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The Big Picture: A 40-Year Scan of the Right-Wing Corporate Takeover of America

Author and public intellectual Colin Greer tells us how we got where we are today. It's not a pretty picture, but hope is on the way.

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It’s instructive to note that events in the U.S. are not in isolation. Back in the '60s and '70s when progressive movements were in ascendency, the liberation themes of the time were part of a global anti-colonial uprising, and broad disgust at the war in Vietnam. Today, trade policies and globalization means that the other major economies of the world are also in the grips of a greed and hyper-profit which is in the process of discarding hard won values, rights and decent living conditions. 

DH: That was Carter and also the hostage crisis too at the end of the '70s, yes? 

CG: Yeah, it’s about how social and economic consciousness changed. Carter’s inability to act effectively in the hostage crisis or to defeat stagflation reinforced a national feeling of malaise and weakness. That’s why Reagan campaigned on "hope in America" versus Carter's kind of dismal, high-standing morality, an apparent inability to act from strength. It was the beginning of a long term of undermining the presumption of multi-dimensional social and economic expansion, which had flourished since World War II.

So in the 1980s you had Reagan, along with the last flourish of direct political action on the left and the last gasps of the global social change that characterized the 1960s and '70s; i.e. the fight against apartheid, which succeeded in turning the Reagan administration around to support the anti-apartheid/ divestment movement, and you had the Nuclear Freeze movement.

DH: These were the last grassroots successes of the left?

CG: Yes. Although one can never do a one to one equation, the Freeze was a factor in Reagan's shift in nuclear arms negotiations with the Russians and the anti-apartheid divestment strategies, fueled by a popular movement with strong student leadership, which created shantytowns on campuses throughout America, helped win that struggle. 

But then there was a dramatic change in direction when the air traffic controllers went on strike. Reagan seized the moment, and fired the air traffic controllers, destroying PATCO, their union. That was the beginning of the end of the labor deal with capital; a deal that was carved out in the Cold War in which labor got negotiated settlements here at home for its support for the Cold War abroad. In a sense it was anti-red internationally and social democratic here in the United States. And that deal went through the beginning of the 1980s, until Reagan, responding to the conservative base, changed the ground rules. And with it, labor's guaranteed negotiating strength ended.

We have seen a diminishing power of labor since. And we've also seen a shrinking power of popular movements on the left as well, so that by the time we got to the invasion of Iraq, a million people in the street could be ignored. How different that was from the last gasps of enduring popular protest against Reagan’s contra-aid and its illegal processes. 

DH: Those demonstrations against the Iraq invasion seemed like a big deal at the time, a major accomplishment, and around the world as well.

CG: Yeah, but for only one day. What is required is the ability to constantly bring people out and not end it when there’s no popular response. You need to get the news story, and push the politicians to shift. We're up against the kind of new politics in which they didn't shift and we didn't come out with continual resistance, and that inability to resist played out in the 1990s when you have a Democratic president who was disappointing over and over, with no popular mobilization against his deregulation of the finance industry or his welfare reform initiative. 

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