Nightmare on Main Street: the Neocon and Neoliberal Failures

A nightmare, or bad dream, is an unpleasant experience that can cause a strong emotional response from the mind, typically fear but also despair, distress, even extreme anxiety. The dream may contain situations of discomfort, psychological or physical terror or panic. Failures of economic and foreign policies have trickled down creating threats to the economy and the well-being of the working class, causing anxiety on Main Street. This has been aggravated by bait and switch – the high value item is removed, then the workers enter a state of anxiety in which they seek to re-enter the comfortable closed state. Thus they make decisions on their most current needs accepting almost any solution – to get back to that comfortable state – rather than through a rational process. These unpleasant thoughts are a nightmare for many. It’s important to determine what’s causing your adult nightmares – the issues plaguing you during the day. Then you can make changes to address or reduce their occurrence.

After a rash of spending during the Vietnam War, there was not enough gold to cover the amount of dollars in circulation. In response the Nixon administration pulled the US out of the Bretton Woods Accord – abandoning the Gold Standard. In addition, countries led by the US, expanded their money supplies concerned that currency values would fluctuate unpredictably for a time. This in turn, led to the depreciation of the dollar and other currencies, followed directly by massive inflation and recession. In response neoliberal policies of minimal government and regulation were introduced. During the same decade, neocons, a pseudo-intellectual group, came together over concern over the non-interventionist US foreign policy, in particular, as the Democratic Party grew more dovish after the Vietnam War. They came across to the Republican Party and embraced trickle-down economics while promoting the concept of black and white morality be applied to any conflict – based on the outcome of World War II and the Cold War – would result in the spread of democracy everywhere.

Steve Bannon takes credit for fomenting the ‘populist nationalist movement’ long before Trump came on the scene. Bannon borrowed the concept of nationalism from the alt-right in Europe. Four years prior to Trump’s election, Bannon as executive chairman of Breitbart, established the website as the voice for the alt-right, allowing them to readily peddle in conspiracy theories and memes. ‘Clickbait’, the concept of creating a melodramatic title for an online article so as to manipulate people into clicking the link and reading the content, is used as a tool by sites like Breitbart to spread fake news, especially during the 2016 election. One point of difference from all the other websites competing to be the conservative Huffington Post was the site’s consistent funding of an aggressive, sensationalist brand of original journalism. In turn, the Breitbart version of the story is then amplified by other conservative media, and then mainstream outlets.

While Candidate Trump promised to fix a rigged economic and political system, President Trump put in play a great bait and switch. The bait was Trump’s critique of the economic establishment and globalization and the harm they have done to working class. Trump presents himself as remedying globalization’s negative effects. Among working families, globalization is the most visible and economically understood issue, and Trump’s critique of globalization is front and center of his pro-worker masquerade. The switch is rather than reforming the neoliberal economy, Trump substitutes racism, nationalism, and authoritarianism, while simultaneously doubling-down on neoliberal economic policy. Given his lack of any history of government service, Trump has been able get away with this pro-worker masquerade. His new unilateralism in foreign policy is political posturing to keep workers distracted from the real causes of economic inequality.1 However, part of it may reflect the triumph of neocon thinking within the US.

The neocon project was originally concerned with military supremacy and targeted Russia. However, it is about US power in general, which means it potentially implicates every country and every dimension of international policy. Neocons believe that the United States should not be ashamed to use its unrivaled power – forcefully if necessary – to promote its values around the world. Some even speak of the need to cultivate a US empire. Only days after 9/11, one of the top neoconservative think tanks in Washington, the Project for a New American Century, wrote an open letter to President Bush calling for regime change in Iraq. Before long, Bush, who campaigned in 2000 against nation building and excessive military intervention overseas, also began calling for regime change in Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz, Assistant Secretary of Defense and a known neocon, out maneuvered the State Department and the CIA to get the Bush administration to set up the Special Plans unit.

Special Plans was created in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true – that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States. The Special Plans unit put together the case for weapons of mass destruction creating the need to invade Iraq. The neocon planners were ignorant of the fact that Iraq was made up of three provinces of the former Turkish Empire that Saddam Hussein held together by playing off tribal rivalries. Steve Brannon’s recent criticism of George W Bush feeds off the neocon bait and switch. The switch is rather than acknowledging total failure of the neoconservative policies that advocated for regimen change in Iraq, neocons promote the outcome as mismanagement by President George W. Bush.

Neocons believe any regime that is outwardly hostile to the US and could pose a threat should be confronted aggressively, not “appeased” or merely contained. The US military should be reconfigured around the world to allow for greater flexibility and quicker deployment to hot spots. Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to UN, is the new darling of the neocons following a scathing denunciation of the ‘flawed and very limited’ Iran nuclear deal at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), home of Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton. Conservative think tanks like the AEI also have many projects that support economic neoliberalism. AEI supported a 1980 study on the emerging ‘social cost’ arguments against smoking in support of the tobacco industry, and more recently supports various studies that cast doubt on global warming. AEI’s Federalism Project argues that the U.S. national government has usurped powers not delegated to it in the Constitution – that should rightfully be reserved for states (creating a race to bottom as states compete against each other for business).

Neoliberalism is a consequence of restructuring of class power in favour of the economic elite. It has no vision of the good society or the public good and no mechanism for addressing society’s major economic, political and social problems. Today neoliberal ideology defines the social relationships of poor people and the attitude towards them that supports an economic system that creates inequality. Neoliberal capitalism is associated with increasing income gradient between the rich and the rest of society. This increasing economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society over the past four decades led to the hollowing out of the middle class, leaving many people angry.2 Milton Friedman’s claim policies that promote economic freedom is a necessary condition for political freedom appears flawed; it appears neoliberalism is a breeding ground for totalitarian tendencies, not free will and democracy.

During the first decade of the 21st century evidence accumulated that policies promoted by the neocons and neoliberals were flawed. Once the reality of the consequences of the economic debacle of 2008 set in that pleasant retirement and the promise that one’s children would have more choices and a better life than their parents had been destroyed, many became angry and disillusioned. For the first time in modern history middle class children will likely end up poorer than their parents. Neo-conservative policy is promoted as a new way of looking at and thinking about American foreign policy. The neocons attacked Obama for being fainthearted in promoting exceptionalism, tried to torpedo Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran; vowed to support policies that push harder against all America’s rivals. The neocons have learned nothing since the 2002 disaster in Iraq.

The cause of the nightmare on Main Street is now obvious – it is the failure of economic and foreign policies promoted by various elites. The neoliberal policies are increasing anxiety in the community from increasing economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society. Austerity policies used to discipline the working class, are actually designed to put money into the pockets of the economic elite in the near-term, while promising to balance the budget in the long-term. Rather that playing out Fukuyama’s final chapter in history, the neoconservative influence has caused a crisis of legitimacy of the global system. There is now increasing anxiety over what appears to be the rapidly disappearing ability of the US to influence events in the world. However, there is an opportunity for change to reduce the recurrence of the nightmare on main street – vote out the Republican majority in Congress in the 2018 elections.

1 Palley, Thomas. (18 April 2017) Trumponomics: Neocon Neoliberalism Camouflaged with Anti-Globalization Circus.

2 Why Co-operation is Necessary (15 January 2017)

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