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The economic divide exploded into the sunlight with the ascendance of the Tea Party movement, identified more or less with the right wing, and the Occupy movement on the left. The difference between those two phenomena was more cultural than philosophical.

Party-Neutral Dollar Woes Led to Trump Election

dollar signThe election of Donald Trump wasn’t an anomaly, and those whom it surprised – just about everybody, including me – could have seen it coming.

For some years, the country has been stratifying in a way that cuts across the old left-right divide. “Conservative” and “liberal” continue to dominate the sociopolitical narrative, but those old alignments have become less relevant. We have become instead, and more self-consciously than ever, a nation of “haves” with a sense of entitlement, and “have-nots” who perceive themselves as such.

The roots of this new era reach back at least to Reagan-era trickle-down economics, if not to Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of confidence.” The failure of Reaganomics became obvious to just about everyone except the tiny minority who benefited. Yet when the Democrats took power under Bill Clinton it was by swerving hard toward the center. The New Democrats’ policies continued the process of gutting the old left-right divide and replacing it with a split between what later became identified as the 99% and the 1%. Embodied in Clinton’s welfare reform, the new attitude not only explicitly defined a “have-not” class but pegged it as undeserving of an adequate safety net.

When under George W. Bush public attention shifted to terrorism and war, along with social issues like abortion and fetal-tissue research, the economic divide was temporarily blurred. But it exploded into the sunlight with the ascendance of the Tea Party movement, which was identified more or less with the right wing, and the Occupy movement on the left. The difference between those two phenomena was more cultural than philosophical. Their common grievances crystallized in popular opposition to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, a ruling that brought the wealthy elite’s influence on politics further into the open.

Hillary Clinton lost the election in large part because despite her middle-class beginnings, her strong resume, her progressive views, and her husband’s rapport with the black community, she appeared to stand for the haves. Part of a political family with lots of scandal baggage, she was famous for earning millions from speaking engagements in the eyries of Wall Street’s ultimate haves. The have-nots’ distaste for Clinton’s aura of wealth and entitlement counterbalanced not only her inspirational effect as the first major female presidential candidate, but Trump’s egregious offensiveness.

Even Trump’s paranoid fantasy that the election was rigged against him, though patently untrue (as the result made clear), probably contributed to his appeal among the have-nots. Elections aside, the economic deck is indeed stacked against those with few resources.

Combine that ingrained unfairness with a perception that immigrants are taking jobs and resources away from longtime citizens (in other words, the natural human inclination to scapegoat); with the reality of the threat of terrorist attacks; and with latent xenophobia, racism, and misogyny, and the recipe for Trump’s electoral college victory was complete. As Breitbart’s Steve Bannon wrote with seething cynicism in a now-famous 2014 email: “We should just go buck wild…Let the grassroots turn on the hate because that’s the ONLY thing that will make them do their duty.”

Now that Trump and Bannon are headed for the White House, it’s up to the majority of voters who chose Hillary Clinton to do their duty and fight the wrongdoing that is to come, and hold the Trump Administration accountable for it – but also to recognize the legitimacy of the beef so many of us have with business (read: oligarchy) as usual.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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One comment

  1. Dr Joseph S Maresca

    Potus-Elect Trump should focus on rebuilding infrastructure first. This is the single area that could get universal agreement from both parties. Next, he begin turning attention to rebuilding the inner cities like Detroit. Perhaps, this could begin with enterprise zones, as we had in NYC. He could make a bold move by appointing Bernie Sanders as the Secy of Transportation.

    Healthcare is really not that hard to address. We have 3 successful programs in place for decades; namely, Medicare, Medicaid and the Hill Burton Act of 1946. We could address affordability forthrightly by making Medicaid available to people at 3 times the poverty level. That would encompass large pools of the lower middle class.

    The other thing is to retrofit the patient protection elements of Obamacare into the programs above. Clearly, interstate pharmaceutical cooperatives will be helpful to reduce costs. The system should reward physicians for keeping people well.

    Wellness is another focal point of an affordable health care system. We could promote wellness by taking the junk out of the food or taxing junk food into oblivion. Enforced gymnastics is another thing we need in the schools at all levels from Pre-K through college graduation and even into the workplace.

    Fair trade is something that has to be addressed in every trade agreement. Trump can use the platform of his presidency to encourage CEOs and their boards to keep jobs in America. The federal government can use tax credits and other measures to make this happen. Ford has decided very recently to keep a plant in Kentucky rather than move operations to Mexico.

    We still need NATO. Here, Trump can require members to pay their fair share if they can afford to do so. There are situations where we may have to defend countries even in cases where they can’t do so on an immediate basis.

    I believe that Trump should follow substantially the Clinton, Bush and Obama models on deportation. Former Governor Bush indicated that about 2 million deportations is doable. More than that number is problematic. Building a barrier started under Former POTUS Bush in ’06. In strategic places, maybe a wall could supplement the existing security. Overall, we still need immigrants because the birthrate in this country has been on the decline since the 60s.

    Mexico pays for the wall indirectly by absorbing more illegal immigrants within its borders and deporting them to countries south of its border. i.e. Nicaragua, San Salvador, Panama etc. Ultimately, we may need a hemispheric conference to address uniform protocols for immigration and deportation.

    Education is a dual track. We need an emphasis on the trades, as well as, college and post-college training. The professions will have to be staffed for retiring baby boomers. This will be true in virtually every profession. We could make college more affordable by adding a 5th year to high school and making college a 3 year experience.

    These are just some of the things Potus – Elect Trump should consider on this new journey.