Wednesday Dec 02

A Recent History: The Unmaking of America

BOOK REVIEW
Evil Geniuses The Unmaking of America
BY KURT ANDERSEN

Evil Geniuses The Unmaking of America, is a new book, but it is not the first book on the subject and some of what the author has to tell us has already been said and more than once. If you’ve read Robert Kuttner’s Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism you are aware that beginning in
the mid 1970s many of the progressive gains of the 1960s and early 70s were slowly unraveled. Kuttner describes the decline of unionism and the rise of the well healed corporate lobbies and right-wing groups modeled after Alinsky-style people’s organizations.

Readers of Hacker and Pierson’s Winner Take All Politics will be aware that “From 1979 to 2006, the top 1 percent received 35 percent of all the income growth generated in the American economy, while the highest 1/10th of 1%...received nearly 20 percent…”

What Andersen brings to the table is an in-depth cultural analysis together with an explanation of how a cabal of evil geniuses, financed by big money, created the intellectual underpinnings that set the stage for this stealthy political revolution. At bottom of course, it was money, but in Andersen’s view, a lot of the blame lay with a wholesale national plunge into nostalgia in the 1970s. America lost its taste for the new, lost faith in the future and took refuge in antiquated cultural memes.

The author contributes a holistic analysis which includes an explanation of how big business and its minions were able to subvert our legal and regulatory systems. The author points out that “the successful war launched by the economic right in the 1970s and 80s had many theatres, one of which was the law”, the other, governmental regulations.”

It was, however, a collective hunger for the good old days, plus theories like Originalism and Libertarianism, which the evil geniuses melded with hippie/left slogans like “Stick it to the man”, and “Do your own thing” which were reinterpreted to support laissez-faire Libertarian capitalism and prepared the American people to what was to come.

Andersen explains how Originalism, a constitutional legal theory invented by one evil genius, right-wing jurist Robert Bork laid the groundwork. Bork’s position: the American Constitution should be interpreted just as our founders originally intended some 240 years ago. Broadened interpretations, based on changing times, he defines as judicial activism. Bork had a number of novel ideas: one, that the Bill of Rights was a “cynical add on,” used to win the constitution’s ratification by the states and another, that freedom of speech as described by Article 1 was intended to apply only to “explicitly” political speech. Other types of speech, symbolic, literary or artistic were not protected.

Andersen explores financialization, the rise of the leveraged buyouts, globalization, offshoring, and a number of other concepts concocted by the right for the benefit of big business, concepts that provided the justification and methodology the led to the wholesale enrichment of the very few at the expense the rest of us.

What is the author’s prescription to rectify this slouch toward oligarchy?

Here, some of Andersen’s surefootedness deserts him and he begins to stumble. He talks about boosting unionism, but in the end takes refuge in the weltgeist. What he offers us is hope. Hope that the profound crisis brought about by the Trump presidency and the Covid-19 pandemic will generate a great social/political upheaval which will, as in past crises like the Great Depression, generate a movement towards change that looks to the future for solutions rather than to the past.

Not everything Andersen tells us in this volume is new, but much is and the analysis is comprehensive and provocative. If you have time to read just one book on this topic, I highly recommend Evil Geniuses, The Unmaking of America.

RICHARD W. WISE is a former community organizer and author of: Redlined, A Novel of Boston. www.richardwbooks.com

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