The twisted turns of the Trump/Comey spectacle could keep us mesmerized for months but they better not, and that’s because while the drama playing out in DC is enough to turn one’s stomach, what threatens the average American far more immediately is happening as usual, in the states.
Drowned out by the Donald din, old school conservatism is quietly going about its business, building power, investing in infrastructure and shifting policy and opinion to the Right.
Top-down media aren’t just railed against by the rest of us for pledge-drive reasons (and have you paid yours yet?), they’re problematic because they live, eat and play at the top of the power heap, and change, as every good change maker, knows, works from the bottom up be it from the right or left.
To invert a phrase of Michelle Obama’s, when they go high we ought to go low. As in local. All the most significant policy reversals of the last forty years have started in the states. Think about reproductive choice, affirmative action, welfare repeal. Those rollbacks haven’t happened by accident. And nor did civil rights.
Since the late 1960s, the Republican Right’s alliance of corporate, military, prison-industrial and influence peddling forces has pushed ideas like choice hurts women and unions are bad for workers, and popularized them through a web of interrelated think tanks, media and fake "grassroots" lobbying groups. They’ve collaborated to become the most powerful force in US governance.
And done it. While the money media weren’t looking Republican doubled their control in the states during the Obama administrations. The2016 election saw the Republican Party pick up four more trifectas:Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, and New Hampshire for a total of 25 states where they control all branches of government. Democrats control just six.
Contrary to the media meme of madcap meltdown and chaos, it’s business as usual in the states now. Donald Trump’s a loose a cannon, but the Milwaukee based Lynde and and Harry Bradley Foundation for example, is methodical. Bradley's been pouring mountains of money into right wing causes, especially anything that will “defund Big Labor.”
And while Trump may not have been their candidate, he’s ideal cover. It’s a virtuous, or is that, vicious cycle. Anti-labor laws and declining membership don’t just boost corporate profits by suppressing wages. They also result in depleted Labor coffers and depress Democratic turnout. You can read more about the right’s weaponized philanthropy in a trove of documents turned up by PR Watch and the Center for Media and Democracy.
But don’t get lost in the details. The point is, power shifts happen bottom up. While Marx may not have meant this exactly, he warned of the distracting power of bread and circuses. The Trump mayhem’ is a one hell of a circus right wing bread’s still going to the the roots.