by Josh Chernila
President Calvin Coolidge held office during the era in American history that was unprecedented in its experience of class division and wealth inequality. He set the precedent for American domestic policy that has dominated Republican politics ever since, and which, unfortunately, has become the basis for the false equivalency between parties that has existed since Bill Clinton adopted the philosophy in the early 1990s.
This quote sums up the “Washington Consensus” and the root of the calamity that now owns our nation: “The chief business of the American people is business.” – President Calvin Coolidge 1870-1933
In retrospect it is easy to see how a Washington elite in the Gilded Age of excess would espouse such a theory. Before economists really came to grips with the dangers of business cycles or came to appreciate the damage done in the absence of a powerful middle class, stock market gains appeared to be American gains and the big money party seemed like it could last forever.
Nearly a hundred years later, we, as Americans, should have a broader understanding of history and economics, but apparently we do not. Business cycles show us that there is a rise and fall in the affairs of business. An historical perspective that includes the experiences of 1930’s Germany and the fall of Rome, point directly to the collapse of middle class power as central causes of the rise of violent dictators, the decay of societies, and the fall of democracy and freedom.
Moreover, this dangerous philosophy, ignores the damage done in the excesses of business. The focus of corporate governance is the maximization of quarterly earnings, but the impact of businesses can be massively destructive outside of those parameters. Examples of this abound. Before environmental protections came online in America, polluters set fire to the Great Lakes, poisoned our children, left our air burned out and destroyed. How many human beings died in the process of creating the great transcontinental railroads? The power of mass retailers drive how many millions of small retailers out of business? How many indigenous populations have been abused or eradicated to protect and expand corporate wealth? Economic growth and business success based on fossil fuel extraction, have proven an existential threat to life on Earth.
Business analysts ignore the damage done to the world that result from doing business as not the problem of business. Economists refer to them as “externalities”; issues external to the interests of corporate wealth maximization.
In reality, the actual people in America have a much more diverse set of interests than corporate wealth creation. We have kids. We get sick. We like to walk outdoors and breathe the fresh air. We have mental health concerns. We love, live, die, and create. We worship God. We mourn the deaths of those we love. We educate ourselves and our children. We give and take and care and lose. We do so much more than trade our time for wages, pay rents, and sell products and services.
For nearly one hundred years, corporate hegemony – absolute corporate power in American government – has been the poorly hidden aim of the Republican party, while Democrats have fought for “externalities” – everything from social justice and religious freedom, to environmental protections and the dignity of work. Unfortunately, Democrats since Bill Clinton have abandoned the perception that there is s difference between the Republican aim and the Democratic. The election of Donald Trump along with House and Senate majorities and control of government in the majority of states governments, has now eliminated all pretense and all opposition.
In reality, the Business of the American people is and must be America. We must protect the unique destiny of this nation and each and every person within. We must lead the world by showing that justice, freedom, and opportunity are available to everyone here; that the government can create environments which grant each and every American citizen freedom from fear and want, and freedom of speech and faith so that each person and the nation as a whole can find its unique destiny.
The age of Trump, beyond all of its spreading hate and ignorance, beyond all of the fig-leaf 24-hour news cycle controversies, will simply be the moment when the Republican party finally has its opportunity to end the soul of America. Fascism is, economically, the merger of corporate and government interests. The Paul Ryan/Republican budget calls for the privatization of every aspect of public life for the enrichment of the very few, and at the expense of the future and the destiny of every American and the world.
The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and Calvin Coolidge are all wrong. The business of America is America, and must be once again. As we watch the vultures circle, preparing for the moment when the soul of our nation is eclipsed in corruption and as all market indexes reach records, realize that capitalism, while important within a regulated framework, will destroy all life on Earth, but not until after next quarter’s record corporate earnings report.