Neoliberalism Explained: Why it must be dismantled

Neoliberalism is the dominant economic orthodoxy in the modern era. It is both a political and a financial ideology, with the following extremist beliefs:

  • Antigovernment sentiment — Their pitch is that all governments, including democratic ones, threaten individual liberty and must be stopped (or “drowned in the bathtub,” in the words of anti-tax zealots and movement conservatives).
  • Free markets should conquer governments — They claim, absurdly, that the toppling of self-governance would improve both economies and individual liberties.
  • The victory of markets is inevitable and there is nothing you can do about it — The fall of the Soviet Union was deemed the “end of history” by neoliberals, who believed that laissez-faire free market capitalism would inevitably triumph over all other forms of economic and political systems.
  • Economies work best when governments don’t intervene — Neoliberals want to prevent the powers of government from interfering with their ability to cut corners, dump industrial waste, pay fair wages, offer benefits, adhere to safety standards, engage in deceptive advertising, commit tax evasion, and so on — while continuing to supply them a steady stream of the public’s money via unpaid for tax cuts that balloon holes in the deficit. They fight against regulation tooth and nail, and try to claim that markets operate “naturally” as if under something akin to laws of physics — while failing to mention that there are no markets without regulation, without standards of fairness, without a justice system to enforce contracts and do its best to ensure a relatively equal business playing field.
  • The alchemy of neoliberalism will transmute greed into gold for everyone — The neoliberal promise is about spreading wealth, freedom, and democracy around the world — at the barrel of a gun, missile, or drone if necessary. Neoliberals consider greed to be the essence of human nature, and have modeled an entire societal system around this most base of human instincts. They claim, improbably — and surely many are True Believers — that narcissism and the aggressive pursuit of power and wealth will somehow magically create peace, happiness, and riches for everyone.

The insistence that governments and self-rule should be subordinated to the ultra-rich, to the oligarchs — that, to me, is the core essence of why this framework is evil. The staggeringly dissonant conviction about transforming sociopathy into global peace is a very close second.

Since the 1970s and accelerating with Reagan years, wealthy elites in the right wing have been spending gobs of their ill-earned wealth on creating a conservative movement echo chamber of think tanks, talk radio, literature, televangelists, YouTube streamers, and more — it is the vast right-wing conspiracy Hillary Clinton warned us about. It most certainly exists, and it most certainly is aggressively pursuing its political aims to disenfranchise the American people as fully as possible, so as to better walk away with an absurdly unjust share of the mutually created wealth by the wealth of intelligent and diligent labor here in the United States.

It appeals to the MAGA crowd because it allows them to vicariously tag along with the rich and powerful right-wing bigots who flaunt and dangle their wealth in front of the plebes by which to entice them to open up their wallets and send in a meagre donation for this or that white victimhood fund that does nothing but enrich the scam artists who run it as a hollow shell. It validates their hardcore white supremacy and casual racism alike, provides the sadistic satisfaction of attacking their enemies (symbolically and/or literally), gives them something to do and believe in, and keeps them entertained while their pockets are being fleeced in broad daylight.

Neoliberalism has succeeded in undermining some of the last shreds of democratic infrastructure and civic goodwill in society at this point in American political history. The defenses brilliantly architected by the Founders to ensure checks and balances would manage the power games in Washington to within workable levels have frayed even further under 4 years of Trump, and the vitriol of the January 6 coup attempt and insurrection that’s fueled further right-wing Big Lie entrenchment and domestic terrorist extremism.

Democracy is in crisis, and neoliberalism the culprit of this hostage story.

At least Joe Biden is correct in his analysis of the solution: we should tax the rich.

Values of the Left and the Right: Liberal vs. Authoritarian Worldviews

The following list must be prefaced with some caveats about painting with broad strokes, and acknowledging everything is a distribution and Not All Republicans espouse all of these things to the same degree or even at all. Nevertheless, both the extremism and the polarization in our political system is the highest in recent memory — certainly in the totality of my Generation X memory, and by all accounts the highest since the 1930s. Extremism is high on both the Left and the Right, but research shows it’s been growing much more extreme on the Right.

And in many ways it feels like we are living through something akin to the 1930s, again. The rise in authoritarian regimes and totalist thought and linguistic patterns is troubling and dangerous. The United States never had an armed insurrection take over the Capitol building prior to January 6, 2021. America has had many periods of brutality in its past and present, but historically speaking nothing like the recent decades of escalating mass shooter events.

What can explain the religious devotion to a failed businessman and failed President on the Right? Loathe him through we might on the Left, Trump is revered on the Right for espousing the “virtues” of a traditional hierarchical society, and for giving coded approval to America’s most shadowy extremist groups that he would be finding excuses to look the other way if they chose to strike. They both held up their ends of the bargain, with would-be assassins in tactical gear assaulting the nation’s lawmakers as they certified the 2020 election results as mandated by the Constitution, and paid puppets in the Senate letting them all off the hook… technically speaking, that is.

Trump looked the other way, but only for another 14 days — until Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. With a new sheriff Merrick Garland in town, all bets are off regarding leniency for the nation’s most vile and seditious lot who stormed the Capitol and disrupted the peaceful transfer of power for the first time in US history — a sad day for the country and its venerable history of managing to keep the republic.

This will be a work in progress, as usual. And a tool for discussion — we’re going to need it for the coming years.

Liberal ValuesAuthoritarian Values
EqualityHierarchy
JusticeForce
LibertyControl
Popular sovereigntyUnpopular rule
Common goodPrivatization
LogicMagical Thinking
ReasonPower
TruthPropaganda
HistoryMyth
RealityFantasy
ResponsibilityEscapism
RationalityIrrationality
IntegrityHypocrisy
CharacterCharacter disorder
WisdomIgnorance
GenerosityGreed
HonestyDeception
EarnestnessCynicism
SkepticismLoyalty
CuriosityBoredom
CompassionContempt
EmpathySadism
Driven by careDriven by fear
MoralityNihilism
TransparencySecrecy
ConsiderationCallousness
PatienceImpatience
MaturityImmaturity
Emotional intelligenceEmotional manipulation
WholeheartednessCognitive dissonance
VulnerabilityDefensiveness
AuthenticityMimicry
DeliberationAct without thinking
De-escalationAggression
ConsciousUnconscious
Self-awareSelf-deception
EducationBrainwashing
DiversityConformity
CreativityDestruction
ArtisticFundamentalist
SolutionsGrievance
CommunityRugged individualism
TrustDistrust
GratitudeEnvy
RespectDisrespect
SustainabilityExtraction
Self-regardCathexis
SpiritualityReligiosity
Self-actualizationFollow the leader
Problem solvers"Tear it down"-ers

Biden’s American Rescue Plan: Democrats’ first big win

The $1.9 trillion covid relief package that passed the Senate this weekend is a major legislative victory just 6 weeks into Biden’s term. The American Rescue Plan will give his Presidency and Democrats in the 117th session of Congress a huge boost — in enacting more of Biden’s agenda, in the economy, in replenishing strained state and local coffers, and in giving the Democrats 100% of the credit for the hope, the recovery, and the return to normalcy for hundreds of millions of Americans. Senator Sanders called it the “most significant piece of legislation to benefit working people in the modern history of this country” — and he’s a tough one to please!

Of course, the right wing is churning out its usual disinformation machine around the contents of the bill. Zero Republicans voted for it, which puts them on record indelibly forever as voting against relief checks, against pandemic assistance, against schools reopening, against… everything of most relevance to most people at this time, according to the majority of Americans polled who favor it (62%). Let’s take a look at all the urgent relief that’s actually in the bill.

What’s in the American Rescue Plan

  • $1400 direct checks
  • $300/week unemployment extension through September
  • Increased child tax credit to $3000-$3600 in 2021 and made it fully refundable
  • Extending COBRA benefits and health benefits
  • $170 billion for safely reopening schools
  • $20 billion for vaccination programs
  • $30 billion for PPE
  • $350 billion for state and local governments devastated and depleted from the pandemic
  • Funding for covid testing, contact tracing, and forecasting
  • Relief for restaurants, small businesses, and farmers
  • Child care and child nutrition funds
  • Tax credits for sick leave and family leave
  • Funding for community health, mental health, and the opioid crisis
  • Emergency rental assistance, rural housing, homelessness relief
  • FEMA funding
  • Funeral assistance
  • Relief to airlines, airports, and aviation manufacturing
  • Extend benefits to rail workers
  • VA funding

Impeachment Trial: Why Democrats didn’t call witnesses

There was a period of dashed hopes on Saturday morning during the impeachment trial of former president Trump. After securing a last-minute and unexpected motion to call witnesses, based on resurfaced testimony from Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), the House Impeachment Managers in conference with Senate Democrats and negotiation with Senate Republicans ended up deciding to call the vote instead.

They did win a concession to read Herrera Beutler’s statement into the Congressional record, and a historically unprecedented 57-43 impeachment vote to convict with 7 Republican Senators crossing the aisle to vote to convict the president of their own party of inciting sedition. But many Democrats who had gotten our hopes up for the prospect of getting to the bottom of what really happened on January 6 were quite deflated, and there were plenty of folks angry at Democrats for “caving” to Republicans once again.

The Real Reason Democrats didn’t call witnesses

As the Democrats have been making the press conference and media rounds to talk about the impeachment and talk about why they ultimately ended up deciding not to move forward with calling witnesses, some of the anger is subsiding but plenty of people are still miffed.

In my opinion, what is probably the strongest reason of all that Democrats didn’t call witnesses, is the one fact not being widely cited by the Democrats including the House Impeachment Managers. And that argument is: walking and chewing gum at the same time was not going to be possible. Calling witnesses would have meant getting led down the garden path by the Masters of Game Delay.

There was some optimism before the impeachment trial that the Senate would be able to find a way to handle the trial and also juggle legislative business plus confirmation hearings and votes for Biden cabinet members and other high-level executive positions. Unfortunately, the parliamentary rules for impeachment proceedings are both old and strict, and preclude the Senate from taking up other regular legislative or executive business while the trial is in progress from Monday to Saturdays until complete, according to the rules of 1868.

The only way to get around this is to have the chamber meet in a separate session. And the only way to get a separate session is via unanimous consent — which requires a full 100 votes. After the vote on calling witnesses, McConnell indicated he would withhold his party’s support for unanimous consent to do any other business besides the trial. He also reportedly threatened to obstruct and delay the rest of the 2-year legislative agenda, including the confirmation of Merrick Garland as AG. Everyone saw the struggle to get to just 57, so I agree it does not seem credible that enough GOP Senators at that point would have suddenly found an “I am Spartacus!” moment.

It would have sandbagged Biden’s agenda

Not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time would have tanked Biden’s ability to get the help to the American people that they need — full stop. No budget reconciliation and covid relief plan. No cabinet nominations. No other executive branch noms. No economic plan.

It would only play into the hands of Republicans to obstruct Biden’s agenda indefinitely and infinitely. Their base is rewarding them only for loyalty to Trump, and punishing any of the “deviants” who vote to hold him accountable. The GOP would just blame the Democrats for not getting anything done, and for dragging out this “highly political” trial that actually they will be drawing out with procedural nonsense and legal abuse — a Trumpian specialty!

I think it’s arguably just as important that Democrats be able to say that they got swift and solid help to Americans in a time of crisis, otherwise the 2022 midterms are the next jump point for authoritarian takeover. We can still pursue justice via other means that are just as enduring and have the potential to uncover so much more about the events leading up to and surrounding January 6.

The Other Good Reasons

Beyond the parliamentary jiujitsu, there are several other compelling reasons Democrats didn’t call witnesses:

  • Witnesses are not generally called live onto the Senate floor — for impeachment trials, depositions are taken in trial committees, then read into the record. Senators have to submit their questions in writing, and there is no live cross-examination. In other words, the thing most folks would be looking for which is public testimony, would not be forthcoming — the committee work could take weeks or months, and Republicans benefit more from agenda delays because their base no longer even cares about policy anymore.
  • Entering Jaime Herrera Beutler’s statements into the record accomplished the same thing a deposition would have done — it read her testimony into the official legislative annals of history. It gave additional ammunition to any of the potential federal, state, or local investigations that may follow the conclusion of the trial. And it showed indelibly the lengths to which even Republican lawmakers were willing to go to pursue justice against this lawless president.
  • No more Republican votes were going to change anyway — the trial was at “peak persuasion” because the rest of the pack were going to hide behind the procedural issue regardless. In other words, like SCOTUS to Trump’s frivolous election fraud claims, they refused to hear the case “on the merits” even though they were subject to a binding resolution on that very question that their chamber had passed on Tuesday. They chose to ignore their own binding resolution and continued to cite the fact that Trump was no longer in office as the reason the Senate lacked jurisdiction to censure him — despite the fact that it was now minority leader Mitch McConnell who insisted on delaying the start of trial past inauguration day in the first place.
  • They had already effectively made their case — as “beyond a shadow of a doubt” as is ever likely to happen in any impeachment trial ever, yet still falling on deaf ears, there isn’t much doubt that the House Managers overwhelmingly presented a successful case. I’m sympathetic to the argument that it may have proved diminishing returns as pursued through additional Senate trial time, and is undoubtedly better pursued by the justice system and through other committee work in both the Senate and the House.
  • A 9/11-style commission is much more appropriate to actually get to the bottom of the political aspects of the crime — the independent commission created by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today is going to have far more time, budget, reach, and depth than a drawn out trial in the Senate, and it won’t cannibalize the agenda of other business. It can go all the way down the rabbit hole and lead us to evidence on other potential co-conspirators, including Cruz, Hawley, Tuberville, Lee, Gomert, Greene, Jordan, Gosar, et al, all the financial ties in and around the Ellipse rally, and perhaps new federal charges for Trump’s pardoned felon buddies Bannon, Stone, and Flynn. Democrats didn’t call witnesses because now, they can call as many witnesses they like without any pressure or obstruction from Senate Republicans.
  • His lawyers are just lying — the defense portion of the witness process would be just as looney toons and Four Seasons Total Lawyering as in the main show. Trump’s lawyers are just distorting, distracting, and debasing the profession of law with their clownish disregard of the augustness of the chamber in which they stood. Giving them more time to muddy the bulk of the trial record, and more time to delay delay delay and inject the Big Lies over and over again into public consciousness, would not have necessarily been worth the tradeoff in what we might learn from additional witnesses ourselves.
  • Other witnesses went cold — Pence’s staff spoke up to refute the claim that Trump evinced concern for him during or soon after the January 6 attack. They said the former president did not contact Pence at all that day, or for 5 days afterward. And yet, when contacted by the House Impeachment Managers, they indicated they would not be willing to go so far as to testify in the trial.
  • Enthusiasm for the trial would wane in the public eye — unfortunately, the general public has a much shorter political attention span than most of us Blue Check intellectuals. While it would be total catnip for us, it would like start to have diminishing returns in the eyes of the voters, especially when they discover that other business is not proceeding. Regardless of the fact that it’s actually the Republicans holding other legislative business hostage for the trial, it will be blamed on Democrats and our entire political system has been primed to blame everything on Democrats and is generally successful — like muscle memory.

I will be looking forward to the results of the independent commission, as well as the continued criminal prosecutions of the insurrectionists and at some point, hopefully, whoever it was on the inside who was helping them.