Movement conservatives should be viewed as termites gnawing away at the structure of the commonwealth. Like an unscrupulous exterminator, who surreptitiously introduced the termites initially then shows up to rid them, conservatives then benefit from this destruction. Since Reagan, conservatives have been able to undermine government when in power then turn around and campaign against government as dysfunctional. All in all, it’s a pretty sweet gig.

Presently, there’s an illustrative example of this phenomenon.

In Michigan, Republican Governor Rick Snyder overrode the Flint city council and installed an emergency manager in an ideological crusade to run government like a business.

How’d that work out?

To save money, Flint’s water supply was switched to the heavily polluted Flint River in 2014. At the same time, officials stopped adding treatment chemicals to control corrosion in the system’s old lead pipes. When residents complained about the discolored and foul-smelling water coming out of their taps, and researchers found evidence of lead contamination, their concerns were brushed aside by state officials.

Governor Snyder, in the wake of the outrage over the poisoning of the water of Flint, responded. “Government failed you.”

The chutzpah is absolutely amazing. Conservatives, like Snyder, set government up to fail with huge tax cuts for the wealthy, while privatizing the functions of government by turning it over to their corporate buddies.

Marcy Wheeler, editor of Emptywheel and Michigan resident, lays out the gruesome details.

“One of the first things Snyder did when he took office was give business a big tax cut while raising taxes on the seniors and shifting revenue sharing away from cities. He basically gave the rich tax breaks while making the less fortunate pick up the slack. That big tax shift accompanied Snyder’s efforts to make “fiscally responsible” cuts in cities like Flint and Detroit.

These things all go together: the tax cuts for the rich, the defunding of poorer areas, the secret donations from corporations to back such policies, and the charity that Flint residents now need to get safe drinking water. It’s what you get when the rich buy policies — and the P.R. to spin those policies — that get governments out of the business of basic governance.”

Wash, rinse, repeat.

It’s tempting to say that American’s have gotten what they deserve. After all, the people of Michigan elected a dick like Snyder to be their governor. It’s not like he didn’t campaign on doing exactly what he’s done.

Still, to be fair, movement conservatives have spent the past four decades laying the groundwork for such policies. Ever since Richard Nixon charted the Southern Strategy, the GOP has used emotion, fear and grievance to get white Americans to vote against New Deal government policies that resulted in a strong and vibrant middle-class. In the process, the GOP has rewarded wealthy Americans with tax breaks and deregulation.

These politics of resentment have been successful. The termites have largely undermined the basis for American representative democracy. Certainly they have gnawed through any notion that government can be a force for good, as polls show American’s with a deep distrust in governance at all levels.

Just to be clear, since I’m coming across as incredibly partisan, the termites would not have been nearly as destructive without the assistance of the Democratic Party.

That’s a story we’ll take up in the next post.

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