Source: In These Times
THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE ESTABLISHED ORDER ARE CRACKING. The day after democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her Democratic primary last June, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary reported a 1,500 percent increase in searches for the word “socialism” on its website. Overall, socialism and fascism have become its most-searched words—a telling commentary. In the midterm elections, Ocasio-Cortez and another charismatic democratic socialist, Rashid Tlaib (D-Mich.), won seats in the House, and universal healthcare emerged as a potent, unifying issue that helped deliver Democrats control of that chamber.
The cornerstone of the passing era is hostility toward taxes, regulation and public investment. The era began with the election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980, but it was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who expressed its motto most memorably. “The era of big government is over,” Clinton proclaimed in his 1996 State of the Union. The white flag of surrender has flown over the Democratic Party ever since, with an all-too-brief interlude during Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign.
Perversely, it was a demagogic Republican who sensed the emergence of a new era and rode its currents to the White House. He may be a liar and a charlatan, but Donald Trump’s election-turning insight was that voters don’t want smaller government. They want government that works for them—and not for corporations. In addition to xenophobia and white Christian nationalism, Trump campaigned on massive infrastructure investment, “great” healthcare for everyone, taking on the pharmaceutical industry and “draining the swamp” of political corruption. Similar (but authentic) platforms of robust public investments and checks on corporate power have turned Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders into political sensations.
At least on paper, even the Democratic Party seems to be catching on that corruption—defined as the capture of government by wealth and special interests—is the new “big government.” In May, Democratic leadership released a three-page plan for “fixing our broken political system and returning to a government of, by, and for the people,” promising to beef up ethics laws and “combat big money influence.” If these promises are to be anything more than empty gestures, though, there is a long way to go. A May analysis by OpenSecrets showed that incumbent congressional Democrats had taken an average of $29,000 apiece from lobbyists since 2017, while Republicans had taken $30,000. In August, the Democratic National Committee overturned a ban on contributions from fossil fuel companies.