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“Utterly Uncouth And Unqualified”: Donald Trump Is A Middle Finger To The Entire Political System

Is the key to Donald Trump’s success just old-fashioned racism? He surely stokes race hatred among his followers and even more-or-less openly panders to anti-Semitism. Yet he also seems to feed on economic desperation. He has won running against trade, his support tracks inversely with educational attainment, and he’s posted his biggest margins in some of the most desperate counties in America; surely economic anxiety has something to do with his rise.

This has led to various attempts to untangle race from economic factors in predicting Trump’s support. An effort from The Washington Post found some of both, with racial resentment something like twice as important in predicting Trump support. Yet one should not end the analysis there: Trump also represents bitter hatred of the political system, driven by the shredding of the American social contract over the last 40 years.

The thing about Trump is that not only is he the most openly bigoted presidential candidate since 1968 (or perhaps even 1948), he’s also utterly uncouth and unqualified. Unlike William F. Buckley, his racism is not genteel or hidden behind polite words, and unlike George Wallace or Strom Thurmond, he has precisely zero political experience. Even against his Republican primary opponents, he was a boorish jerk, insulting their wives and boasting about the size of his penis.

In other words, Trump doesn’t just express bigoted views, he also has utter contempt for the traditional norms of political decorum, and in previous times would have been considered a completely laughable choice for president. But his followers revel in it.

The rise of Trump is worth examining in the context of this brilliant article by Matthew Stoller, detailing the change in the American social contract from the postwar generation to today. In brief, for 30 years after World War II, there was a strong political-economic consensus around a high rate of unionization, shared productivity growth, strict financial regulation, and low unemployment — all centered around homeownership as the bedrock of middle-class status and wealth.

Starting in the mid-’70s, this social contract was slowly ripped apart. First unions were deliberately crushed in the Volcker recession, and low unemployment was gradually discarded as a political goal. This severed the link between productivity growth and wage growth. Meanwhile, Wall Street was slowly unchained, resulting in repeated financial bubbles, each one larger than the last (and each with concomitant sprees of fraud).

Yet growing consumer spending was still needed for economic growth. Thus American women went to work, and American families levered up. They took out credit cards, and drew down their savings. “Finally, they liquidated their financial assets, including their home equity,” Stoller writes. A new, much less egalitarian social contract emerged, where wages were replaced with credit.

But this contained the seeds of its own destruction. Eventually Americans had reached the absolute limit of how much debt they could take on, while simultaneously Wall Street blew up the biggest bubble yet, and this time around the key asset for ordinary families. When home prices collapsed, middle-class America got it right on the chin, and tens of millions were ruined outright.

As David Dayen’s new book details, the Obama administration rescued Wall Street from its self-induced problems but basically ignored foreclosures, figuring that eventually the system would unclog and normal operation of the mortgage and homebuilding sectors would return. They didn’t, because the administration fundamentally misunderstood what was happening. Home equity collapsed for years, and while it has since recovered to some extent, drastically fewer are represented: The homeownership rate has steadily fallen to levels not seen since the mid-’60s.

The Reagan-era social contract has collapsed, and nothing is on the horizon to replace it — indeed, it’s hard to imagine a “social contract” whereby a largely parasitic financial and executive class makes off with virtually all income gains, a rapidly vanishing middle class is increasingly locked out of wealth creation, and the political class is all but owned outright by Wall Street. Such a society would be more about coercing consent from the restless masses through surveillance, mass incarceration, and highly militarized police than it would be about obtaining it by social spending and quality services.

A white backlash to the first black president is a very important part of Trump’s rise. But the fact that he represents a raised middle finger to the entire American political system is, I submit, about equal in importance.

Now, it’s worth noting that the old postwar days were by no means perfect. Homeownership is a highly problematic bedrock for middle-class wealth, particularly in the dispersed, suburban style typical of America. Worse, a great many demographics were left out of the good times — minorities and women especially.

Yet it is unquestionably true that those days had much more enthusiastic buy-in from the broad mass of the population than today. Trust in the federal government has fallen from 77 percent in 1964 to about 20 percent today. The approval ratings of the Supreme Court and especially Congress have also plummeted.

Back in the ’50s and ’60s, minority activism to get a piece of what the white middle and working class had was a sensible goal. Now it seems inadequate, as more and more white folks are careening down to meet their black brethren at the bottom of the social ladder.

What is needed is a new social contract that restores some fairness and decency to American society. Without it, the politics of rage and contempt will only grow.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, May 24, 2016

May 26, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Middle Class, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Really Dumb Politics”: The Stupidest Thing GOP Leaders Have Done Lately? Threaten To Take Away Middle Class Overtime Pay

Talk about a political tin ear! Wednesday, House Republican Leader Paul Ryan and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell threatened to take away middle class overtime pay.

Speaking as a Progressive Democrat my response is simple: go ahead — make our day. Talk about bad politics.

Here is the backstory. On Wednesday, the administration announced its final rule revising the threshold used to define who is automatically required to be paid time and a half for overtime when they work more than 40 hours per week.

The Wage and Hour Act that was passed in 1938 requires overtime be paid to almost all hourly workers. But there are exceptions for professional, managerial and executive personnel.

To prevent employers from declaring that people who do ordinary jobs are professional, managerial or executive personnel, the law required the Labor Department to set a pay threshold. If a worker makes less than that threshold, he or she cannot be categorized as a professional, manager or executive, no matter what his or her “duties.”

Three decades ago, when the wage threshold was set, 62 percent of all workers made less than that threshold and qualified for automatic overtime, no matter their job classification.

But the threshold has not been materially increased for 30 years. As a result, only 8 percent of all employees now qualify for automatic overtime. And, not surprisingly, many companies have driven a Mack truck right through the “professional, executive and managerial” loophole. As a result many employees, like some who spend most of their days making sandwiches at Subway, are classified as “managers” and required to work 50- or 60-hour weeks with no overtime pay. In fact, they are often put on fixed — if tiny — “salaries” so they get no pay for overtime at all.

The disappearance of overtime protections is precisely one of the rules of the economic game that has been rigged by the CEO class to assure that virtually all of the new income growth in America has gone to the top one percent.

So Wednesday, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Sherrod Brown went to Columbus, Ohio to announce that the threshold would be raised from $23,000 — where it has been stuck for years — to $47,500.

This is a huge victory for the middle class and all ordinary workers, and it is likely to benefit more than 12 million American families. It will once again make certain that workers are actually paid for their overtime.

But to hear the Republicans, this was a gigantic Obama overreach that will stifle job growth and hurt small businesses. This is the same thing they say whenever we increase the minimum wage or take other steps to make certain that ordinary people get to keep a bigger share of economic growth that they themselves create. But Republican predictions of doom never turn out to be true.

Of course the reason it never turns out to be true is that economic growth — and with it, job growth — is actually fueled by putting more money into consumer pockets rather than in the offshore accounts of corporate CEOs.

But putting the economics of the case aside — for the GOP this is really dumb politics. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or political guru to tell you that trying to take away the overtime pay of ordinary voters will not make them happy — no matter how happy it makes the GOP’s corporate givers.

If there is one thing that this election season has made crystal clear: ordinary voters are plenty unhappy about the fact that their incomes have flatlined at the same time CEO salaries and bonuses have soared. It makes no sense to them that per capita Gross Domestic Product has shot up 48 percent over the last 30 years and yet their incomes have stagnated. And they are figuring out who is to blame — the .01 percent that rigged the rules of the economic game so they could keep virtually all of that gain for themselves.

But Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have convinced their rank and file that they are better off being dragged around by their noses by corporate bigwigs who give them money than they are by paying attention to the needs of ordinary voters.

Newsflash: want to know why the GOP rank and file has turned on the GOP elite? It’s because they have time and time again failed to deliver for the white working class men who they have used as cannon fodder in their quest to give more tax breaks for the rich.

So now this brilliant GOP leadership has threatened to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to pass resolutions overturning the new overtime rule — and in effect take away people’s overtime pay. But when they do, President Obama will veto their resolution, and there is no way Democrats will give the GOP the votes to override his veto of this very popular new regulation.

Instead, Democrats plan to have a field day reminding voters that their GOP representative voted to take away their overtime pay.

Sometimes, as the famous organizer Saul Alinski once said: you can count on your enemy. This time, the Republican’s blind allegiance to corporate orthodoxy and rightwing ideology will lead them into a bloody political ambush. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving crew.

 

By: Robert J. Creamer, The Blog, The Huffington Post, May 20, 2016

May 23, 2016 Posted by | Middle Class, Mitch Mc Connell, Overtime Pay, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“I’m No Math Genius, But…”: In Elections, Addition is Always Better Than Subtraction

In the November/December 2015 issue of the Washington Monthly, I wrote a review of Stanley Greenberg’s book America Ascendant. One of the main points Greenberg makes is to outline a reform agenda that Democrats should embrace to win the support of white working class voters.

Greenberg provides polling and focus group data to show strong support from Americans (not just Democrats or Republicans) for the following items: Americans want to protect Medicare and Social Security. They want paid sick days, and access to affordable child care for working mothers and families. They want equal pay for women. They want an affordable college education. And, finally, they want long-term infrastructure investment to rebuild America and create middle-class jobs, while raising taxes on the very rich so they pay their fair share.

I was reminded of that when I read an article by Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa about how Republicans – especially Trump and Cruz – are pinning their presidential hopes on wooing white working class voters. But they have a totally different approach.

Trump is making the most visceral, raw appeal to people who feel left out of the economic recovery and ignored by the political establishment. He espouses hard-line views on immigration that border on nativism, protectionist trade policies and a tough approach with countries like China, Japan and Mexico that he portrays as thieves of U.S. manufacturing jobs…

Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said the candidate’s words for the working class are deliberately personal. “People don’t feel like these jobs have disappeared,” he said. “They’ve been stolen, and they don’t mind if someone is speaking forcefully about taking them back for blue-collar Americans…”

“None of [the candidates] are saying what they should be saying — ‘Get them out of here’ — except Trump,” said Tim Labelle, 73, a retired auto mechanic who voted for Obama in 2008. “They’re taking our jobs, and they’re gonna take over our whole country if we don’t put an end to it.”

Interestingly enough, Mitt Romney is suggesting another approach – one more in line with what Greenberg outlined.

“As a party we speak a lot about deregulation and tax policy, and you know what? People have been hearing that for 25 years, and they’re getting tired of that message,” Romney said in a recent interview. He added, “I think we’re nuts not to raise the minimum wage. I think, as a party, to say we’re trying to help the middle class of America and the poor and not raise the minimum wage sends exactly the wrong signal.”

So the question becomes: what is the more effective strategy for appealing to white working class voters? Is it the one focused on a nativist appeal or the one that addresses their real economic challenges?

The advantage of the former is that it is animated by emotions – fear and anger – as opposed to a more thoughtful appeal to reason. That carries a lot of currency these days apparently. But to the extent that it might be successful immediately, it is destined to be a problem over the long term. That is because it is, by definition, an either/or formulation that is built on an us/them divide. The more candidates like Trump and Cruz embrace an appeal based on wooing white working class voters by denigrating people of color, the “whiter” their party becomes. That does not bode well given our country’s rapidly changing demographics.

On the other hand, the reform agenda outlined by Greenberg and the proposal Romney embraced about raising the minimum wage are just as appealing to the rising American electorate as they are to white working class voters. In that way, it is focused on a both/and rather than an either/or. I’m no math genius, but when it comes to winning elections, I’m smart enough to know that addition is always more effective than subtraction.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 14, 2016

January 14, 2016 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Fearmongering, Middle Class, White Working Class | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Liberals Have To Be Radicals”: Going After The Grotesquely Concentrated Wealth And Power At The Top

Just about nothing being proposed in mainstream politics is radical enough to fix what ails the economy. Consider everything that is destroying the life chances of ordinary people:

  • Young adults are staggered by $1.3 trillion in student debt. Yet even those with college degrees are losing ground in terms of incomes.
  • The economy of regular payroll jobs and career paths has given way to a gig economy of short-term employment that will soon hit four workers in 10.
  • The income distribution has become so extreme, with the one percent capturing such a large share of the pie, that even a $15/hour national minimum wage would not be sufficient to restore anything like the more equal economy of three decades ago. Even the mainstream press acknowledges these gaps.

The New York Times’s Noam Scheiber, using Bureau of Labor Statistics data, calculated that raising the minimum wage to $15 for the period 2009 to 2014 would have increased the total income for the 44 million Americans who earn less than $15 an hour by a total of $300 billion to $400 billion. But during the same period, Scheiber reported, the top 10 percent increased its income by almost twice that amount.

Scheiber concludes:

So even if we’d raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the top 10 percent would still have emerged from the 2009-2014 period with a substantially larger share of the increase in the nation’s income than the bottom 90 percent. Inequality would still have increased, just not by as much.

Restoring a more equal economy simply can’t be done by raising incomes at the bottom, even with a minimum wage high that seemed inconceivable just months ago. It requires going after the grotesquely concentrated wealth and power at the top.

Last week, another writer in the Times, Eduardo Porter, assessed Hillary Clinton’s eagerly anticipated speech on how to rescue the middle class.

Porter’s conclusion? Far from sufficient. He writes:

Mrs. Clinton’s collection of proposals is mostly sensible. The older ones — raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing child care to encourage women into the labor force, paying for early childhood education — have a solid track record of research on their side. The newer propositions, like encouraging profit-sharing, also push in the right direction.

But here’s the rub: This isn’t enough.

Nothing in mainstream politics takes seriously the catastrophe of global climate change. Few mainstream politicians have the nerve to call for a carbon tax.

The budget deadlock and the sequester mechanism, in which both major parties have conspired, makes it impossible to invest the kind of money needed both to modernize outmoded public infrastructure (with a shortfall now estimated at $3.4 trillion) or to finance a green transition.

The economy is so captive to financial engineers that even interest rates close to zero do not help mainstream businesses recover. There is still a vicious circle of inadequate purchasing power and insufficient domestic investment.

The rules of globalization and tax favoritism make it more attractive for companies to assemble products, export jobs and book profits overseas.

To remedy the problem of income inequality would require radical reform both of the rules of finance and of our tax code, as well as drastic changes in labor market regulation so that employees of hybrids such as Uber and TaskRabbit would have both decent earnings and the protections of regular payroll employees.

Congress would have to blow up the sequester deal that makes it impossible to invest money on the scale necessary to repair broken infrastructure and deal with the challenge of climate change.

Politicians would have to reform the debt-for-diploma system, not only going forward, as leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have proposed, but also to give a great deal of debt relief to those saddled with existing loans.

Unions would need to regain the effective right to organize and bargain collectively.

This is all as radical as, well, … Dwight Eisenhower. Somehow, in the postwar era, ordinary people enjoyed economic security and opportunity; and despite the economy of broad prosperity, there were plenty of incentives for business to make decent profits. There just weren’t today’s chasms of inequality.

But the reforms needed to restore that degree of shared prosperity are somewhere to the left of Bernie Sanders.

This is one of those moments when there is broad popular frustration, a moment when liberal goals require measures that seem radical by today’s standards. If progressives don’t articulate those frustrations and propose real solutions, rightwing populists will propose crackpot ones. Muddle-through and token gestures won’t fool anybody.

 

By: Robert Kuttner, Co-Founder and Co- Editor, The American Prospect, July 22, 2015

July 25, 2015 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy, Middle Class | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Jeb Bush Suffers From Foot In Mitt Disease”: As Simple As That, The Beleaguered American Middle-Class Proles Are Slackers

Jeb Bush ought to be running away with the Republican nomination. He isn’t, and his persona as a national candidate looks increasingly — how shall I put this? — Romneyesque.

Bush is supposed to be the safe, establishment-approved choice, which is where the Republican Party usually turns. He and his allied super PAC have raised a phenomenal $114 million thus far. The hot mess that is Donald Trump ought to be sending GOP primary voters toward Bush’s column in droves. But the scion-in-waiting hasn’t yet consolidated the establishment’s support.

Instead, Bush made news for announcing an economic strategy that sounded straight from the Mitt Romney playbook. He told the New Hampshire Union Leader that “people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families.”

Simple as that, beleaguered American middle-class proles. You’re slacking.

The echo of Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remark was unmistakable. Bush seemed to blame those struggling in these unsettled economic times for their own predicament. Coming from a man who was born into great wealth and privilege, it was tone-deaf to say the least.

Politically, Bush’s pronouncement was the equivalent of a hanging curveball over the fat part of the plate. Hillary Clinton couldn’t have missed it if she tried.

“Well, he must not have met very many American workers,” the likely Democratic nominee said Monday in a speech outlining her economic policy. “Let him tell that to the nurse who stands on her feet all day, or the teacher who is in that classroom, or the trucker who drives all night. Let him tell that to the fast-food workers marching in the streets for better pay. They don’t need a lecture. They need a raise.”

Bush’s supporters claimed that what the candidate meant to say had to do with the millions of men and women who would like to have full-time jobs but are settling for part-time work — and also the millions who have dropped out of the workforce altogether. But why, then, didn’t he speak of the need to create better jobs for the underemployed? Why did he approach the problem from the opposite angle by blaming the workers for their plight?

There are two possible explanations. One is that Bush, like his father and brother, clearly has a troubled relationship with proper syntax. He may never match George Bush the Younger’s classic mangling of the language — he once said “you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda” — but Jeb appears to have the potential, at least, to match George Bush the Elder for linguistic pratfalls.

When he was reacting to Trump’s anti-Mexican screeds, Bush tried to warn that the Republican Party could not succeed by appearing to be angry and negative all the time rather than sunny and positive. But he couldn’t find some elusive synonym for anger and instead went “grr,” thus creating one of the campaign’s most entertaining sound bites to date.

So maybe the “work longer hours” line was simply the kind of clumsy misstatement that Bush’s aides will spend a lot of time and effort cleaning up in the coming months. But maybe — and this is the other explanation for the remarks — it’s what he really believes.

If any Republican is going to win the White House, I’m confident it won’t be by scolding the middle class for its shortcomings. It is clear that Americans have no problem electing wealthy candidates. But in the 2012 campaign, Romney inadvertently helped define himself, accurately or not, as a rich man who held the less fortunate in contempt. People don’t like that so much.

With Trump (speaking of contemptuous rich men) now drawing the support of up to 13 percent of Republicans in recent polls, you would think the saner factions of the party would be coalescing around an alternative. But they’re still shopping. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who formally entered the race Monday, is about to have his day in the sun. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is still polling well. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Texas governor Rick Perry and political neophyte Carly Fiorina all have significant establishment support.

All this suggests to me that the GOP mainstream, determined to avoid Romney Redux, hasn’t made up its mind yet about Bush. As his brother once said, “Fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again!”

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 13, 2015

July 17, 2015 Posted by | Jeb Bush, Middle Class, Working Class | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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