“The chief business of the American people is business.”
— Calvin Coolidge
As predictably as the sun rises and sets, every Sunday sees a commentator or politician on one of the Sunday political talk shows say — without being challenged — words to the effect that the Republican Party understands and supports business better than Democrats. This weekend, as I recall, it was CNN‘s turn.
All my life, in fact, I’ve been told by the media that the GOP is the “party of business.”
It may have once been true when I was a very young child, but today it’s a lie — and has been so in a huge way since the neoliberal Reagan Revolution.
Republicans kill economies; Democrats rescue and build them
Between 1933 and 2020 there were 14 American presidents, 7 Democratic and 7 Republican.
The economy during this time grew at an average rate of 4.6% under the Democratic presidents, but only an anemic 2.4% under Republican presidents. For example, the economy has grown three times faster under Biden than under Trump.
Ten of the past 11 recessions began under Republican presidents, although lifelong Republican and Trump Fed appointee Jerome Powell seems hell-bent on producing one for Joe Biden, just in time for the 2024 election.
Republican presidents have exploded the national debt, while the only balanced budgets out of the past 60 years have been presented by Democratic presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama.
Bill Clinton left George W. Bush a $128 billion surplus (after 4 consecutive years of budget surpluses): Bush immediately squandered it with a massive tax cut for billionaires and two criminal wars.
Just last year, President Biden decreased federal spending by $550 billion and reduced the deficit by $1.4 trillion — the largest one-year deficit drop in American history — all while creating five times more jobs in 2 years than the last three Republican presidents combined.
If not for the Reagan, Bush, and Trump tax cuts for billionaires and the two wars George W. Bush lied us into, our national debt would today be zero instead of over $30 trillion.
Republicans destroy small business
The core of American business and thus the livelihood of American communities before Reagan was small- and medium-sized companies.
We enforced anti-trust laws so aggressively that when Buster Brown and Kinney shoe companies wanted to merge in the 1960s the Supreme Court blocked the merger because the combined company would control about 5 percent of the US shoe market. Nike alone today controls around 20 percent of that market.
Small- and medium-sized companies built America and brought us the American middle class, the first and largest middle class in the world. But in 1983, when Reagan ordered the DOJ, FTC, and SEC to stop enforcing anti-trust laws dating back to the Sherman Act of 1890, giant corporations began a relentless campaign to destroy locally-owned companies.
Strip malls and small-town downtowns that were once mostly home to local retailers are now dominated by giant monopolistic national chains. Big Box stores, spreading across the country unconstrained since Reagan, have been wiping out small towns and rural communities.
One study found, as Reuters reported:
“[T]he closer a store was to the Walmart location, the greater the likelihood it would close. Persky and his colleagues found that for every mile closer to the Walmart, 6 percent more stores closed. Close in around the store's location, between 35 and 60 percent of stores closed.”
For most American businesses and the communities they serve, Republican governance has been a disaster since the Reagan 1980s.
Education supports business
In the 1950s, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower championed building tens of thousands of new public schools all across America, an effort supported by the business community because an educated workforce is a productive workforce.
From the early days of the Industrial Revolution, Americans were proud that we had one of the best-educated workforces in the world, and that itself was a huge boost to business.
In 2010, though, when fossil fuel billionaires bankrolled the Tea Party and were looking for an issue to beat up on Democrats in the 2010 and 2012 elections, they seized on the national standards for education program conceived and legislatively initiated by both Republicans and Democrats called “Common Core.”
Although it had been endorsed by the US Chamber of Commerce and GOP presidential front-runner Jeb Bush (among others) and was in place in 45 states, word went out that it was an effort to “indoctrinate” American students.
The story ran day after day on Fox “News” and rightwing hate radio. Hysteria followed, and Red state after Red state outlawed these new high standards for high-school graduation. Republican grandstanding for political gain actually dumbed down America.
The 2020 version of this was Critical Race Theory, another equally bogus attack on public education. Between this, “Don’t Say Gay,” and banning thousands of books, the Republican war on public education has blossomed into full flower.
Now, Republican states are trying to shut down their public schools altogether via state-wide voucher programs, replacing Eisenhower’s AAA+ education system with state-funded religious and rightwing for-profit schools that refuse to teach actual science, civics, or American history.
Arizona was the first to go statewide with vouchers, and Republican legislators in Texas, Florida, Kansas, and a dozen other GOP-run states are considering the same. It’s quite simply an all-out effort to destroy public education and subsidize religious schools and private all-white academies for upper-middle-class people who can take advantage of a voucher that only covers part of the cost of tuition.
The only option left for the very poorest people will be the few remaining public schools, essentially turning them into ghettos.
Unions made America — and American business — rich
Republican President Dwight Eisenhower ran for re-election in the 1956 election by bragging that he’d expanded Social Security across America, and his 1952 election was mostly powered by his enthusiastic endorsement of unionization.
At a speech before the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1952, Eisenhower noted that the first national legalization of unions in America was signed by Republican President Calvin Coolidge, the 1926 Railway Labor Act.
“Only a handful of unreconstructed reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions,” he told the union group now known as the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest. “Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice.”
Similarly, in September of 1970 President Richard Nixon hosted labor leaders from across America, praising the movement. As The New York Times noted on September 8, 1970:
“When the ‘great issue’ has been whether to support the President and to meet the nation’s responsibilities ‘for defending and protecting the forces of freedom in the world,’ he said, ‘American labor has never been found wanting. It has always been the first in war and in peace.’”
As a result of combined Democratic and Republican support of unions, by Reagan’s election in 1980 about two-thirds of all American workers had a union job or it’s equivalent, with great pay, benefits, and retirement plans, because a third of workers were union members and that set the pay and benefits floor for the non-union employers to compete for another third of workers.
But, following Nixon putting Lewis Powell on the Supreme Court in 1971, the GOP began to adopt the positions in the Powell Memo, which included gutting labor unions so the morbidly rich could become even richer.
Their rationale was that workers having a say in the workplace had “destabilized” America, a point first made in 1951 by Russell Kirk in his book The Conservative Mind that I detailed two years ago here.
President Reagan, however, declared war on organized labor with his attack on the PATCO union. Ever since, the GOP has been fighting efforts to expand unionization.
Combined with Reagan’s massive tax cuts for billionaires and giant corporations, this loss of union representation has led to a $50 trillion transfer of wealth from the homes and retirement accounts of working-class people straight into the money bins of the morbidly rich.
Instead of two-thirds of Americans having a middle-class lifestyle like in 1980, today that number is down to around 45 percent of us. As a result, both poverty and homelessness have exploded across the land. And poor and homeless people can’t afford to support a strong economy — and thus American business — the way a prosperous middle class can.
Republicans fight regulations that save American lives and protect business
Dwight Eisenhower created the Small Business Administration to “aid, counsel, assist, and protect insofar as is possible the interests of small-business concerns.”
He signed a massive expansion of Social Security to take the pension/retirement onus off small- and medium-sized employers, increased the minimum wage so a prospering working class could purchase the products of American manufacturers, and built low-income housing across the nation to end the homeless “hobo” problem left over from the Republican Great Depression.
Eisenhower created from scratch the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to build a healthy and well-educated workforce, while Richard Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Agency into law to save the lives of American workers being killed by toxic pesticides and other chemicals (the agency’s creation was provoked by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring).
Today’s GOP opposes all of these programs and agencies. They only support the largest American companies and the richest citizens.
When Trump was president, he rolled back regulation of toxic pesticides known to cause brain damage to children, and one of his first official acts in office was to end the prohibition of coal mines dumping their toxic waste and tailings into America’s rivers, polluting downstream water supplies with cancer-causing chemicals.
Republicans keep business costs absurdly high
Arguably, the best policy possible for American businesses of all sizes is the Medicare For All program promoted for decades by progressive Democrats.
Back in 2004, Toyota announced they’d be opening a new factory in North America. Three southern US states offered them billions in tax advantages and free land, with the Republican governor of Alabama openly bragging about how cheaply his citizens would work for the company.
But in the end, in 2005, Toyota announced they’d be building the factory in Ontario, Canada because US healthcare costs are nearly twice those of Canada, which has had a successful Medicare For All system in place for more than a half-century (as I lay out in The Hidden History of American Healthcare: Why Sickness Bankrupts You and Makes Others Insanely Rich).
Since then, as Republicans (and a few bought-off Democrats) continue to fight any effort to establish a national healthcare or health insurance system, the company has built two more North American factories in Canada.
If it wasn’t for Republican obstruction, they would’ve been built here and the jobs would be here.
Today’s Republicans offer only hate, fear, and more tax cuts for billionaires
The simple reality is that Republicans have no coherent plans for the American economy beyond more tax cuts for their morbidly rich donors and more deregulation of the very largest and most polluting corporations.
To compensate for this deficiency, they push hate against queer people, public school teachers, women, and dark-skinned immigrants. DeSantis has gone so far as to attack Disney, Florida’s largest employer and source of tax revenues, because they had the temerity to respect their gay, lesbian, and trans employees and customers.
Republicans have banned hundreds of books from public schools and libraries, saturated our towns and cities with weapons of war, banned women’s access to reproductive healthcare, and packed our courts with judges who’d be comfortable with the American Nazi movement, the Federalist Society, and the John Birch Society.
Not only are these policies and positions bad for America, they’re also destructive of most American businesses.
So, the next time some idiot tries to tell you that the GOP is “the party of business,” let them know the real facts.
The only businesses Republicans actually support are gun sellers, megachurches, corrupt defense contractors, and giant monopolies. And none of those are good for average Americans, locally-owned businesses, or the US economy.