Or at least, co-ordinated efforts that look pretty conspiratorial.
At first glance, the co-ordinated effort to hobble government efforts to provide for the “general welfare”–to work on behalf of the common good–would seem to have little or nothing to do with a widely reported incident at a Wisconsin Walgreens. A married couple on vacation realized that the wife had left her birth control at home, so she went into the drugstore, picked a box of condoms from the shelf, and took them to the register. A pompous little prick at the register refused to ring them up, citing his “faith.”
There’s no law in America against being an ass, so this Walgreens clerk was entirely within his rights to behave like one. But, because of five Republicans on the Supreme Court, it now is problematic — and soon could be against the law nationwide, if Clarence Thomas gets his way — for Walgreens to fire him for “exercising his faith” when working in a drugstore.
The vast majority of Americans, opinion research shows, think a situation like this is absurd. As Jennifer Brooks notes in an article about the Pentz’s experience for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “When the Pew Research Center surveyed American attitudes about birth control, just 4% viewed contraception as morally wrong.
The writer then connected this exhibition of religious nuttery to the broader–and far more concerning–longterm effort to neuter the authority of government.
The rightwing billionaires and the corporations and foundations aligned with them knew back in 1971 — when Lewis Powell laid out their strategy in his infamous Powell Memo the year before Nixon put him on the Supreme Court — that most Americans wouldn’t happily vote to lower billionaires’ taxes, end unions and regulation of gun manufacturers, or increase the amount of refinery poisons in our air.
So the strategy they came up with to capture control of our government was pretty straightforward:
- Convince Americans that taxes aren’t “the cost of a civil society” but, instead, a “burden” that they were unfairly bearing.
- Convince Americans that regulations that protect consumers and the environment are also “burdens” from an out-of-control “nanny state.”
- Convince Americans that unions aren’t “democracy in the workplace” that protect workers’ rights but, instead, an elaborate scam to raid workers’ paychecks to the benefit of “corrupt union bosses.”
As he writes (and many others have documented) they spent five decades and billions of dollars to subsidize think tanks and policy groups at both the federal and state level. As a result, there’s now an extensive network of them reaching from coast-to-coast, all turning out copious policy papers and press releases.
They also sponsored rightwing talk radio– and Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch rolled out Fox “News” to compliment the propaganda campaign. Social media bots and trolls came later, as did literally thousands of websites pretending to be newspapers.
They hooked up with the NRA, which helped sponsor the Reagan Revolution and was richly rewarded with laws that forbade the federal government from compiling gun death statistics and gave complete immunity from lawsuits to weapons manufacturers and sellers for the damage their products cause (the only industry in America that enjoys such immunity).
And they finally got a lot of Americans to go along with their plan, because they’d added in a religious “secret sauce.”
As the writer tells it, Jerry Falwell was a critical part of that “secret sauce.”
Falwell was an inveterate grifter, hustling Jesus to build a multi-million-dollar empire while ignoring Jesus’ teachings about humility, poverty, and the need to care for others. A new, muscular Jesus — a Jesus who endorsed assault weapons and private jets for preachers — came to dominate much of America’s protestant Christianity.
This Jesus wanted you to get rich — riches are a sign of God’s blessing — and in the 1980s, the “prosperity gospel” was all over TV and in megachurches.
The televangelists became multimillionaires, churches openly defied IRS regulations and preached politics from the pulpit, and millions of mostly non-political church-goers were suddenly evangelists not just for Jesus but also for the Republican Party…
To keep the rubes coming to the churches where they’d hear that GOP message, Republicans on the Supreme Court had to throw them the occasional bone. Giving bakers the right to tell gay people wanting a wedding cake to screw off was one of them, setting up the “religious right” of pharmacists to refuse to sell condoms.
I’m dubious that these efforts were as intentional and strategic as the author clearly believes, but the degree of coordination is really irrelevant. The results–the major problems America now faces– are indisputable.
And as he says, they were all made possible by an unholy alliance of church and state that the Founders warned us against.