Cutting taxes on rich will be as destructive as closing down trolley lines in cities to favor of cars was in 20th century

Slashing taxes on the wealthy and cutting services to children, the poor and the aged.

Cutting back on immigration and deporting the 800,000 dreamers.

Shaping government policy to promote fossil fuels, while ignoring the role government can play in addressing global warming

Ending our commitments to treaties forged from a policy of cooperation with other nations throughout the world.

Let’s forget about the human tragedies that these Trump-GOP policies will produce. If carried through, any of these four actions will be enough to sink the American economy.

But don’t think that it’s the first time that the leaders of our country have instituted policies that were doomed.

We’ve done it before.

And usually, the reason for the disaster has been that the government policy was concocted to help one industry or small group of people and founded on the faulty ideas and reasoning that industry/group developed to justify their greed.

20th century American history records at least three instances of our government working hand-in-glove with well-heeled special interest groups against the best interests of the American people:

  1. Truman’s decision to develop nuclear energy instead of solar energy.

As if dropping atom bombs on two large cities wasn’t enough, Harry Truman also got the federal government behind development of nuclear energy as a means to generate electricity and squelched the solar option. In the early fifties, experts placed two white papers on his desk—one to develop nuclear, the other to develop solar. Truman went with nuclear, because it did what the large utility companies and major manufacturers wanted: centralized power facilities transmitting electricity along a grid and then metered and sold. Solar by contrast, would have developed decentralized industries and enabled many consumers to lower their use of all other metered energy, such as heating oil and natural gas. Non-metered electricity and heat? Better for the long-term economy, public safety and the economy, but a no-no to the big guys.

  1. Destruction of inner city mass transit and the development of auto-dependent suburbs

Lots of things contributed to the development of our car-dependent existence and its discontents, e.g., pollution, traffic jams, social isolation and segregation. Government housing and transportation policies, the rapid decline in cost of both cars and homes, the creation of suburban plans that tended to isolate people, media exaggeration of urban problems, the machinations of local real estate industries everywhere and racism all played a role. But there can be no doubt that the long prevailing mass transit policies—the destruction of dedicated trolley lines in cities in favor of the automobile and busses and the related development of suburbs with no mass transit to urban and job centers—were negative policies that played major roles in creating all the dystopic aspects of suburban life. As Kenneth T. Jackson so ably detailed 30 years ago in Crabgrass Frontier, before World War I we had more trolley lines in inner cities than all of Europe combined. Governments saw trolley lines as private businesses which they taxed and regulated to keep fares below costs. The same governments invested huge sums in highways. Moreover, the federal government sat still for 30 years and let General Motors buy up hundreds of trolley lines all over the country and either shut them down or convert them to buses, freeing the roads for cars and more cars. Meanwhile, unlike the first wave of suburban growth, new suburbs were developed that did not have ready access to rail mass transit helped by governmental policies. As a nation, we turned our back on dedicated mass transit for the benefit of the automobile industry and certain developers.

  1. The imperialist post-World War American foreign policy

After World War II, the United States acted as if a country that wasn’t completely anti-communist was a threat that gave us the right us to interfere in its politics. We were quite willing to do business with dictators, but not with democratically elected governments that leaned left. People of good will can dispute the merits and necessity of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, but how did we improve our national security by helping totalitarians overthrow the democratically elected governments of Iran and Chile? How did we improve national security by taking sides with anti-democracy forces in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Angola? How could Democrats and Republicans so ubiquitously share the mass delusion called the domino theory and therefore subscribe to the Viet Nam war, a war that Lyndon Johnson knew was unwinnable even as he kept escalating it? The Iraq War merely extends the lunacy of post-war U.S. foreign policy. One consistent element in all of the individual bellicosities the American Imperium has committed has been the massive economic benefit it provides to large defense contractors and to other large industries, often involved in natural resource extraction.

Yes, our leaders have had a curious habit of hurting the country to favor a few wealthy industries or families. It goes back to the beginnings of the nation—subverting democracy to favor slave-holding agricultural interests through the institution of the Senate, the Electoral College and the counting of slaves as three-fifths of a person for census purposes.

These collective inanities of the 20th century have turned us into a society divided by money, race and geography with a crumbling infrastructure, poor health and severe environmental and climate challenges. But behind each mass delusion are good intentions: securing our supply of energy in a post-oil world, making it easier for people to move around the world, defending our national security. In theory it’s not a bad thing if industries and individuals benefit by fulfilling national policy. In a market-based economy, even one with lots of regulations, a wide social safety net, and government involvement and even ownership of industry, individual companies, industries and families will always benefit from government policies. There’s nothing wrong with that outcome, as long as the benefit to the industries and individuals maximizes the benefit to society and everyone else. All too often in the United States, however, industries and individuals highjack policy and shape it so they will benefit, even if it means hurting others.

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