This is a famous quote attributed to Ronald Reagan.
And so began our decline in terms of governance “of the people, by the people, for the people.” For a country to be strong there has to be community; community is strongest when it is built around a common purpose, shared ideals, and agreed upon social contract.
I’m sure you can go back further in presidential politics to find equally important examples of turning points of erosion of the ideal: of the people, by the people, for the people, say to Johnson and the Vietnam war or Nixon acting above the law, but Reagan’s campaign and presidency stand out for me because I don’t think we’ve recovered yet from that turning point. It was part of an orchestrated plan to sow distrust of government by denigrating the operation of government for the express purpose of acquiring positions of power within the government.
The campaign strategy was simple: find an issue that a block of voters care deeply about, align yourself with it, and then demonize opposition to it, and they will have no choice but to support your for that single issue. This is the calculated strategy of the Republican party in the late 70s with regard to reproductive rights. This was not an ideological stance taken by the republican party. It was a political strategy to capture the conservative Christian voting block (away from, ironically, a devout evangelical Christian in Jimmy Carter). It worked and is still working. The Republican party has also done it with gun rights (used to support gun control), immigration, global warming, foreign policy/trade and now I think there are targeted efforts to divide people politically over smaller issue like bike riding. I’m not kidding (as biking instead of driving is an acknowledgement of larger environmental issues, and concern about environmental issues is decidedly not a Republican platform). We’ve reached the zero-sum game of politics in this country. There is no room for compromise or negotiation; it’s either win or lose.
The result of this has been a division of our national community–which a tenuous alliance of many different tribes/nations from the beginning. A community made up of people fleeing somewhere else, built with slave labor, and on conquered territory is a difficult starting point building community. But, largely, this was done utilizing the creation of a republic built on the foundation of the constitution holding above all else, the ideals of self-governance, of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Which brings me to my point about Reagan and the modern GOP. He began tearing at that shared goal with that above statement because it demonized our own government (which is us). Now this would be alright if the modern GOP actually wanted to do what the framers allowed for by providing a right of the people to overthrow an oppressive government and return it to the people. This wasn’t the end goal however. The end goal was to utilize the current system to enrich and concentrate wealth with those who have gained control, capitalize on the system to remove power from the people, and finally concentrate the power with those with possessing wealth. Zero-sum game. You either win or lose. This has created a system which is in a positive feedback loop. The wealth is concentrated among a small portion of the population, who use that money to gain power and control within the government and then utilize that position of power further advancing the interests of the increasing smaller segment of the population holding the wealth. This is not a stable system.
Capitalizing on disillusionment while concentrating wealth is how to build an oligarchy secretly while telling the people you are fighting for their individual rights, all the while restricting their right for a common pursuit of happiness, by restricting the power of their voice and vote. It was brilliant. It is also downright diabolical because and is also patently unAmerican, tearing at the fabric of our constitution–our social contract. Further degradation of the concept of true self-governance by the continued destruction of free and fair elections will destroy what is left of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.