THE BLOG

5 Fallacies Poisoning U.S. Politics

06/30/2015 10:59 am ET | Updated Jun 29, 2016

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Once again in our long history, U.S. economic and political processes are being sidetracked by proven fallacies. Most have been around far too long.

1. Government is the problem. A simplistic statement made famous by President Reagan that blindly overlooks that throughout U.S. history, government is also the solution.

The government opened up the west from Ohio to California by purchasing or securing the land. The first transcontinental railroad, an incredible feat that was the moon landing of its century, was a Federal Government project. Today, the government oversees explorations of space and guarantees the safety of our food, air and water. Millions of citizens have the freedom provided by pensions and owning homes because they too are guaranteed by the government.

2. Violence is the best solution. This fallacy permeates every sphere of current life in the United States. The 9/11 terrorist shock sent the U.S. into spasms of panic and fear. On a national level, the immense Pentagon budget nearly doubled and citizens followed the mad piper of revenge into the flames of full-fledged wars whose embers still burn brightly.

On the civilian side, the population was told to be afraid, very afraid. The United States, which has survived a long history of terror attacks, suddenly lost sight of that past. State and local police were equipped with tactical equipment and began adopting military methodology and tactics. Our big mistake: the police mission "to serve and protect" directly contradicts the military mission of "destroy and suppress." Repeatedly, history has proven that police make terrible military and military make terrible police.

The US was here before. After serving in the Vietnam War, I was a young city policeman during the turbulent late sixties and early seventies. Many of the same problems existed because of police militarization.

A good police department must constantly work to involve police in the fabric of communities and their people. It is not an easy task made nearly impossible with a military outlook. Ferguson, Missouri, is a case study. When citizens began to protest the police shooting of a teenager, rather than engage the community and its leaders, the police showed up with all their military paraphernalia in a blatant attempt to suppress the community. Their failure is now history. The protest marches of the Vietnam era encountered the same general response.

Everyone is a casualty in war. Americans may have thought they were far away from the Middle East but they were not immune to its effects. Armored cars and police on their streets were but one extreme example. Coldness developed in the public psyche that allowed citizens to tolerate, or even support, 'collateral damage' on our streets. Violations of individual freedoms from stop and search to unnecessary use of deadly force became common on America's streets. Leading to misguided beliefs like this one from a veteran police officer:

The emphasis now is that we're supposed to be social services, whereas it had been our job to look for bad guys. We're not supposed to offend anybody, but the bad guys aren't playing by the same rules.

3. Taxes are bad. This silliness leads directly to the nation's failing to keep up with, let alone lead, global infrastructure development and maintenance. For at least 35 years, the US remained satisfied with stagnating social infrastructure ranging from education to medical care access. Struggles over social issues fed nicely into the demands for less education spending, reaching the absurd level of attempting to ban teaching of critical thinking skills to public school students. U.S. physical infrastructure, once the best in the world, now ranks mediocre at best. Republicans and conservatives, with Democrats as often willing coconspirators, bought Reagan's free lunch promising taxpayers could have it all while paying less. The illusion worked as the nation ate its seed corn; living on its assets and consuming what was needed for tomorrow.

4. Public Service is bad. While often paying lip service to military service, conservatives and Republicans denigrate other public and government employment by their condemnation of government. Terms like: those people, the takers, moochers and government dependency are code words tossed about by the right to indicate minorities of every flavor from racial minorities to government retirees and workers. Their message is that "those people" are stealing your hard earned money. This message, while extreme hyperbole, does serve to segregate Americans by both income and experience. Reality is that Hillary Clinton was correct -- it takes a village. The more diverse that village in income, background and experience, the stronger and wealthier it will be. Public service matters.

5. The Private Sector is the answer. This last fallacy bookends the 'government is the problem' mistake. In the American experience, both the private and government sectors deserve very close attention; no sector is either the answer or the problem. US history demonstrates the nation is at its strongest and most productive when the government maintains a level economic playing field. We, the people, direct the government to establish national economic goals while allowing the private sector to achieve them as quickly and as economically as possible.

The last thirty years have seen private sector dominance of government. The results are disastrous and clearly seen. Tax codes and laws were established to benefit specific corporations and industries, while creating barriers to entry for new technologies and small companies. The moral turpitude inherent in greed and profit above all else generate massive inequality not just in income but in opportunity and has harmed the nation. We have been here before in the Gilded Age when the US was a second tier nation. A top tier nation cannot maintain its position with laissez faire economic policies far more suited to second world nations.