Democracy in Chains? Not if the People Do What We are Capable of.

Author Nancy MacLean believes American democracy is facing an existential crisis right now.
Author Nancy MacLean believes American democracy is facing an existential crisis right now.

Over breakfast at the Doubletree Resort in Tempe, Dr. Nancy MacLean discussed her book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America and the message contained in its theme: The people need to know that our country and values we hold dear (opportunity for all, fairness for all, justice for all) is being undermined by a clique of oligarchical and plutocratic interests bent on making a new America where the elite always prevail, as the rest of the citizenry are fed false conflicts on the threat of the other (minorities and immigrants) so the real intentions of these reactionary interests can be advanced.

It should be noted that these reactionary designs (called libertarian by some of its proponents) are not new to the American and global experience. They did not start with the KKK-endorsed candidate currently residing in the White House. It did not start with Reaganomics although its influence certainly made its mark there. These attempts to turn the clock back to periods of oligarchical-ethnocentric dominance in our modern history first happened in the 1920’s in the period of Normalcy following World War One with the first Red Scare against suspected radicals and newly arrived immigrants that resulted in part in a resurgent Ku Klux Klan.

There was the rise of Fascism and Corporatism around the world in the 1920’s and 30’s where wealthy interests made a Faustian bargain with totalitarian leaders so they could preserve their positions and profits. There were even murmurs of a corporatist plot in this country during the Franklin Roosevelt Administration where anti-New Deal Business interests entertained the notion of overthrowing the government and replacing it with a military dictatorship. These reactionary attempts were thwarted in the past and their latest attempts at creating an oligarchical-corporate order can be beaten back again if the people fight back.

This latest attempt to remake America in a new corporate and oligarchic fashion has been going on slowly and behind the scenes since the early Civil Rights movement and Great Society programs of the 1950’s and 60’s. Encouraged by a Nobel Prize-winning economist who is little-known in mainstream history, James McGill Buchanan (no relation to Pat), a “libertarian” reaction launched in response to the social, civil rights, and economic justice movements in the 1950’s and 60’s. Its ideals found political, and more importantly financial support in the emerging new right of the Republican Party (with its influx of recently converted Southern Dixiecrat-Democrats who fought civil rights reforms) and among its rich benefactors like the Koch Brothers.

It has come to the point where most of the economic and judicial systems are on the verge (and in some cases it has happened in some of our state governments) of adopting an extreme form of radical right reaction bent on 1900-style economic and judicial individualism (as long as the deck is stacked for the elites).

One can see this approach in the failed Republican economic experiments in Kansas and Oklahoma. It would be failing in Arizona as well if it was not for the influx of new residents.

  • Others can see it in state legislatures like Arizona where Koch-backed legislatures shift public dollars to Koch-backed “freedom” centers at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona.
  • It can be seen in the Citizens United Decision that overruled Campaign Finance Laws paving the way for Dark Money Interests that state legislators (like those in Arizona) strenuously defend.
  • Finally, it can be seen in the Mussolini-like mannerisms of the President of the United States, who blames all our woes on the “other” when they are not the cause of our difficulties.

It is not too late

When meeting with Dr. MacLean, she stressed that it is not too late. There is still time for the people to turn back the tide on these oligarchic corporate interests. However, it will take drive, the willingness to educate one’s self, and the commitment to working hard to make the American Dream attainable for all of our people.

Below are the answers she gave to the questions about her book and what she is trying to tell the people on her current tour.

  • Please tell the readers why you are traveling around the country promoting the ideas and messages in your work Democracy in Chains?

“Because I believe American democracy is facing an existential crisis right now. My book explains the origins of this crisis: in decades of careful planning by the network of organizations funded by Charles Koch and his fellow donors to transform our government and judiciary without informing the people of their true agenda.”

  • With regard to the political future of our country, what is the theme of your book that you are trying to impress upon your readers?

“We are in an all-hands-on-deck emergency for the future of democracy. But we should not panic or do anything stupid because the majority is on our side on all the issues. The Koch plan’s architects understand that they are a permanent minority and that is why they are using stealth methods and even pushing for a constitutional convention to rig the country’s governing rules to their liking. But the most important thing to know is that they are afraid of the majority stopping them, which is why it is so important to inform others and become active.”

  • To what extent would the themes of Democracy in Chains coincide with the messages expressed in other works like those of Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine) or fictional pieces like Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here?

“It is complementary to these. My book is also often paired with Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, which is an honor. Mayer is an investigative journalist who followed the money trail; I’m an archival historian who tracks the driving ideas and the true Koch end game.”

  • Please tell the readers two reasons James McGill Buchanan may have been more of a long-term influence on the modern Republican Party than Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, the Bushes, or Donald Trump?

“He supplied the ideas that have been weaponized that have been used by the Koch donor worker to try and undo the 20th century model of government, particularly by breaking the collective power of the people such as that of teacher unions and Planned Parenthood. Buchanan advised his allies to change not just who rules, but to change the rules, and that is what we have seen happening shock and awe style, since the 2010 midterms in states like Arizona, Wisconsin, and my own North Carolina, and nationally in the degeneration of the Republican Party, owing to the Koch donor network.

Pushed by this secretive radical right group of billionaire and multimillionaire donors, Mitch Mcconnell has abetted this transformation of the Republican Party into a Leninist-style delivery system that does not even correspond to what Republican voters want. With the threat of dark money-funded primary challenges from the right for those elected officials who fail to comply with the will of the donors and lush campaign spending for those who do, they have all but destroyed the party of Lincoln, making Republican officeholders accountable to those donors rather than the people they supposedly serve.”

  • In terms of motivations, is this half-century move to subvert democracy motivated by racial terms or oligarchical-plutocratic ones. Please explain.

“It’s both/and rather than either/or. The architects believe in property supremacy, whose most devoted advocates have never believed in the equal dignity of all people and their right to political representation. And because so few people agree with pure radical libertarianism, they need to appeal to racism to move their agenda. When they try to gain power, they always leverage fear and bigotry to divide the people, through one Big Lie or another: whether it’s promoting the lie of mass voter fraud to capitalize on the belief of some whites that Latinos and African Americans are not legitimate citizens entitled to the same rights as they, or kindling hysteria about immigration when it’s actually decreasing, or inciting anxiety and aggression among religiously conservative voters through propaganda from the ever-entrepreneurial and Koch-allied Religious Right. The Koch network’s project depends on activating prejudice to succeed. It’s shameful, frankly, but fortunately, more and more people are seeing it for what it is.”

  • Economically, socially, judiciary, and politically, what are the long-term goals of the groups attempting to subvert our Democracy.

 “While they appeal to the notion that they represent the true America, that’s false. Their vision is a hyper-individualist utopia that breaks with our tradition since the founding of liberty tempered by a commitment to the “general welfare,” as the Constitution puts it. In the Koch libertarian vision, the government has only three legitimate functions: provide for national defense, ensure the rule of law, and guarantee social order (in short: armies, courts, and police). No public education, Social Security, workers’ rights, environmental protection, anti-discrimination—all things the majority supports. That’s why the Koch network has to rely on stealth to achieve its endgame of constitutionally guaranteed property supremacy. To take just one example of that stealth subversion: they actively misinform the public by funding climate science denial to stop government action that the majority of the people believe is needed. 

  • We all hear about the Koch Brothers and their multibillion-dollar drive to shape American Society in their own image? What are the names of other plutocratic families that are attempting to do the same thing in other parts of the country?

“Mercer, Scaife, Thiels, Devos: they all gave heavily to the Koch network and went on to help Trump get elected. The notion that there is some huge split between Koch’s project and Trump’s is a myth. Charles Koch boasted at a donor summit this past spring that they have gotten more in the last year (i.e.with Trump) then they had in the previous ten years. That includes the tax bill scam, radical deregulation, stacking the Supreme Court to allow corporations free reign, and more.

Unfortunately, other corporations and whole industries who will be devastated by the Koch agenda have yet to speak out against it. Take climate change: it is already inflicting grievous harm on agriculture, tourism, and insurance. Mainstream businesses need to see the threat to their interests before it is, frankly, too late. This Koch project will result in an utterly unsustainable society by every measure if it is not stopped soon.

There is also a serious a global security threat coming from the Koch network’s international arm called the Atlas Network, which pushes this market fundamentalist agenda globally. In place after place, its affiliates have helped rig the rules against the majority—and incited right-wing populism. One example is Brexit in Britain, which Koch organizations have backed because they want to stop action on climate change and undercut the kinds of minimum wage and labor standards, health and social insurance, and anti-discrimination and environmental protections the European Union provides. They’d like to break that up, and NATO too, it seems. The Koch network is willing to risk an inferno like that which brought on World War II to achieve their messianic vision of economic liberty.”

  • Do the interests of these families mesh with other forces seeking to subvert our way of life like the Russians, the alt-Right, and the other supporters of the President? Please explain.

“Russian interference has served the Koch Network, yes, for without it Donald Trump would not be in the White House carrying out their agenda. Nor would the American people be so divided and therefore conquerable. They foster polarization to serve their needs; they can’t win without kindling hatred and hostility. More broadly, libertarian dogma is infused with Social Darwinism, and that is why so many libertarians slide into overt racism: it’s been a pattern for decades. As Koch operations push the Big Lie that they are the makers and we are the takers, that they are the “prey” and we are the “predators” and “parasites,” is it any wonder that, given our history of racial hierarchy, many believers assign colors to these categories.”

  • To what extent are they close to fulfilling their stated goals? Please explain.

“The train is very far along the track. In 2015 one Koch figure said ‘we are close to victory: they do not have a path.’ That real path involves gaining control over a growing number of states so they can call an Article V constitutional convention to rig the rules—permanently.”

  • To what extent do these forces need the people to be ill-informed, uneducated, and easily swayed to achieve their ends. Please explain.

“To a large extent. Fox News, Breibart, right-wing talk radio, and now even the President, Donald Trump, misinform the people on issue after issue. They have also tried, with growing success, to turn GOP voters against higher education, while embedding donor-funded propaganda mills in hundreds of colleges around the country, including at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University. They have shown a willingness to destroy what they cannot control.”

  • With regard to active citizenship, education and expansion of news sources, what are at least three ways this “stealth plan” can be stopped and turned back?

(1) Alert as many people as possible to what is happening, so that we can inform the majority the Koch networks so fears. (2) Become active in reclaiming our democracy; examples in Arizona include the Red for Ed movement among teachers, Save Our Schools, and working to register voters of all ages and canvass to get out the vote that could block the right’s momentum. (3) When good candidates are elected, don’t go to sleep, but instead pressure them to unrig the rules with “must-have” democratic reforms such as automatic voter registration, independent redistricting, exposure of dirty money in politics and more.”

  • What are at least two other actions people can take to halt and turn back this “stealth plan?”

“This Koch network is so vast that there is no single magic bullet to solving it: we have to rebuild our civil society and democracy. Please inventory your life and what you belong to, believe in, and want to do: each one of us has resources to bring into this effort: we can all make a difference because we all have talent.”

  • What are the names of at least two individuals who you feel would be effective national spokespersons against this danger?

“I’d say get past “candidate-itis,” as a friend calls it: Stop waiting for saviors and find our own voices. While there are good people in public service like Senators Sherrod Brown, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Sheldon Whitehouse, there is only so much they can do on their own—as we have seen. We need more everyday people to get involved and pitch in.”

As Dr. MacLean relayed at the end of our interview, the people have the power as long as we work at staying informed, hold our public servants to account, never lose sight of the American Dream, and stay engaged as active citizens who will not let our republic devolve to an oligarchical plutocracy. It is all up to the people. Our progressive views are the majority views. If we stay engaged and active in the process while making sure our public servants serve the community well, the designs of the Koch Brothers and their allies will never come to full fruition and will be turned back. If we resume an apathetic posture and do not turn out to perform our most basic civic duty (voting) then the warnings of Dr. MacLean and others like her will become reality. In the end, it is all up to you, the people.



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David Gordon
Living in Arizona since his family moved to Tempe from New York in 1982, David Gordon has three degrees from Arizona State University and the University of Phoenix in History, Political Science, and Secondary School Administration. A highly qualified Social Studies instructor and Certified School Principal, Mr. Gordon owned his own charter school, Grand Canyon College Preparatory Academy from 1997-2016. The school served students in grades 6-12 in the East Valley of Maricopa County. Many of the graduates of GCP earned college credit for free while still attending high school, some completing the first year of college before graduating. Among the speakers at the school's graduations were noted figures in Arizona Politics like Harry Mitchell, David Schweikert, Juan Mendes, Andrew Sherwood, and John Huppenthal. Mr. Gordon also participated in the revisions of the Arizona History and Social Studies standards. In January 2017, Mr. Gordon started the political blog Twenty-First Century Progressive Bull Moose. It has a global following and routinely comments on the political events of the day. Mr. Gordon also helps administer the Facebook page Living Blue in Arizona. He is also currently writing a series of Young Adult science fiction novels which incorporate the themes of time travel and its impact on history. Mr. Gordon is very happy to be asked to join the Blog for Arizona team and hopes to spread the progressive word to make Arizona a better place for everyone.