Alan Zendell, October 20, 2022
Analogies can be misleading, and there are more differences than similarities in the political crises facing the United Kingdom and the United States, but there’s a warning for Americans in the shockingly rapid demise of UK Prime Minister Liz Truss. COVID, war in Ukraine, climate change, supply chain problems, and OPEC placing its interests ahead of the industrial world’s have created serious challenges for the world’s largest economies.
Since the massive global shift toward progressive government in the 1960s and 70s, there has been a predictable trend back toward fiscal conservatism and the political clout of the wealthy. In the United States, the driving force was Ronald Reagan’s push for smaller government, lower taxes, and the Taxpayer Protection Pledge created by Conservative activist Grover Norquist. The Pledge, which was signed by 95% of Republicans running for office, is a promise to oppose all tax increases and expansions of progressive programs. It is an essential component of supply side economics and its corollary trickle-down theory, which asserts that the more the upper classes are enriched the more money will trickle down to social and education programs.
Over the last forty years, supply side economics, which George H. W. Bush compared to voodoo, never delivered what it promised, except for the part about making the extremely wealthy wealthier and expanding the earnings gap between upper, middle, and lower classes. After Barrack Obama mobilized progressive voters who cared about saving social programs and opposed our war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the extreme right realized it needed drastic action to maintain its power and influence. Thus evolved Roger Ailes and Fox News, who hand-picked Donald Trump to unite xenophobes, racists, misogynysts, and anyone who could be convinced that their own failures were the result of “socialist” policies.
To offset the “browning of America,” which would soon have made white Americans a voting minority, Trump’s movement supported efforts by Republicans to restrict non-white voting and gerrymander the hell out of local legislative and Congressional districts. Most ominous, Trump’s half of the Republican party promulgated lies about non-existent election fraud and supported violent insurrection as means of staying in power. Support for both is the price of Trump’s endorsement.
At the heart of all this is the ongoing fight to control wealth and power. But politicians are playing a zero-sum game – there’s only a finite amount of wealth and power, so the wealthier the people at the top become, the less there is for the other 99%. Liz Truss learned the hard way that you can only squeeze so many golden eggs out of that poor goose before you kill her. Truss is a hard-right Conservative who completely bought in to supply side economics.
In six weeks as Prime Minister, she attempted to enact her “mini budget,” which would have lowered taxes to an unsustainable level based on Britain’s declining GNP. Its wrongheaded approach to Brexit and the EU had already brought the UK to the brink of economic chaos. When you’ve reached the tipping point, it only takes a small nudge to cause everything to crash and burn; that’s what happened to Truss’s government. The pound crashed, and the International Monetary Fund sounded alarm bells. It took only days for a consensus among everyone except Truss’s closest allies that her policies would result in disaster for the UK.
How is that related to our midterm elections? Consider the Republican legislative blueprint written by Florida Senator Rick Scott. Scott pledged that if voters return control of the Senate to Republicans, they will make the Trump tax cuts, which cost our economy more than $2 trillion, permanent, while sunsetting all laws that enable programs most Americans depend on: health care, unemployment protection, public education, and financial support for the poor, blind, and disabled. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pledged to reduce or end support for Ukraine, while Republicans in general, oppose funding for renewable energy resources and would reduce immigration to mostly white Europeans.
Those issues are what brought our strongest ally to its knees. The UK is not the force it once was, but if its future could be severely threatened by irresponsible politics, what does that say about ours? If anyone suggested, five years ago, that the UK would have five governments fall in six years, would you have believed it? Trump has brought the United States to an equally dangerous pass. Our democracy is tottering the edge of an abyss. Our best hope for the future lies with the voters.
A close friend, a career military veteran who was a registered Republican for more than fifty years, told me his only priority filling out his 2022 ballot was protesting Trump’s takeover of his party. He voted for every Democrat on the ballot, without even reading their names.