From the American Scene Series—A Continuing Commentary on American Life & Culture
By Robert Sheppard
Editor-in-Chief, World Literature Forum
Author, Spiritus Mundi, Novel
A Dream On Fire
Today, the wake of “SuperTuesday” reminds us again in these United States that we are in the midst of an undeniably unique and extraordinary election year. On both the Republican and Democratic side the “Establishment” politicians seem to be facing a Tsunami tidal wave uprising variously characterized as “outsiders,” “Tea-Party Insurgents,” “Progressives” or “Populists” as represented by the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz on the Republican right wing and Bernie Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist” on the Democratic left-wing. At the same time, whatever the underlying “movement” propelling each of the candidates, much of their message and embodied energy seems lost and obfuscated most recently in scandal, new lows of personal attack, ad hominem, character assassination and either “the fog of war” of the political arena or the vapors of its gutters. All of this is obscuring the alarm-smoke from the far more important underlying existential threat surprisingly simultaneously diagnosed by the populist upswells on both the left and the right that is the true hidden motivator of all that is extraordinary: The Urgent Threat of the Death of the American Dream Through the Collapse of the American Middle Class.
“It’s the Economy, Stupid!” was the winning slogan Bill Clinton’s prophetic campaign strategist James Carville crafted in early 1992 at a similar period when the Clinton campaign seemed to be losing direction, which also included the corollary: “Change vs. More of the Same.” Then the micro-threat was merely to emerge from a short recession. Now, the macro-threat is the existential threat to the middle class status either attained or strived for under the banner of the “American Dream.” Tip O’Neil famously said that “all politics is local,” meaning that every voter votes and acts based on how it will affect his own life and future. This election is up for grabs and will be won by the candidate who can most convincingly be seen as the fighting savior and rescuer of that endangered and desperate middle class who feels their “American Dream” crumbling into ashes at their feet: “It’s Saving the American Dream Stupid!”
This populist mobilization bringing forth this “extraordinary election year” is in fact a cry both of outraged anger akin to Network’s “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” and the desperate cry for help of the drowning man. It is the desperate call for help of a failing middle class and working class that after 30 years of stagnant incomes, the holocaust of the Great Recession of the Bush era and its lost decade from which there was no true recovery, is convinced in its bones that its house and its dreams are afire and the establishment of both parties has failed and will continue to fail to save it. It despairs unless there is radical and immediate change, the “moral equivalent of a declaration of war” to save the Middle Class and to save the American Dream. The American Middle and Working Class have awoken from the false consciousness of blindly affirming the clichés of either party as they know from bitter experience of the last thirty years topped by the 2008 Bush Great Recession that “politics as usual’ cannot and will not work. They fear with reason that theirs will be the first generation in which their children’s real livelihood will be lower than their own, or whose path to even modest success is for the first time blocked save for a narrow elite. They know from their scars if not from their minds that:
- 8.69 million Americans are “officially unemployed” and that 92.90 million Americans are considered to be “not in the labor force”. That means that more than 101 million U.S. adults do not have a job right now;
- One recent survey discovered that 55% of Americans believe that the American Dream either never existed or that it no longer exists;
- After adjusting for inflation, median household income has fallen by nearly $5000 since the Bush Great Recession of 2008;
- After adjusting for inflation, the median wealth figure for middle income-families fell from $78,000 in 1983 to $63,800 in 2013;
- At this point, 59% of Americans believe that “the American dream has become impossible for most people to achieve;”
- In the 1967 Johnson Administration, 53% of Americans were considered to be “middle income”. But today, only 43% of Americans are;
- According to the New York Times, the “typical American household” is now worth 36% less than it was worth a decade ago;
- By recent report, 43 million Americans currently have unpaid medical debt on their credit reports;
- Traditionally, owning a home has been one of the key indicators that you belong to the middle class. Unfortunately, the rate of homeownership in the U.S. has now been falling since the Bush 2008 Great Recession;
- According to a survey that was conducted last year, 52% of all Americans cannot even afford the house that they are living in right now.
- Since the Bush Great Recession of 2008 the number of Americans on food stamps has gone from 32 million to 46 million and millions are still hungry, homeless and unemployed despite more than one out of every five children receiving food stamps;
- According to a Washington Post article more than 50 percent of the children in U.S. public schools now come from low income homes. This is the first time that this has happened in at least 50 years;
- In 2008, 25 percent of all Americans in the 18 to 29-year-old age bracket considered themselves to be “lower class.” But in 2014, an astounding 49% of all Americans in that age range considered themselves to be “lower class;”
- It is hard to believe, but an astounding 53% of all American workers make less than $30,000 a year;
- According to one recent survey, 62% of all Americans are currently living paycheck to paycheck;
- According to CNN, the typical American family can only “replace 21 days of income with readily accessible funds.”
- The largest employer in the United States right now is Wal-Mart. The second largest employer in the United States right now is a temp agency (Kelly Services). One out of ten jobs in the United States is now filled through a temp agency.
- The U.S. economy continues to trade good paying jobs for low paying jobs. 60% of the jobs lost during the last recession were mid-wage jobs, but 58% of the jobs created since then have been low wage jobs.
- Back in 1980, less than 30% of all jobs in the United States were low income jobs. Today, more than 40% of all jobs in the United States are low income jobs.
- At this point, one out of every four American workers has a job that pays $10 an hour or less.
- The ratio of wages and salaries to GDP is near an all-time record low.
- In the year 2000, about 17 million Americans were employed in manufacturing. Today, only about 12 million Americans are employed in manufacturing.
- The United States has lost more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities since 2001.
- The average number of hours worked per employed person per year has fallen by about 100 since the year 2000.
- Back in the year 2000, more than 64 percent of all working age Americans had a job. Today, only 58.7 percent of all working age Americans have a job.
- When you total up all working age Americans that do not have a job, it comes to more than 100 million.
- The average duration of unemployment in the United States is nearly three times as long as it was back in the year 2000.
- The percentage of Americans that are self-employed has steadily declined over the past decade and is now at an all-time low.
- Right now there are 20.2 million Americans that spend more than half of their incomes on housing. That represents a 46 percent increase from 2001.
- In 1989, the debt to income ratio of the average American family was about 58 percent. Today it is up to 154 percent.
- Total U.S. household debt grew from just 1.4 trillion dollars in 1980 to a whopping 13.7 trillion dollars in 2007. This played a huge role in the financial crisis of 2008, and the problem still has not been solved.
- The total amount of student loan debt in the United States recently surpassed the one trillion dollar mark.
- Total home mortgage debt in the United States is now about 5 times larger than it was just 20 years ago.
- Back in the year 2000, the mortgage delinquency rate was about 2 percent. Today, it is nearly 10 percent.
- Consumer debt in the United States has risen by a whopping 1700% since 1971, and 46% of all Americans carry a credit card balance from month to month.
- The national debt has now reached 19 Trillion dollars as a result of regressive and unjust tax cuts to the top 1% and 10% of income and wealth holders as denounced by Warren Buffett since the balanced and surplus budget years of the Clinton administration, causing overtaxation of the middle class and erosion of the Social Safety Net.
Four Root Causes of the Threat to the Middle Class American Dream: 1) Unbalanced Globalization; 2) Unbalanced Technological Change; 3) Unfair and Regressive Taxation in Favor of the Top 1%/10%; and 4) Erosion of the Social Safety Net and Labor Union Collective Bargaining
The French economic historian Thomas Picketty is the most comprehensive elaborator of the “tectonic” economic shifts in the global economy which have most glaringly left the middle-class and the working-class so impoverished in recent decades in the Western and developed world and he provides the most coherent answer to the question of “What has so destroyed the American Middle Class and the American Dream?” His 2013 book Capital in the 21st Century is now accepted as the greatest classic of its time and a modern successor to the power of influence of Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital” over a century before. He uses extensive historical data to document how the concentration of both income and wealth reached extremes in the upper 1% and 10% of the populations of the USA, UK, France, Germany, Japan and other developed economies, attaining a peak in the “Gilded Age” of the 1890’s of unfettered capitalism and globalization, then diminished greatly through the advent of the New Deal in the US and socialist reforms in Europe. Since the 1980’s burst of Globalization, high-tech automation and Neo-Liberal Reagan/Thatcher reforms however, income and wealth inequality have returned to the 1890 extremes, and significantly, supposedly “democratic” America has become more elitist and unequal than Europe, while the Social Safety Net has been eroded in both.
What forces are then causing the decline of the American Middle Class and its American Dream? Picketty identifies the familiar one of Globalization, of course. Even from the time of Ross Perot’s “sucking sound” of American jobs going down the drain populists have suspected and accused the internationalist elite of sending American jobs abroad in exchange for multinational corporate profits. And of course the flip-side of the decline of the American middle class and its jobs has been the rapid rise of the Chinese and Indian as well as European middle class and the globalization and outsourcing of many of those jobs into the global economy. Unfortunately for “wall-builders,” isolationists and protectionists, however, there does not seem to be any feasible way to “unglobalize” the economy nor to effectively “abstain” from globalization in a globalized world, especially for a nation that also arrogates to itself the role of the “leader of the free world” as well. Nonetheless, even as Secretary Clinton has acknowledged with regard to TPP, committed free-traders need to redouble their efforts to balance globalization and free trade to make it more so-called “fair-trade” and to massively strengthen the Social Safety Net that must go along with further opening of globalized free trade to assure equitable adjustment and benefit to all social classes, not just to the elite 1% and the multinational corporations. In particular Labor Unions must be made equally global so that Collective Bargaining functions across national borders within multinational corporations as effectively as it once functioned across US state-lines after the New Deal labor reforms following the Great Depression.
Picketty also identifies the familiar impact of technology, meaning the impact of “automation” particularly in the high technology and IT worlds enabling the outsourcing of many formerly administrative and middle class jobs such as use of overseas “Call Centers” and such software as CRM and other innovations as a further source of the decline of the Western middle class. Once again, it would be vain to adopt a “Neo-Luddite” position as such technological innovation may well be both inevitable and partially beneficial. What is needed rather is a greater re-balancing of the benefits and burdens of technological change with a much more robust “Social Safety Net” for retraining and unemployment effects of technology, as well as a supercharging of the entire educational system to make education free and accessible as a foundational resource for both capital and labor in the new “Knowledge Economy.”
Picketty also emphasizes that human beings are not mere automatons at the mechanical whim of impersonal historical and technological forces, but also shape their societies futures by conscious choices as to political and economic equity, values and justice. Thus he believes a significant portion of the inequality of the last 50 years has been the result not only of such impersonal forces as globalization and high technology, but also the moral bankruptcy of the “greed is good” Reagan/Thatcher tax policies which radically reduced the tax burden of both income and wealth on the top 1% and 10% of the populations of all of the Western nations, including the USA, UK, France, Germany, Japan, the EU and others. He believes also that the free market economy has a natural tendency to lead to a concentration of wealth and income in the top 1% to 10% as a result of rent-seeking and other self-protective actions of the elite to defeat competition, entrench privilege and defend their acquired advantages. Furthermore, in most conditions he would expect, following the general law of R>G, or the tendency for the Return on Capital to be greater than the Rate of Growth, greater and greater concentrations of income and wealth will inevitably result from the natural laws of the free market economy, a result also expected by Marx a century earlier. As a remedy to these harmful tendencies, Picketty prescribes a combination of a sharply progressive tax on incomes, coupled with a new progressive tax on wealth in order to finance a sharply more robust Social Safety Net. (One of the most surprising discoveries is that Donald Trump years ago has advocated such a progressive tax on wealth in order to completely pay down the entire national debt and eliminate the payment of the interest thereon to the 1%——a proposal so radical as not yet to have been advocated by the “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders!). Many of Picketty’s suggestions have also been seconded in the policy arena by Nobel Prize winning economists such as Paul Krugman.
Who Then is the Knight in Shining Armor to Save the Imperiled American Middle Class and Its Crumbling American Dream and What the Battle Cry Emblazoned Across the Warrior’s Chest?
In this election season many candidates sense the desperate need of the American people and their real despair at the impending loss of their American dream and offer up supposed solutions, many mere panaceas or demagogic illusions that cannot stand the tests of either logical consistency, workability or consistency with reality. In any case, their emotional appeal is inexorably linked to the fear of the middle class and working class of the impending loss of their “American Dream.”
Trump, Cruz, Tea-Party and Other Right-Wing Populisms
The rise of the Tea Party coincided with the impact of the 2008 Bush Great Recession devastating the lives of the middle class. It’s embodiment in the appeal of such leaders as Ted Cruz, Ron Paul and to a lesser extent Rand Paul promises to erase the impact of economic globalization, technological change, and a predatory financial class with a mythological return to the remote past of 1776 with its imagined purity of Christian belief, “constitutionalism,” and a pristine regime of private property and free markets whose “invisible hand” like that of God himself, would remedy all of the corruption and evils of the modern world if only hearts were again pure and faith unadulterated. All this ignores the fact that it is the very operation of the capitalistic, “free market” economy, with its real world predators, exploiters, “hot money” and nationless speculators rather than its fictively imagined benign “invisible hand” that has in fact produced the very destruction of the middle class aspirations to which it is looked to to act as savior. What is the panacea that the right wing offers to lift the decimated middle class back into viability? It is massively and regressively reduced taxation—-a policy which has produced the problem and is little designed to alleviate it. Why? Because tax reduction as a policy fails to ignore that the economy of the US is a fully globalized international economy and is not contained within its borders any longer. Thus, just as the policy of “Quantitative Easing” on the monetary side only very slowly had any effect because the stimulative force of the policy stimulated growth abroad in China, India and Brazil in the years immediately after the 2008 Bush Recession, so most of the effect of tax cuts, because they are not constrained by borders, again will leak out into the higher return investments in low-wage nations before they gain traction at home in most instances of high job creation investments. Meanwhile budget cuts irrationally prolong the recession, just as they have done since the time of Herbert Hoover, making about as much sense as the doctors who prescribed opening veins and “bleeding” the patient as a cure three centuries ago.
The Tea Party program of “back to the free market and cut the budget to the bone” with its dismantlement of the Social Safety Net accompanied by a likely failure of “Voodoo Tax Cut Economics” is thus the policy of throwing half the passengers in the leaky lifeboat to the sharks while making the other half bail twice as fast. It is rather much more likely that it is the “socialistic” and “safety net” oriented government spending so loathed by the right that can be more completely targeted to be spent at home and to create jobs and infrastructure at home, rather than be diverted by hedge funds to be invested and spent abroad, and functioning in an irrevocably globalized economy would in reality be most effective in promoting growth and jobs at home for the middle and working class.
The phenomenon of Trump with its overlays of nationalism, nativism, protectionism and at its destructive fringe of perhaps unintended neo-fascism, all cannot be understood without connection to the decline and ongoing threat to the middle-class and its aspirational American Dream. Hitler before the Depression of 1929 polled less than 3% of the vote and was an irrelevant nuisance. After the Great Depression of 1929 brought the German middle class to its knees the National Socialist Party became the leading vote getter with vague promises of a great “Leader” who would restore a lost prosperity to the middle class and working class, and in fact Hitler initiated his own version of a state-driven “New Deal” with the massive infrastructure work of constructing the Autobahns and developing the “Volkswagen” or “People’s Car” to allow German workers to enter the Middle Class in their own “German Dream.” The American middle class has found itself on its knees since the Bush Great Recession of 2008 and despite a decade of slow recovery which has affixed a “band-aid” semi-recovery on some of the wounds, the middle and working class know that their full past condition with decent jobs with security and benefits, let alone their aspirations for the future and for their children have not been restored and are unlikely to be restored without some radical changes. Under such conditions the appeal of a “strongman” or tough father figure promising to take tough action on their behalf is strongly appealing and at a minimum a great relief to their feelings of hopelessness, weakness and despair. It provides a “movement” to which the desperate can subordinate themselves and feel vicarious strength and power, as detailed in such classic works as Hanna Arendt’s The True Believer. Need and desperation are strong forces bypassing critical thinking and fostering the acceptance of delusion. Especially many white middle-class Americans, after believing themselves tolerant in accepting a black president and an increasing minority population feel a strong desire to return to the America they grew up in and feel threatened by a possible fall into minority status in their own homeland, a condition that is felt as intolerably exacerbated by the shutting off of their own prosperity and their children’s future with the death of the middle class and economic American Dream for their children. It is little surprise that masses of them begin to feel betrayed and abandoned, and seek a strong “leader” to return a lost past. They, under such conditions are little inclined to open borders to more immigration which may only provide a greater and greater threat to their own economic condition and their children’s perceived future.
Trump’s battle banner “Make America Great Again,” is a powerful one with great appeal to all classes, but especially to the nostalgia of the white middle class for the America of their childhood, secured by strong male authority figures and leaders of the free world from FDR, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, the Bushes, Carter and Clinton and now threatened by a perceived national weakness magnified by the loss of stabilizing white male authority figures and compounded by the objective economic decline of the middle class and the relative demographic decline of the white middle class making them feel as “strangers in their own homes.” Thus, the crusade to “Make America Great Again” is seen to contain beneath its surface a parallel crusade to “Make American Ours Again” where the “Us” is the American middle class majority of the past. For many in frustration and downward mobility the message easily translates into “Make America White Again.” Undeniably, TRUMP IS A MOVEMENT. A similar moment occurred in the movements favoring Prohibition, Women’s Suffrage and the revival of the KKK associated with “Birth of a Nation,” namely when the USA after 1900 tipped from being a nation of farms and small towns to being a nation more than 50% urbanized. Small town America then struck back to “Make America Ours Again” by rejecting the corrupting influences of big cities, immigrants, Catholics, minorities, —–and the corruption of big city money causing the loss of the supposed core American way of life in the Church, Small Town, Farm, and Anglo-Saxon Heritage. Even women’s sufferage was seen as a means of doubling the white middle-class vote likely to actually vote against illiterates and immigrants unlikely to. It was the threat of this small-town America being swamped by industrialization and immigration and reduced to minority status and powerlessness in its own home that caused the right-wing Populist movements of the early decades of the 19th Century denounced by H.L. Mencken and it is a similar threat of demographic and economic swamping that fuels the right-wing Populist movement of the present day, including the Trump phenomenon.
Trump himself may not intend the darker side of his appeal but may nonetheless pander to it unconsciously or consciously. Realistically, however, his program has little prospect of functioning in the real world of a globalized economy nor in fact restoring the American middle class and working class to its prosperity or aspirations. Building “a wall,” physically or functionally in terms of economic isolationism or withdrawal from the globalized economy is not a viable option. Almost all of the punitive measures advocated by Trump on the economic front would violate the WTO, GATT and other trade treaties the US is bound by and withdrawal from them would threaten the international economic order and American leadership within it, along with the tens of millions of US jobs dependent upon such international trade. It is unlikely that “bullying” alone will redress the system, though hard negotiation on hard issue such as currency manipulation, labor standards in trade, etc. might produce some results. But it is unlikely that bluster, megalomania, bullying and baloney are enough to reshape the real world and deliver the American middle class and its American Dream from demise.
Bernie Sanders and Democratic Socialism to the Rescue?
Bernie Sanders and his movement of “Democratic Socialism” was perhaps the most unexpected phenomenon of the year, as the right-wing Tea Party has been causing cataclysms already well since 2012. In a sense the Tea Party right-wing Populist movement did have its twin sister in the left-wing Occupy Wall Street movement which was contemporaneous, but that movement was seemingly willfully stillborn, manifesting no real-world political action movement for realistic change and confined to the status termed by Al Gore of a political “Primal Scream” until the advent, seemingly out of nowhere, of Bernie. True, Socialism had a long and honorable past in the US from the time of Eugene Debs, whose ideas prefigured much of the New Deal innovations of Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Labor Union rights and collective bargaining, despite being denounced as “Communist” at the time. But once again, there was little appetite for socialist revolution and overturning the capitalist system beyond a few Trots, zanies, eggheads and non-conformists until the Bush Great Recession of 2008 brought home to the middle class and working class that very likely a great part of the middle class would no longer be so and that their children would not enjoy such status without some radical change or fight, cant and clichés about the American Dream and free enterprise system notwithstanding.
Bernie’s appeal has been observed to be tremendous among the young, or the “Millennials” as they are sometimes referred to. Many take this as a never-ending tale of the “innocence of youth” with the Bernie phenomenon explained as a “youthful romanticism” which would soon be dissolved by the later years of experience of such callow youth in the “school of hard knocks” or abandoned as they began to enjoy the rewards of “selling out” at a good price. But while there might be a thread of truth in such a dismissive narrative it would be fairer to look at the experience of the “Millennials” as closer to the 1930’s Depression Generation inasmuch as they came of age in the lost decade following the Bush Great Recession of 2008 and saw their own futures circumcised and constricted. Many of them are less romantic than cynical or hard-headed. They see themselves coming out of college crippled by student debt before they can even have a shot at the signature indebtedness of middle class life in the form of home buying supported by a high-earning job and income. They see they will need some radical changes if they are really going to make it into the middle class in the same numbers as their parents. Their quest with Bernie is beyond the Quixotic and idealistic—it is also survivalist self-interested.
On the whole, Bernie’s appeal and program is the strongest and most viable for rescuing the decline of the American middle-class and working class. It addresses the hypertrophy of the financial sector and seeks to broaden a new and untapped tax base to support the key portal of entry to the middle class and to the American Dream: College Education——–paid for by a tax on speculative capital and unearned income in the form of a Financial Transactions Tax. It goes directly for the unearned income of the 1% and taps that unearned income stream to provide the financing for the upward mobility of the majority of the middle class through tuition free university education. More importantly, by ending excessive college debt it ensures that college graduates start their new life after graduation with the means to buy houses and cars, thus stimulating the growth of the real economy rather than being crippled by decades of paying into the financial economy through student loan repayments—a major cause of the stalled recovery.
Bernie’s “Medicare for All” Single Payer medical system would give the middle class a system similar to that in the UK, Canada and the EU and remove the corrupting influence of health care on terms of employment, an important contribution in moving the middle and working class back into “real jobs” and away from the part-time and “gig economy” rigged against them to shift the cost of benefits such as health care from employers.
Bernie’s vision of an activist state strengthening the Social Safety Net accords with the European idea of the “Economic Social Contract.” It recognizes that the pressures of Globalization and its intensified international competition have taken away the ability of the employer to be the primary provider of tangential paternalistic social benefits such as health care and retirement income as in the past, while the revolution in the family, with divorce and single-parent households makes the family less and less a workable economic social safety net. Thus the state is the sole actor remaining with the strength, continuity and stability to manage the Social Safety Net at a time when economic and technological change has accellerated to such an extent as to double and triple demands upon it. At the same time it must adapt to a globalized economy.
Bernie’s battle banner, “A Future To Believe In” is excellent as far as it goes, focusing the collective consciousness on a gleaming vision of a fine common future. But Bernie’s program is otherwise still a bit threadbare on how exactly such bare belief will translate or manifest itself into reality or through what practical stages his “revolution” will pass through on the way to realized reality. Otherwise it may remain a mere “Tinkerbell Revolution” in which we are asked to shut our eyes and chant together “I Believe, I Believe.” In the context of Hillary’s gnashing over pronouns and moving from an “I” campaign to a “We” campaign, (She’s Fighting for Us!) Bernie’s slogan does not even mention the “We” or what “We” have to do in the Revolution beyond turning out to vote for him, although it is obvious that he does in fact embody a “We,” or a real movement which comes out to cheer him on and pledge its $27 at every chance. Its trouble is that it needs to be a movement a bit more like the Tea Party in going from the grass roots up, organizing local clubs, putting up candidates in primaries and general elections, cleaning out the statehouses, the Congress, the city administrations, the gerrymandering legislatures and every level of government, culminating with the necessary Constitutional Amendments to roll back Citizen’s United and break the back of money corruption at all levels of government. Otherwise it will remain a “future to believe in” that will be perpetually only “a future” and never a reality. Bernie’s vision also needs to be globalized with a vision of how to deal with a globalized economy on more socialist yet workable internationalist principles to protect the middle and working classes without regression into protectionism and economic isolationism that could lead to global depression. He has opposed free-trade treaties, yet it is unexplained how the US can successfully withdraw from the globalized economy vital to the health of most of its multinational companies and the bulk of the US labor force dependent on international trade. Unexplained yet is how labor unions will be empowered to effectively bargain collectively on a global basis to restore the share of the market to sustaining the well being of the working class, alongside the role of the government. It is unlikly that the well-being of the middle and working class can be restored by government alone. Some of the gains must be re-won in the market and that means the decimated role of labor unions and collective bargaining must be restored as the “third leg” of worker prosperity and bargaining power in the globalized economy. Can the world be “unglobalized?” If not, how can it be “re-globalized” on a more balanced basis to make the middle and working classes in the US and elsewhere viable?
Ready for Hillary?——It’s Saving the American Dream, Stupid!
Into this quagmire and graveyard of the American Dream and the American middle class Hillary Clinton’s campaign brings a good heart and a good resume and asks the nation to answer affirmatively the rhetorical question “Ready for Hillary?” In light of the fact that she provides no sense of the urgency of desperation felt by the sinking masses of the soon-to-be ex-middle classes and working classes, her naive faith that “America has always been great” and that the system with her atop it “is working” it is not surprising that large portions of the public feel they are not ready. Her campaign seems perplexed that BERNIE IS A MOVEMENT as much as a candidate, as could be said as well of Trump on the other side, whereas she is hitherto definitively not. This is reflected in her campaign’s recent urgent felt need for a “Strategic Shift of Pronoun Strategy”——the seeming “genius” of shifting from “Me” to “We.” However, a shift of Pronoun is not the creation of a movement. Bernie’s movement arises from the desperate conditions of millions of people’s lives forcing them to take action or speak out, lest they otherwise lose their lives and futures, and his ability to emody their unexpressed yearnings. As a candidate he was a complete “nobody,” yet spoke a truth that allowed him to appear as a “Prophet” of even Biblical proportions and ride a wave of human energy emerging also seemingly from nowhere yet miraculously reshaping the landscape. Hillary has a chance to win, but not by complacently insisting she has the best resume, the system is working, it’s a woman’s turn to be President or “stay the course” with the past or the past Administration. She must do as Bernie has done and fight outfront, leading the charge and providing the visionary strategic campaign map for the Campaign to Recapture the American Dream—-and it must be the moral equivilant of war.
To date, Hillary’s campaign message and raison-de-etre has floundered, moving from “It’s my turn” to “My resume is best” to “It’s time for a woman.” Yet none of these messages have anything to do with the hopes and fears of the great mass of voters living in the present moment. The number of voters who will vote for her to secure the first woman president will probably be balanced by the number of men and some women who will vote against her precisely because they don’t want a woman president whether they admit such explicitly or not. Her primary victories look mostly visionless and due primarily to catering to ethnic interest groups, most notably the black vote which has loyally gone 80-90% for her, though in significantly diminished numbers from their vote for Barak Obama, their past standard bearer. It is doubtful that they would turn out in such numbers as they did for their own favorite son Barak Obama, and if the Democratic base does not turn out in massive numbers to match the already mobilized Republican base, Hillary may meet defeat even if she meets an opponent such as Trump with significant negatives.
Her “Superdelegate” predominance would appear to have more to do with politicos jockeying for jobs and favors within the next administration than any substance. To Independents she looks increasingly as a bought-off and compromised machine politician beholden to ethnic special interest groups who will need to be paid off in special programs and crony patronage political jobs on the one hand, and equally beholden and bought off by the Wall Street big money Donors who have funded the Clinton Foundation and her high-paid political speeches on the other. Further, she has gained her ethnic pluralities by clutching Barak Obama and re-emphasizing her role as a loyal member of his team, which also confers significant negative baggage outside the base. President Obama did do a reasonably competent job in dealing with the catastrophic Bush Great Recession while limping back after a lost decade, but unfortunately he has not been perceived as taking the definitive steps necessary to save the American middle class and its American Dream from the mortal threats surrounding it. Many regret that his first “100 Days” was not as comprehensive as FDR’s when he had control of Congress and the Great Recession gave him a true mandate to have taken the more radical steps vis-a-vis Wall Street in the deeper interest of the Middle and Working Class on the scale of the New Deal, rather than narrowing the focus so much on the limited sector of Obamacare. Thus Hillary is in a somewhat dangerous situation of becoming the “Candidate of the Status Quo” or “The Third-Term Candidate” and also “The Candidate of the System,” a system that continued to fail the middle and working class despite all the good work and good intentions of the Obama administration. If the middle class were solely concerned with recovery from a transient recession, “Four More Years” as was given the Republicans after the Reagan presidency might be a promising goal. But the middle class knows that it’s very continuing existence is under dire threat and ignoring that fact will not induce them to endorse the status quo, or any marginally reformed status quo, other thing being equal.
Hillary can yet embody a movement to reshape the future and truly speak as embodying a greater “We” if she substantially changes focus, learns from Bernie and from Bill Clinton’s mentor James Carville and drinks in the wisdom of “It’s Saving the American Dream, Stupid!” as the fighting banner of her campaign, along with taking on the corrupt political system which has allowed the middle class’ demise. She perhaps has greater experience and practical skills and resources to bring Bernie’s vision towards reality than even Bernie himself if only she can be “born again” to the greater cause.
For then, like Joan of Arc, she would embody a movement and a nation and its deepest hopes and fears and be the bearer of needed change to deliver them from those fears and towards the realization of those hopes. She cannot do so by the cosmetic “Change of Pronoun” strategy, nor by anodyne assurances of “Bring Us Together,” “Make America Whole Again,” or “Break Down Barriers” or “Give a Woman a Chance” which completely ignores and provides no remedy for the urgency of the crisis of the middle class, working class and the impending demise of the American Dream. For without such a makeover, even if she escapes her legal problems, she remains the Candidate of the Status Quo, the Candidate of the System and the Candidate of the Establishment, and even if promising to “Make the Establishment Whole Again,” she would offer little promise to make the middle class or working class whole and hale in the real world again, let alone hold out much promise of restoring to its children its hopeful American Dream of years past.