When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Republicans Are Still Clinging To 'Anglo-Saxon Virtue' Myth

On the go
On the go
Francis Wilkinson

WASHINGTON — In 1965, not long after his assertion that adopting Medicare would mark the death of freedom, Ronald Reagan, that great sunny-side optimist of the American right, explained the apocalyptic, anti-democratic impulse that animated the far right of his day, and which now permeates the Republican Party.

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse out of the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority … always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the treasury with the result that democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by dictatorship."

Reagan's remark was not an aberration; he repeated versions of it on other occasions. Nor did Reagan claim the paragraph's vision as his own. He was quoting another man, or so he thought. Reagan misattributed the commentary to an 18th-century Scottish lord, Alexander Fraser Tytler, who apparently didn't much fancy the American Revolution.

As David Wagner wrote in the Atlantic in 2012, dubious sourcing of the quote has produced a long comedy of conservative error. Radio host and Donald Trump cheerleader Laura Ingraham gave Alexis de Tocqueville credit for the insight. Others have attributed it to Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin or some other dead man whose reputation for genius could be commandeered, without protest, to imbue insipid conjecture with ancient gravity.

The democratic experiment, pretty old by the time of Reagan's 1965 speech, is even more so now. Exactly how long must we wait before the grasping horde "discovers' that with one neat trick — the vote — it can loot the treasury and wallow in ill-gotten gains? How dumb are these voters who, more than two centuries into the game, still haven't figured out that they hold a royal flush?

The sequence beginning with "vote themselves largesse" and ending in "dictatorship" may be false as history and hapless as political analysis. But it's a pretty good window on psychology. After all, the fear of voters awarding themselves "largesse" is simply a powder-wigged antecedent to Speaker Paul Ryan's own midnight ride, in which he alerted wealthy "makers' of the nefarious designs of the "takers." Mitt Romney, in 2012, helpfully identified the "takers' as the "47 percent." Yet whatever the label, Republicans instinctively grasped the horde's innermost desire: "free stuff."

Ryan subsequently apologized for his divisive language. But the divisive policies to which his party remains devoted haven't changed. Nor has public opposition to them.

In April, Gallup did its annual survey of American opinion on taxes. In the poll, 63% said they felt "upper income" Americans paid too little in taxes. The year before, 61% said so. The year before that, it was 62%. Likewise, in April 67% said they felt corporations pay too little. The figure was the same in 2016 and slightly higher, 69%, in 2015.

As it happens, Americans are quite sure, year after year, that they don't see a need for tax cuts for the wealthy or corporations. Still, Republicans persist.

The GOP's effort to transfer trillions from poor to rich may be unpopular, cruel, and indefensible as economic policy. But if you fear that the wild horde is coming for the treasury any hour now, and you want to secure for yourself as much as possible before the looting begins, Ryan's proposals, like Trump's "Taxpayer First" budget, would get the job done.

White Protestants long considered themselves to have a "unique capacity for self-government"

The health-care legislation that Ryan shepherded through the House cashes in health insurance for millions of poor and middle-class Americans to provide big tax cuts to the very wealthiest. Meanwhile, Trump's budget eviscerates spending on the poor and disabled, including many who voted for him, and transfers that money to the wealthy in the form of tax cuts. "This is I think the first time in a long time that an administration has written a budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the taxes," said White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.

For some anxious conservatives, the nation's demographic transformation, with a white majority expected to cede to a non-white majority around mid-century, no doubt adds special urgency to the task of pocketing the treasury receipts now as a hedge against an untrustworthy future electorate.

As John Higham wrote in his history of American nativism, "Strangers in the Land," white Protestants long considered themselves to have a "unique capacity for self-government." Other races, they were quite sure, lacked this "supreme Anglo-Saxon virtue, a gift for political freedom."

In her book "Democracy in Chains," author Nancy MacLean recounts a conservative argument from the 1950s, which held that blacks had no claim to equal public schooling because blacks failed to produce the tax revenue necessary to support well-financed schools. (A few centuries of state-sanctioned enslavement, torture and continued oppression was then, as now, a poor excuse.)

Some whites still convince themselves that whites have an especially virtuous work ethic, or are uniquely deserving of government resources. It doesn't take much to imagine how such fantasies interact with fears that the undeserving will soon "vote themselves largesse" from the treasury. Given the perceived threat, it makes sense to manufacture reasons to make it harder for the horde to vote, and to stock up on guns, too.

As much as their own dysfunction allows, Republicans are working to safeguard wealth from the tyranny of the democratic masses, to hold off the "takers' long enough to enable the "makers' to gather and secure their just desserts. Trump surely represents a unique threat to American democracy. But just as surely, he does not represent the only one.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


The West Has An Answer To China's New Silk Road — With A Lift From The Gulf

The U.S. and Europe are seeking to rival China by launching a huge joint project. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States will also play a key role – because the battle for world domination is not being fought on China’s doorstep, but in the Middle East.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Indian Prime Minister Narendra and U.S. President Joe Biden shaking hands during PGII & India-Middle East-Europe Economics Corridor event at the G20 Summit on Sept. 9 in New Delhi

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Indian Prime Minister Narendra and U.S. President Joe Biden during PGII & India-Middle East-Europe Economics Corridor event at the G20 Summit on Sept. 9 in New Delhi

Daniel-Dylan Böhmer


BERLIN — When world leaders are so keen to emphasize the importance of a project, we may well be skeptical. “This is a big deal, a really big deal,” declared U.S. President Joe Biden earlier this month.

The "big deal" he's talking about is a new trade and infrastructure corridor planned to be built between India, the Middle East and Europe.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the project as a “beacon of cooperation, innovation and shared progress,” while President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen called it a “green and digital bridge across continents and civilizations."

The corridor will consist of improved railway networks, shipping ports and submarine cables. It is not only India, the U.S. and Europe that are investing in it – they are also working together on the project with Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Arabia is planning to provide $20 billion in funding for the corridor, but aside from that, the sums involved are as yet unclear. The details will be hashed out over the next two months. But if the West and its allies truly want to compete with China's so-called New Silk Road, they will need a lot of money.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest