The spectacle of the elites of a civilization desperately trying to maintain their status by dwelling on the glorious, morally upright, and largely mythical past is well known to historians. Whether it was the Roman Senator Cato The Younger's fashion to ape his ancient ancestors by going " commando" under his toga, or a Russian nationalist depiction of the Romanov dynasty as a period of enlightenment and prosperity , the attempts of various rulers to restore their lost prestige and power usually end up at the very least being ludicrous and at worst horribly destructive.
This is what we are witnessing among America's ruling class right now. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the conservative movement still believes without question that unregulated capitalism will save their empire. They look back upon the Gilded Age as the model of economic efficiency and freedom.
And that was all too apparent in Glenn Beck's latest train- wreck of a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in which in a crazy stream of ( un )conciousness way he weaves a alternate history of the Progressive Movement in the U.S.A. According to Beck, Theodore Roosevelt was practically a communist, Herbert Hoover was a progressive ( !), and the Progressive Movement was responsible for the Great Depression.
Typically of today's reactionary propagandists, Beck cherry picks a few facts and phrases from a shallow reading of a history book, and pulls a historical fantasy out of his ass. Forget details like how the word " progressive" meant a very different thing to the anti- union, pro- imperialist Theodore Roosevelt than it did to socialists like Eugene Debs. Or that the segregationist Woodrow Wilson was reviled by the American Left.Or that Herbert Hoover sat on his thumbs and waited for the all- knowing capitalists to pull the economy together for the rest of his term. No, in the Beckian world of mutable oversimplification, progressives have to be one monolithic movement, with Republicans identifying themselves as the least bit reformist being cast out of GOP history to join evildoers like Karl Marx and John Lennon.
Its all part of the struggle to re- make the GOP into the ubercapitalist party. Rather than make reformist gestures to keep the workers from waking up and demanding revolution, like Theodore Roosevelt did, the radical Christian, laissez- faire Republicans of today placate their proletarian base by re- writing history. They portray the Robber Baron phase of capitalism as a paradise, where every American had a house with a white picket fence, was amply rewarded for an honest day's work, and would be a millionaire if he had drive and talent. No mention of 16- hour days for a wage that could not cover the basic needs of life, the destruction of the family as husband, wife, and child all slaved away in the mines, factories, and mills of the bosses, or the rampant racism that terrorized and humiliated people of color throughout the country.
Beck and his followers also seem to be unwilling or unable to notice that the very politicians they support are the very ones who lobby incescently on the behalf of transnational corporations to send American jobs overseas, drive down the wages of the the jobs that remain, pollute their local environments, etc., etc. Through do- it- yourself history, the Robber Barons of old become the heroes and the workers who fought for the rights that many of their descendants enjoy are the villans.
Which suits the Global Robber Barons of today just fine.