For at least 35 years, our two parties have collaborated in favoring the rich over the poor. Jointly they have repeatedly cut taxes (except under George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and, in a small way, in 2013 under Barack Obama), eliminated Glass-Steagall, cut back IRS enforcement drastically, and watched or encouraged the continual erosion of the rights of labor. They have put through trade deals that obviously favored corporations over American workers, and they plan to do so again. Above all, they have shut their eyes to the basic fact of capitalism, as elucidated two years ago by Thomas Piketty: that the natural processes of capitalism make capital grow faster than the economy as a whole. That is the biggest single reason why inequality has been increasing in the United States, and it will continue to increase, as Bernie Sanders alone among the major candidates understands, unless the government intervenes drastically in the economy, most notably by increasing marginal tax rates.
Donald Trump, of course, claims that he is magically going to turn this situation around by virtue of his talents as a negotiator. Somehow he will not only stop corporations from shipping more jobs abroad, but persuade them to bring jobs back. I personally don't see how voters can take this seriously from some one who has never done much for working people in his life, but apparently, a good many voters do. It is not so clear, however, that Trump is in fact drawing mainly upon the white working class--Nate Silver has pointed out that his voters are not significantly poorer than Ted Cruz's, for instance, although they are a lot worse off than John Kasich's. Last night, on a chilling note, I watched Silver tell Trevor Noah that the strongest correlation his team has found for Trump's strongest showings is the number of "racist google searches" coming from that area.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, claims that she will go on fighting for the less well off, although she can't seem to make up her mind whether that refers mainly to women, minorities, and the LGBT community on the one hand, or to the economic lower half of the population on the other. The New York Times recently reported, in a story based upon talks with her staffers, that she plans to pivot rightward in the fall to pick up disaffected Trump voters. Knowledgeable analysts are arguing that she is almost sure to win by a wide margin, although Silver, who is clearly still shaken by his failure to take Trump's candidacy seriously, offered up a frightening scenario. If the polls are reasonably close in October, worldwide fear of Trump's election could trigger a panic in the markets--and that panic in turn could turn the country against the Democrats and elect him. Still, she is a big favorite in the betting markets at the moment, despite some disturbingly close polls in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio.
Establishment Democrats like to argue that Sanders should be shunned because he has no chance of having any of his sweeping proposals enacted. Certainly what he wants could not pass overnight, but those who take that line have to face that they are essentially accepting the direction that our country has been going in economically since the 1970s and allowing it to continue. And too few people, especially of course in the mainstream media, are asking a critical question: if present trends continue under another Democrat, what will the consequences be?
The premise of establishment Democratic strategy is that the party can safely rely on demographics--but in one crucial sense, demographics are turning against them. While a great many older white voters are going for Donald Trump, a great many younger white and black voters are going for Bernie Sanders. While there have not been enough to win more delegates than Hillary, there are a great many, and the activists among them--as I know from a Sanders Facebook page I am on--are as disgusted with establishment politics as any conservative Republican. Young people like Sanders because they know that he is identifying very real issues: the cost of college, which has left many of them with tens of thousands of dollars in debt; the difficulty of access to health care; and the housing market, which here in the metropolitan Boston area is making it very difficult for young people in prestigious careers to afford a house. How will they feel in four more years if Clinton has been elected and we are still going in the same direction--and perhaps are fighting a new war in the Middle East as well?
About a year ago, listening to NPR, I heard Robert Reich, who has known Hillary Clinton longer, I believe, than Bill Clinton has, suggest that, given sufficient pressure from the American public, she would move in a genuinely leftward election. I managed to get through to the show to ask him, in more polite language, what he had been smoking, and I was gratified when he apparently reconsidered and endorsed Sanders. Even if Clinton does try to shift leftward, however--perhaps in response to a new economic downturn, which seems bound to come sooner or later--the Congress remains so under the thumb of corporations that she probably can't get very far. The most depressing aspect of our politics today, in my opinion, is the lack of serous left wing Senators and Congressmen--much worse than in 1930, say. And thus, by 2020,. the Democratic Party could face an insurgency comparable to what the Republicans faced this year, and the destruction of our political establishment might be complete.
Since at least 1828, every major party has claimed to stand for the interests of the common man and woman, and parties have lost favor when their promises seemed to be completely empty. This happened to the Republican establishment this year--and it nearly happened to the Democratic one as well. If one believes, as I do, that the disaffection with our leaders is rooted in very real grievances, it will not go away. The shape of a new era in our politics may not yet be clear.
[p.s. This post has been written rather quickly, because I did not think it would have to be written at all. Another one is ready for time.com, but the editors do not want to put it up until next week. Since I know many readers have come to count on something here every weekend, I shared some of the week's thoughts. I shall of course post the link here when Time posts the new one.]