In light of the recent Supreme Court decision overturning the entirety of the Roe precedent, an already rage-suffused public dialogue now has another irresolvable issue to fruitlessly grind its teeth about. Millions of women are losing freedoms as you read this, and without a reinvigorated movement for reproductive rights, all of America’s late periods will be getting Social Security numbers.
But the Roeverthrow is just the most recent victory for the American right wing and should be seen as a crowning accomplishment in the Right’s decades-long campaign to roll back what positive achievements were had in the 20th century, primarily those of the civil rights movement, labor movement, and women’s movement. These reversals were made through action by the corporate world and both political parties to restore the historic conservative goal: Rule by traditional hierarchies—of wealth, race, family, state, business, and over nature.
Miscarriage of Justice
The Court’s conspicuously unpopular decision has led to a now-emerging return to the pre-1973 condition where reproductive services are available strictly by ZIP code, and only women who can afford to travel to a blue state or big city will be able to terminate a pregnancy. The overturn of Roe is a gigantic triumph for the Right in a bitter, decades-long campaign against a medical practice that was not nearly so controversial until right-wing activists used school desegregation to bring evangelical Christians into politics as an organized force, and found Roe to be a better glue. Figures like Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the right-wing policy colossus the Heritage Foundation, wrote at the time that abortion had an electric power to bring in more “fringe” evangelicals, and that “When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.”
Forcing millions of women, and especially poorer women, into motherhood again (a majority of people who obtain abortions in the U.S. are already mothers) will decisively lower the social and economic position of women, who will need direct economic help to raise additional children. For many, this will demote their position relative to their husbands and boyfriends, moving them toward their previous lower position in the hierarchy of the family. Cementing women in half the country back into domestic patriarchy in this way represents a major victory of the Right and its love of traditional hierarchies. But it’s far from the only one.
Turning Back the Gilded Page
It could be argued that the central goals of the modern global Right have been economic: to restore the unredistributed incomes of the rich, the union-free labor markets, and the unregulated markets of rampant monopoly of the Gilded Age. This era, roughly from the American Industrial Revolution to the World Wars, roughly 1865-1914, was history’s great experiment in the purest capitalism possible. As the Right tends to view these issues under the banner of Freedom, meaning freedom for capital and business from state alteration of these “free market” conditions, it could be argued that the drive for this alleged “Small Government” has been at the very heart of the conservative project since the New Deal shackled corporations, taxed the rich, and recognized labor unions. Undoing these successes, which were mainly driven by the labor movement, in the name of Liberty has been the central right-wing goal.
It has largely been achieved. Estimates of wealth concentration from the peak of the era around 1910 reconstruct the richest 1 percent of U.S. households owning 45 percent of national wealth and the top 10 percent owning 80 percent of the pie. The poorest 40 percent are estimated to have had 1.1 percent. Today, the 1 percent owns 34.9 percent of total wealth in the U.S., and the top 10 percent holds 70.7 percent, according to the eminent researchers at the World Inequality Database. These numbers represent a legitimately stupendous movement of the great capital of society, and an incredible shifting of economic power back into the hands of the richest families and households.
For all the incomparable importance of reproductive rights, the fundamental material conditions of life are arguably foundational to everyone’s life experience. Abortion access will now be restricted to a handful of blue states and cities, taking rights away from millions of women. But all of us live in the economy, and restoring us to our 19th century condition of disorganized toilers looking up fearfully at the towering figures of real global wealth has its own existential horror. In the conditions of the Industrial Revolution, crash urbanization created heinous conditions, for example, in Germany, long the greatest economy in Europe. One in five Berlin residents in the late 19th century lived in cellars. Working days of 13 to 16 hours were common (including Sundays), 11 to 12 hours for children.
And crucially, in those halcyon days, labor unions barely existed, and mainly among limited numbers of relatively skilled workers. Research very provisionally suggests there were well under a million unionized workers nationwide in the 1880s, a pitiful few. The beautiful accomplishments of the CIO organizing wave in the 1930s brought the density numbers north of a third, but after decades of neoliberalism, the Right—and above all the business world itself—has had brutal success in driving the private sector union density rate down to a truly godforsaken 6.1 percent as of 2021, an utter bitter defeat. The uneven, halting return of prominent organizing successes is of course an incredibly precious start for us all to build on in resisting this ugly trudge back to the 19th century.
But for now, it can’t be denied that the man in the corner office has pretty much put the working stiff back in his box. In a country with a $24 trillion GDP, the U.S. average life expectancy fell for two years—before the pandemic started.
One Side to Every Story
Among the very, very core beliefs of conservatives, along with Free Markets and the personal inalienable right to machine guns, is that U.S. media are terribly liberal or indeed socialist. It’s pretty rich, since commercial media belong to large corporations, and the most affluent households own the large majority of corporate stock. Worse, ultra-right-wing media utterly dominate across the board. Fox News leads prime time cable, the most popular link posts on Facebook are reliably from far-right media figures, the conservative Wall Street Journal is the highest print circulation national paper, and talk radio is wall-to-wall reactionary. Conservatives, when they remember it, will often speak proudly of eliminating regulations like the FCC’s fairness doctrine, which was undone in 1987. It set some general equal-time requirements for opposing views on public affairs, but the Reagan administration eliminated it so conservatives needn’t hear any liberal views, let alone socialist ones.
Yet despite the near-total dominance of conservatism in commercial media, a viewer or listener of conservative media today is immediately given the impression that the entire world is in the near-total grip of Woke Politically Correct Cultural Marxist Critical Race Theory, which is socialist but also capitalist because, after all, Disney films sometimes depict same-sex relationships. The grotesquely twisted fever-dream of contemporary conservative media is a sight to behold.
But far more than the actual hyper-conservative outlets, the great victory of the Right in this arena is the near-total dominance of the reactionary frame of reference in commercial media broadly. For reasons extensively explored by Left media critics, most prominently Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman’s propaganda model, media are businesses and have the incentives that come with that—keeping corporate advertisers happy, not rocking the boat of the parent company that owns them, and repeating government talking points to maintain access to senior figures. All these factors encourage private media to keep to at least relatively conservative positions, insisting liberals not go too far in trying to get universal health care or increase the number of Supreme Court seats.
Largely maintaining private ownership of the means of communication through the tumultuous last century is a victory for reaction in itself, but the immediate default of all private commercially-supported media to right-wing perspectives is in some ways the most important victory for reaction of all, as it keeps the public from seeing clearly what’s happening in society.
Too Little, Too Late
A less-recognized aspect of today’s right-wing triumph is in the environment. As large parts of the world and U.S. experience endless droughts, forest fires that consume towns, and a bizarrely unending series of above-normal hurricanes and rainfalls, the reality of climate change has gradually hit more liberal media and even some of the commercial media. That it took so many decades to get the subject even partially on the agenda speaks to the victory of the Right here—Man rules over nature, and if we fuck it up and California burns away, choking the skies of neighboring states, private media can keep it off TV and the political agenda until it’s well too late to stop.
It is to be feared that future generations will regard us as having decided their fate in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Policy makers ignored the issue for decades and are now just doggedly doing everything to resist any step toward sustainability. Today, environmental concern is mainly treated as a personal lifestyle issue—whether one uses plastic or paper straws, drives a big truck or a hybrid sedan, and so on. But as socialists have been saying for years, ecological sustainability is by definition a collective issue, and on that collective level the Right’s success at blocking and indeed rolling back action has been impressive and looks set to continue, including at the level of the Supreme Court.
The number of summer days in which two separate parts of the Northern Hemisphere were in simultaneous heat waves exploded sevenfold over the last thirty years from 20 to 143. In 2020, a climate-disrupted monsoon left a full quarter of Bangladesh submerged. Meanwhile the Right has succeeded in making participation in the Paris Accords a political football, even as that agreement involves purely voluntary compliance and limited goals that are unlikely to keep the world to within a degree Celsius of warming.
The wretched ruling-class senior citizens leading our public and private institutions won’t live to see much of their heinous legacy of warping the world’s natural rhythms, but these changes have very visibly begun and each coming generation will inherit a shittier condition. Young people are becoming strikingly left wing broadly and especially socialist, much to the horror of commercial media, if early signs are to be believed. Considering the near-universal gag on Left ideas at the national media level, it’s not hard to conceive how these kids came to identify with what is essentially a curse word in the U.S. My kind of swearing! Hopefully we’re in for an R-rated future.
So many other important aspects of equality and solidarity are under just vicious attack. One area that could possibly be argued to represent a loss for the Right is race relations, where large numbers of Americans are somewhat less racist on at least some issues, mixed-race marriage is common, and outright racist policies are frowned on even by the far-right Supreme Court. But the endurance of the racial wealth gap represents its own victory, for example, when Black household wealth was almost wholly destroyed in the 2008-9 crash and recession, falling to a disgraceful five cents for every white household’s dollar.
And, of course, the Court has overturned the most important portions of the Voting Rights Act, those requiring permission from the Justice Department before southern U.S. states could change their state elections laws. This Civil Rights-era provision was due to the long historic records of discriminatory policies and above all ballot restrictions that quite conspicuously tended to keep African American voters from the polls.
The increasingly detailed rules about which forms of identification are allowed and disallowed by these laws disproportionately favor conservative constituencies like property owners and gun owners and disfavor Black communities and students, to no one’s surprise. And in addition to the very obvious (and until 2013, legally-recognized) racist dynamic to modern voter suppression, it’s also a pretty ugly return to the old days of the qualifying role of property to participate in politics. Not that ballots are formally denied based on poverty, just that restrictions, advance registration requirements, limited polling sites, and selective ID laws all hurt the poor of all races, who lack resources and time to keep up with these shifting and restrictive rules.
Notably, there is a major connection here to the Court’s infamous Citizens United ruling, which dramatically loosened spending and disclosure rules on funding electoral campaigns. This ruling took place in the first phase of the Roberts Court, when its conservative wing was smaller and dominated by appointees from the Bush administrations, rather than today’s phase where Roberts merely observes the yet more reactionary, often Trump-era appointees taking steps like clipping Miranda rights and ending Roe. The pouring-in of money to make elections into intolerably obnoxious spend-offs combines with the ever-rising tide of state voting restrictions to really limit political representation. Add in features like the Senate’s rural bias and the Electoral College’s power to overrule the popular vote, you have today’s elections, which are very unnaturally right-wing phenomena.
All’s Hell That Ends Well
Despite it all, the really crucial event in this long ugly process is the transition of the national Democratic Party from limited social democracy and civil rights into a second conservative party. The transition was visible beginning in the Carter years but is most associated with the Clinton administration, which heavily cut “welfare” income supports for poor families, deregulated Wall Street to famously disastrous effect, enabled a gigantic wave of media mergers, signed trade deals that brutalized the working class with offshoring, and strove to maintain the great violence the U.S. inflicts on small poor countries worldwide. The Democrats are now performatively woke but utterly capitalist and fully unable to oppose any of these horrible marches to the Right—in fact, they carried out some of the most unpopular steps themselves. The Democrats’ efforts, combined with the Republicans’ endless wave of tax cuts for the rich, regulatory gutting, and public program cuts, reveal today’s landscape as bipartisan in its reactionary tendencies.
Obviously, it’s rather a dark hour just now. Presently it appears that the fate of the postwar world is a long-con victory by the once-utterly marginal John Birch Society wing of American reaction, coming from behind to an upset victory. The Right is dominant and growing, and even as it seals its historic triumphs it is consumed with hysterical paranoia—despite its successes, it relentlessly claims to be under terrible attack and on the verge of defeat by a feverish imagined coalition of woke corporations and drag queens.
But for the first time in years, the Left is actually looking like a real force, from legit national political representation to the beautiful shoots of an actual revitalized labor movement. We’re very much coming from behind and the odds are long, but we should recognize too that this era is characterized by staggering unpredictability, and some of the surprising shocks are actually positive. But only getting off our dumb phones and into the damn streets will help us right the ship.
“Don’t mourn, organize,” is taken to be old wisdom on the Left. Defeat on this scale should move us to organizing trials for certain robed figures on charges of crimes against humanity, hopefully without putting them at risk of the death penalty they love so very, very, very much. Irony loves company!