businesses to govern themselves and rich people to share the wealth goes back to Republican economic policies that led to the Great Depression. This lesson is one that the right refuses to learn, as the trajectory of the national debt since the 80s and the Great Recession of 2008 illustrate — which was sadly in part the result of Bill Clinton’s willingness to be a Republican with regard to banking regulations. And lest we forget, though productivity has continued to rise, the rate of wage increase flattened out in the Reagan administration, while compensations for executives have gone from thirty times an hourly worker’s in 1978 to more than 270 times in recent years.
The reality is that regulation, progressive taxes, public education, and a social safety net are the means by which we create a sustainable economy that benefits all of us. The Republican platform is the equivalent of what a drunk would do given a pile of cash and an open liquor store. By contrast, the economy experiences significantly larger growth under Democratic presidents — especially when they are not having to pull us out of messes created by deregulation and tax cuts. Or when Democratic presidents do not behave like Republicans by relaxing the rules under which banks operate.
“Regulation, progressive taxes, public education, and a social safety net are the means by which we create a sustainable economy that benefits all of us.”
The progressive economic platform of sustainable growth and focus on workers is exactly what America needs to avoid a repetition of the Roaring Twenties, to choose instead steady — dare I say conservative — movement forward.🔷
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