Monday, January 20, 2020

President Trump, the Republican Party and the Parrington Question

by Nomad

Most of you have probably never heard of Vernon Parrington. I know I hadn't until I stumbled upon an interesting quote. That's pretty remarkable because, in our grandparent's time, historian Parrington occupied a special place, particularly among the progressive-minded.

The Parrington Question

This Midwestern educator was also the author of the three-volume Main Currents in American Thought (1927) which went on to win the 1928 Pulitzer Prize for History  As his biography reminds us, for two decades this historical examination and analysis was one of the most influential books for American historians.
Progressive history was a set of related assumptions and attitudes, which inspired the first great flowering of professional American scholarship in history...His progressive interpretation of American history was highly influential in the 1920s and 1930s and helped define modern liberalism in the United States. After receiving overwhelming praise and exerting enormous influence among intellectuals in the 1930s and 1940s, Parrington's ideas fell out of fashion before 1950.
Somehow, Parrington's reputation did not survive his abrupt shift in the intellectual wind. Since the 1950s, his works have been largely ignored by scholars. (Just in time for Eisenhower's warning about the military-industrial complex and the recruitment of a B-grade movie star as a spokesperson for corporate America.)

Parrington's ideology was rooted in his disgust for the excesses and evils of the private and unregulated capitalist system. Having witnessed the economic inequality first hand, Parrington recognized the dangers of corporate power in the Gilded Age as the federal government began shielding capitalists from local and state regulation.

This question comes with a follow-up. What happens - God forbid- when governments fall into the hands of corporate power?

A Special Synthesis

At precisely the same time his book was winning accolades, history was preparing an answer to Parrington's question in the form of the fascist model.
As Mussolini noted in his 1932 Doctrine of Fascism, "corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of the State." Fascism was a "special synthesis of corporations and government."
That definition might surprise a lot of Trump supporters.

Today we have seen executive authority ceded to a corporate executive, lacking in even a basic understanding of how government works and the tenets and prohibitions of the Constitution. Voters have noted that precious little attention has been paid to middle-class workers in need of a living wage. In fact, according to the 2020 budget, governmental benefits- such as food stamps and Social Security- to be slashed.

We have watched as the machinery of government has come to a stop while its gears are dismantled. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has passed nearly 400 bills, where they have largely sat untouched upon reaching the Senate under Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell- a man who came to Washington promising to bring change.

Outside of pushing through as many deregulating federal judges as possible- qualified or not, the Republican Party's only real accomplishment in this administration has been to pass $1.5 trillion tax cut in 2017. This has led to a 31 percent drop in corporate tax revenue, sending the deficit into orbit. While corporate taxes are now at their lowest level in 50 years the federal deficit has spiked 12 percent to $342 billion during the first two months of the fiscal year 2020, according to data from the Congressional Budget Office.
Since there is no way these policies are sustainable, the synthesis of corporate interest and government authority must be aimed only at looting the national treasury before the jig is up.

The Robber Baron Yoke

If Parrington were alive today, he would not be at all surprised. He noted that a government, controlled by corporations, for the needs of corporations (and their owners) has always been a threat to the democratic Republic. That much was obvious to all of the crusaders of the Progressive era.

Under such robber baron yoke, governments can never properly represent the will of the people, nor protect the rights of the minority. 
It inevitably has other priorities. While providing as many benefits as quickly it can to the ruling class, a corporate-owned government first guards its hold on power by undermining free and fair elections, then by controlling the media. pitting demographic against demographic, one party against party, and the locals against the immigrant class.    
The political state tends inevitably to self-aggrandizement, the logical outcome of which is a political leviathan, too big and too complex for popular control. With sovereign powers vested in the hands of governmental agents, those agents lie under a constant temptation to corruption and tyranny, and in the end, the align the powers of the state on the side of the most ambition and capable. The greater the power of the government, the ampler its revenues, the more energetic its administration, the more dangerous it may become to the rights of men; what prize could be greater than the privilege of exploiting society in the name of the state? History knows no objective more tempting to the will to power than the control of the absolute state.
And no doubt, we are seeing history unfolding. For the moment, (at least, until November) the pillaging and looting will go on. The oversight laws will be openly flaunted and ignored. Until things change, literally anything can occur. Right under our noses. While the corporate news outlets point in opposite directions.

Without a concerted effort on both sides of the ideological spectrum, it may take decades for America to recover from this betrayal of our core principles.
And that's the most positive forecast.