Bernie Sanders at ISU - 1/25/2016
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In trying to make this pivot, Trump benefits from decades of Fox-News-fueled lemmings, who have been trained to trust gut level prejudice, over complex analysis. This tendency is further exacerbated by twin trends that ignite the anger that Trump benefits from. The first trend is the very economic inequality that Bernie has emphasized throughout this campaign. Despite coming back from the brink of economic collapse under George W. Bush, today two-income families are less secure than the typical one-income family of the baby-boomers' upbringing. This trend is doubly potent for working class white men, who see themselves as struggling to keep their heads above water, while civil rights and civil liberties campaigns tell them that they've been entitled. Enter Trump's indignant aggression, (e.g., the war on "political correctness") and it's just what the doctor ordered.
But while Trump and Sanders might be tapping into the same well of anger, in at least one sense, Trump has a distinct advantage. In addition to the "Fox News effect," Trump benefits from the easy tangibility of the supposed "maker vs. taker" meme, which envisions the undeserving masses seeking to steal from the deserving one percent. All it takes is a story about "anchor babies," or "free stuff" to motivate that line of attack.
Sanders' message, on the other hand, requires a more abstract and complex understanding of data. He tries to compensate for this handicap by repeating phrases like "rigged economy" and "transfer of wealth." Unfortunately, to the typical Fox-News-viewing Trump voter, these phrases simply confirm the suspicion that Sanders wants to give out a lot of "free stuff" to the undeserving.
A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute tries to break down Sanders' argument in a series of graphs. Using data on wage stagnation, increased productivity, CEO pay, declining union power, and declining benefits, they buttress Sanders' argument that it is the bottom 99%, rather than the top 1%, that have been robbed.
Perhaps the most important graph concerns the gap between wages and productivity. According to the researchers, the minimum wage would be $18.00 per hour if it had kept pace with productivity. Sadly, the average voter does not think in terms of graphs; it is much easier to visualize what the supposed typical food stamp recipient may be buying the grocery store, than the value of the labor that the average worker is not being compensated for, but it is just as real.
Another source of the transfer of wealth Bernie so often talk about, is the explosion in the difference between CEO pay and worker pay:
'In 1965, these CEOs made 20 times what typical workers made. As of 2013, they make just under 300 times typical workers' pay."
The declining power of unions, in concert with the competitive pressure of international trade deals also contributes to increasing inequality, as these researchers note. One area that is not prominently mentioned in the EPI article, however, is the huge change in the tax code since the days of Republican President Eisenhower, when the top marginal tax rate was over 90%!
As he should, Sanders often adds to that, 1) the easy evasion of taxes by large multinational corporations; 2) the lack of consequences for Wall Street over the financial meltdown of 2007-2008; 3) the bail out of same by the American taxpayer; and 4) the comparative ease of getting taxpayer funds for dubious invasions, vs. the reluctance to invest in social programs.
With Trump looking like the presumptive Republican nominee, and Sanders' chances being reported as dismal by the mainstream media, one wonders if Bernie will have to resort to Perot-style charts and references to "sucking sounds" to match the easy sense of aggrieved entitlement(with all its racial and gender implications) that Trump represents. I hope it doesn't come to that. But before we find ourselves with President Trump, someone needs to tell this angry well of voters that it is not "political correctness" that has stolen their way of life. It is the rather a long series of decisions; as Thom Hartmann likes to say, under Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush; that have allowed a few at the top to benefit from the enormously productive labor of the many, while slashing their own contributions to the American economy.
(Article changed on April 29, 2016 at 17:30)