During the Cold War, Republicans as well as Democrats fought for union endorsements and recognized that unions were critical civic organizations because they serve as a check on arbitrary government power; help sustain a middle-class society necessary for a stable democracy; serve to acculturate workers to democratic norms; and, in the case of teachers unions, support a public school system that helps children become thoughtful and reflective citizens.Kahlenberg appears to be under the mistaken impression that modern conservatives actually want to strengthen democracy. They want no such thing.
Conservatives are fond of citing Alexis de Tocqueville, who was famously struck by the thriving civic associations that keep American democracy vitalized; for the past century, unions have been a critical part of that framework....
Democracies are also more likely to thrive when a vibrant middle class can support them, an insight that goes all the way back to Aristotle. Large inequalities of wealth can create political inequality, and vice versa....
Unions serve as what Robert Putnam, a political scientist at Harvard, calls “schools for democracy.” Being involved in workplace decisions and the give and take of collective bargaining, voting on union contracts and voting for union leadership are all important drivers of “democratic acculturation.” Union members also staff phone banks and canvass voters door to door, which actually increases civic participation among union members and nonmembers alike.
Teachers unions are strong champions of American public schooling, which undergirds our democracy. The 19th-century educator Horace Mann, who advocated fiercely for the common school system that became America’s experiment with public education, made this point metaphorically: “A republican form of government, without intelligence in the people, must be, on a vast scale, what a mad-house, without superintendent or keepers, would be on a small one.”
Conservatism thrives when economic inequality is increasing. The formula is simple: Take good jobs at good wages from blue-collar whites. When they express anger and anxiety, blame non-white recipients of social services provided by "big government." Lather. Rinse. Repeat, ad infinitum.
Conservatism has been thriving in a period when ordinary Americans haven't been participating in civic associations and experiencing "democratic acculturation." In the low-civic-engagement era described in Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone, we've moved almost seamlessly from one Republican demagogue to another -- from Reagan to Limbaugh to Gingrich to Bush and Cheney to the Tea Party rabble-rousers in Congress and the strongmen in statehouses all over America, Scott Walker and Chris Christie and Paul Le Page and Rick Snyder and Rick Scott -- and now we're moving on to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. This all may be getting out of hand for the right at this moment, but it's worked pretty well so far. Much of the public is primed to be skeptical of democracy, and of government, and is thus happy to accept a dictatorship of the powerful. At Salon, Bob Cesca explains how that's working out for the right:
In the last 30 years, the Republicans have systematically infiltrated government from the school board level and up. 23 states are completely controlled by Republicans — the governorship and both houses of the state legislatures. Sixty eight of the 98 state legislative chambers are controlled by Republicans. That’s a party record. And the benefits of this strategy are obvious. Eight eight pro-gun laws since Sandy Hook, when gun control should’ve easily passed with supermajority support from voters, including Republicans. Forty seven state laws were passed in 2015 restricting abortion access. Thirty states have enacted Voter ID laws, even though the rate of voter fraud is so hilarious minuscule it barely exists at all. Every single one of these laws benefit the Republicans, especially the voter ID laws, which ultimately restrict voting access to registered Democrats.And now all they need is a president and they can add full-bore nationwide economic Randianism to this list.
Why would conservatives want to mess with this trend? Why would they want Americans more attuned to democracy, better educated, more economically equal? That's terrible for them. The worse for ordinary people, the better for the right.