The Once and Future Gilded Age
This country is so weird.
Sometimes exhilarating and sometimes incredibly depressing, the United States is full of paradoxes. This is a tough week for me. There’s one big thing to celebrate–the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, with stronger protections for marginalized groups and pressure that forced the House Republican Troglodyte Caucus to cave.
Yet at the exact same time that a statue of Rosa Parks is being unveiled at the Capitol, Antonin Scalia and John Roberts are fulfilling their lifelong goal of repealing the meaningful clauses of the Voting Rights Act, potentially returning us to a pre-Civil Rights era of voting repression, although likely in more sophisticated ways than the ol’ let’s kill black voters routine of the pre-1965 era.
And now we have the sequester.
It seems to me that people are not taking the sequester seriously enough. There’s a reason for that. It’s March 1 and we woke up and nothing significant was different. It doesn’t fit our 24 hour news cycle. Meanwhile, even outstanding publications are all Bob Woodward, all the time. Look at TPM’s page today. It’s embarrassing. Woodward’s a blowhard and it is a legitimate story. The sequester is about 5000 times more important.
The United States, 1911 and 2013.
The real threat of the sequester is that it takes a big step forward in the Republican goal of returning the U.S. to the Gilded Age. Without doing anything at all, the Republicans force the government cutbacks they’ve been dreaming of. They don’t suffer in any way. The people suffer tremendously, but slowly, over time. This is like the frog in the boiling pot of water analogy (even if frogs don’t actually do that). Very slowly, without us hardly noticing, government services are reduced. People normalize those reduced services. National parks are shut down. Small airports basically stop functioning because of air traffic control reductions. Scientific research grants are reduced. Furloughed federal employees stop buying things, creating negative investment that leads to layoffs through the economy. Health programs are slashed. Adios to environmental protections. These things have a negative effect on people’s lives, but we don’t experience them immediately or every day. Just when we need them. Poor person needs an HIV test? Sorry. And they are gone, unlikely to ever come back.
There’s just no reason for Republicans to cave on this. Obama agreeing to the sequester idea because of his faith that some kind of grand bargain could be struck and his belief that Republicans would never allow this to happen was a gigantic miscalculation. Dave Weigel believes this strengthens Obama and the imperial presidency. And it’s possible we reach a point where the Executive Branch simply rules unilaterally because the legislative branch falls into complete dysfunction. Not only is that a terrible thing in the long-term (who wants to see President Rubio ruling unilaterally?) but that process will be slow and painful to transition to anything like an effective government.
Meanwhile, the drowning of government coincides with the disappearance of government supervision over voter repression. It also happens at the same time that the capitalists are just dying to return to 2007-esque housing bubbles and sketchy profitmaking. Dave Dayen’s piece from a couple of weeks ago on Wall Street investors buying up all the homes they can to rent them out strongly suggests the replacement of home ownership with slumlord rentals as the new housing norm in American society. Without good jobs and access to credit and with ever-increasing student debt loads, how will what used to be the middle-class afford a home? No real interest for Wall Street to see this happen, not when they can profit off rental markets. Suzy Khimm with more on this.
All of this leads the American public to feel hopeless about creating change. Only the Democrats could come up with a terrible name like “sequester” to describe this, obscuring the real and scary meanings of this disaster. We just trudge along, seeing that engaging in politics is hopeless and instead try to make the increasingly frayed ends of our life meet, at least for this week or month.
And we march on, without well-paying work, with huge debt loads, without voter protections for historically oppressed groups, without a functioning National Labor Relations Board, with fewer food safety inspectors, slowly back to the Gilded Age.