WITHER GOES AMERICA IN THE TRUMP ERA?

WE NEED A NEW DEMOCRATIC AGENDA

Two things to remember that came out of the 2016 Presidential Election: (Well, three if you included the Russian rigging but I’ll leave that aside.)  1) Trump won by focusing on the economy and jobs. (Yes, he lied about both but it got him elected.) and 2) Bernie Sanders - who also focused on economic issues but didn’t lie – identified a powerful and winning coalition for mainstream Democrats.  Taking the latter first, mainstream Democrats did not fully embrace Sanders’ democratic socialism and many rejected it outright, including Hillary Clinton although she did adopt many of Sanders’ economic policies in the end.  As for the former, Democrats never linked income inequality, Citizen’s United, the excesses of capitalism, the crushing of the working and middle classes with how these issues were related to jobs.   Hillary did make a “mistake” by quite honestly telling West Virginians that their coal mining jobs were simply not coming back even though this is true.  Honesty is often not a winning strategy in elections as The Donald so clearly illustrated.  

It wasn’t that the Democrats lacked a fulsome platform or menu of propaganda items that could appeal to America, they did.   But it was Trump’s populist appeal to Whites in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and West Virginia that even if Millennials had voted in the same numbers as they had for Obama or fewer people had not voted for third party candidates, it remains a question whether Trump’s bombastic, fundamentally racist and xenophobic campaign could have been overcome.   People, white people, were and continue to be “nervous” about their futures and with some justification.   Particularly when put in terms of their children and their grandchildren, the question is: “Will they be better off tomorrow than they are today?”  As of this moment, the short answer is: “No, they won’t be.”  That is our reality in 2017.

This fear is reasonable.  The fear of being overwhelmed by a tide of minorities is not, however, just as the historically powerful fear of the Irish, the Italians, and the Jews was not, even though these three groups were even more maligned than are minorities and Muslims in 2017.   Democrats must take up the refrain of “who we are as Americans” as Hillary did but she did so without great effect. She posited the fundamental question of what America stands for in its ideals, its character and our fundamental beliefs but did not link this positive vision of America to the present day fundamental changes that have occurred and will continue to occur and how they could positively impact Trump’s Rust Belters.  To say nothing about what to do about it. 

It occurs to me that we are at one of those cultural and social “hinge points” in our history.   For decades now, conservatives have wrapped every problem associated with “what’s happened to America” to the lack of full, unfettered Free Market Economic policies that aren't constrained by pesky government regulations.  The far right wing, of course, pins every problem on us liberal and progressive attempts to destroy America through political correctness, free speech impediments and same sex marriage.  But we all know that this is bullshit.  But what isn’t as readily accepted is the utter bankruptcy of the Free Market Capitalism mantra Republicans and conservatives have been screeching about for decades.  This too is bullshit.   In this arena, Bernie Sanders was spot on in recognizing the fundamental economic changes that have caused so much of working and middle class Americans pain and he proposed real world solutions.  Sure, how his universal healthcare and free college tuition promises were to be paid for was less than precise.  But Europe addressed these issues a couple of decades ago and it was from this real world experience from which he drew his inspiration.    Fundamental changes in our tax policies are necessary to achieve his vision and they are not going to happen with lying Paul Ryan heading up a Republican House and Mitch McConnell heading up a Republican Senate.   We only do short term economic "fixes" rather than attacking the fundamental underlying problems with our tax policies that have been with us for decades now. 

But here in America we are still arguing about how “government regulations kill jobs” and “tax cuts creates jobs” two of the most dramatically false pieces of economic propaganda since just prior to the Great Depression.  One only need consider the adoption of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990 to see how regulations can actually work in the real world.  There is probably no regulatory piece of legislation that has impacted America as broadly and deeply as this one.  It required all new buildings to conform to a plethora of brand new accessibility requirements and all renovations of existing buildings to do the same.  What were the impacts, other than providing the 19% of Americans who are physically disables the ability to enter and use buildings all across America?   Well, in the first place, it caused a flurry of new construction jobs all over the country, spurred the design and manufacture of literally hundreds of thousands of new handicapped accessible appliances, toilet fixtures and other commonly used items in building construction, the installation of rails, ramps, grab bars and so many other items used in buildings all the way down to newly designed accessible water fountains.  It resulted in billions of dollars of new construction, services and manufactured products that were implemented in every state and every locality around the country.  This was the impact of this Federal regulation.

Now, not all regulations result in an explosion of new jobs but by the same token the Americans With Disabilities Act demonstrates that some regulations are actually very strong job creators.  Yet you don’t hear any politician who is willing to own up to this truism.  Why?  Because we are in the grip of ideological politics not a politics of practicality and reality and we’ve been in this posture since Ronald Reagan declared that “Government isn’t the solution; Government is the Problem.”  Since that time Democrats have yielded the economic playing field to conservatives and Republicans.  They aided and abetted such now debunked memes as “Three Strikes And You’re Out,” “Just Say No To Drugs,” “Mandatory Minimum Sentences,” “Tax Cuts for the Wealthy,” and the entire panoply of conservative economic, political and social issues.  Not all of course, but in the economics sphere, Democrats have been the handmaidens enabling all the Republican Free Market Economics crap that has so hurt working and middle class Americans to say nothing of the rest of us.  Seen from this view, is it any wonder that Trump captured the loyalty and imagination of the very folks who have been harmed by the onslaught of conservative economic dogma even if they don't realize it?  Not really.

So from here on out, Democrats must adopt policies that reflect the realities of the modern world – we are deeply connected to the threads of inter-global economic interactions and this will not change – and present America with their solutions for protecting American workers from the excesses of this reality.  Tariffs, border walls, immigration bans, trade wars are simply not the answer.  I think most Democrats are aware that these Trump tactics are nothing more than empty words that may sound good and are popular but are ultimately unrealistic and ineffective.   This leaves Democrats with a fundamental dilemma: Do they chose populist solutions or real solutions?  I don’t have clue what those solutions might look like, but I think there is no question that we cannot continue along the same conservative pathway we’ve ben following for three decades now.  The evidence is in: It Hasn’t Worked.  And even though the Rust Belter Trump voters don’t “get it,” this is the fundamental problem that they – and we – face.  

I think there is no question that a turn towards socialism, Bernie’s Democratic Socialism, for example, is essential.  Single payer health insurance?  We are the only Western country who doesn’t provide it.  Free college tuition?  Most European countries have been doing this for quite some time now.  A move towards sustainable energy sources?  There can be no argument against this.  Reformation of our criminal justice system?  Without question.  There are so many public issues that we know the solutions for and yet the stranglehold that Conservatives and Republicans have – and have had – over legislation to actually implement such policies is why we are stuck with a political ideology that is simply bad for Americans.  (Well, bad if you are not wealthy.) 

And that new Millennial/Liberal/Progressive winning coalition I mentioned?  It's there.  The fact that Hillary Clinton won by 3 million votes despite all the crap thrown at her by the right wing during the campaign and a lackluster performance is pretty solid evidence that we can prevail.   

So come the 2018 elections and beyond we shall see if liberals, progressives, Millennials and all of us to the right of Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones will prevail.  I’m not convinced that we will. 


Have a Great Day!



 

  






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