I’ve been wading in the muck all my life, and instead of treading more water, I think I’d just like to get out of the shit.
Schrecker said the rise of Trump has been in the making for four decades. Corporations funded and established institutions to close the cultural, social and political openings made in the 1960s, especially in universities, the press, labor and the arts. These corporate forces turned government into a destructive power. America was pillaged and cannibalized for profit. We now live in a deindustrialized wasteland. This scorched-earth assault created fertile ground for a demagogue.
The late Lewis Powell, a general counsel to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and later a Supreme Court justice, in 1971 wrote an eight-page memo outlining a campaign to counter what the document’s title described as an “Attack on American Free Enterprise System.” The memo established the Business Roundtable, which generated huge monetary resources and political clout to direct government policy and mold public opinion. The Powell report listed methods that corporations could use to silence those in “the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals” who were hostile to corporate interests.
Powell called for the establishment of lavishly funded think tanks and conservative institutes. He proposed that ideological assaults against government regulation and environmental protection be directed at a mass audience. He advocated placing corporate-friendly academics and neoliberal economists in universities and banishing from the public sphere those who challenged unfettered corporate power—especially Ralph Nader, whom Powell cited by name. Organizations were to be formed to monitor and pressure the media to report favorably on issues that furthered corporate interests. Pro-corporate judges were to be placed on the bench.
Academics were to be controlled by pressure from right-wing watch lists, co-opted university administrators and wealthy donors. Under the prolonged assault the universities, like the press, eventually became compliant, banal and monochromatic.
“He spelled out a need for an alternative to academic knowledge,” Schrecker said of Powell. “He felt the academy had been undermined by the left. He wanted to establish an alternative source of expertise. What you’re getting in the 1970s is the development of things like the American Enterprise Institute [in existence since 1938] , The Heritage Foundation, a whole bunch of think tanks on the right who people in the media can go to and get expertise. But it’s politically motivated.”
“It was unbelievably successful,” she said of the campaign. “It’s pretty bad. What we’re seeing today is an assault on knowledge. What came out of this are the culture wars of the late 1980s and 1990s which created a set of stereotypes of professors as deconstructionist, raging feminists who hate men, cross-dressers, and, worse, who are out of touch with reality.”
The ideological attack was accompanied by corporate campaigns to defund public schools and universities, along with public broadcasting and the arts. The humanities were eviscerated. Vocational training, including the expansion of the study of finance and economics in universities, replaced disciplines that provided students with cultural and historical literacy, that allowed them to step outside of themselves to feel and express empathy for the other. Students were no longer taught how to think, but what to think. Civic education died. A grotesque kind of illiteracy—one exemplified by Trump—was celebrated. Success became solely about amassing wealth. The cult of the self, the essence of corporatism, became paramount.