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Justifiable Anger Fuels Trump's Hold on Power and Democrats Still Don't Seem to Get It

People are either angry or cynical and they’ve a right to be. The angry show up to vote and they vote for nihilists and cranks, and many of the cynical, believing that voting doesn’t matter, stay home. 

Supporters stand for the Pledge of Allegiance before a speech by U.S. President Donald Trump at a rally at the Erie Insurance Arena on October 10, 2018 in Erie, Pennsylvania. This was the second rally hosted by the president this week, including one in Iowa yesterday. (Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

Pundits, progressives and the press seem perplexed by Trumpism.  How can a narcissistic, fascist, incompetent conman—whose White House seems always on the verge of chaos; whose own appointees fear that he’ll do something so insane that they snatch papers off his desk; whose positions mouth populism while serving the ultra-rich; a man so obviously over his head and out of his league it’s painful to watch—how can this man inspire any support, let alone take over a national party, they ask?

And now, we see a petulant, entitled, serial liar—a man completely devoid of the temperament and character required to be a Supreme Court Justice; a man accused of several sexual assaults; a partisan who, by ethics, customs, and rights should recuse himself from every case involving politics—sailing through the confirmation process, approved by the majority of men and Republicans despite the fact that he should be impeached from his current position, not elevated to the highest court in the land. The collective headsmacks from the sane in the face of this mass insanity can be heard across the land. 

What gives? How did tribalism trump sanity, reality, reason and patriotism for so many, they ask? 

The answer is simple.  People are either angry or cynical and they’ve a right to be. The angry show up to vote and they vote for nihilists and cranks, and many of the cynical, believing that voting doesn’t matter, stay home.

How did we reach this state of affairs? Simple. We the people have been getting screwed for nearly four decades, and it’s been a bipartisan effort.

During the election, Trump spoke to this anger, at least rhetorically, and no one else did. Oh, it’s not like Trump has actually done anything for the average American, now that he’s in power. But he’s at least acknowledged their grievances and given them someone to blame; blacks, immigrants, the Chinese … when people are angry or frightened, targets are plentiful and blame is easy.

This is the central issue in politics today: the diminished prospects that Americans have experienced is a reality, and it has been a bi-partisan effort decades in the making, encompassing nearly every aspect of our economic, social and political world.

So, of course people are angry. Trump tapped into that anger and rode it to victory.  It doesn’t matter that his policies are in fact favoring the rich—there’s no one else even pretending to address it. Let’s look at the specifics.

Diminished economic prospects and loss of political power

Since Reagan, the share of the nation’s wealth has been steadily moving up the income brackets, with a recent report showing that the top 1 percent of families now earns 25 times what the bottom 99 percent does. And Trump’s tax and other fiscal policies will only exacerbate this, with his tariffs raising prices, and his tax cuts funneling even more money and wealth to corporations and the ultra-rich  at the expense of the rest of us.

And now, straight from their decades-old playbook, Republicans are using the inevitable deficit their tax cuts create to justify gutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as other programs that benefit the poor and middle class.  Historically, instead of confronting the Republican’s tax-cuts-for-the rich con job, Democrats offered “grand bargains” in which they traded away programs designed to assure a decent life. The Democrats’ complicity allowed Republicans to use wedge issues, blame, hate, fear and jingoism to con many Americans into believing government was the problem. Remember the infamous sign held by a Tea Partier: “Keep your government hands off my Medicare?”

Both parties also sat by and watched while corporations merged like rabbits in heat, creating oligopolies in virtually all aspects of commerce and manufacturing.  As Derrick Thompson pointed out in The Atlantic, monopolies and oligopolies don’t just erode service and allow for price-fixing, they depress wages and give corporations—already more politically influential than we the people—even more power.

The Republicans’ special gift was to make government the bad guy so they could push this corporatist, rich-folks-uber-alles agenda while pretending to champion the interests of the little guy, using a combination of distraction, deception, and outright lies.  The Democrats’ failure was to abandon the New Deal in exchange for campaign contributions, while embracing the small government-free-markets-are-the-answer dogma being pushed by Republicans, thus alienating what should have been their natural constituency.  So we ended up with an electorate which was ignorantly angry or legitimately cynical.

But the bottom line is, over the past four decades, both parties have presided over a monumental shift of wealth from the poor and middle class to the very top income brackets, and a transfer of power from we-the-people to corporations, kleptocrats and oligarchs.

The press, now a wholly owned subsidiary of the oligarchy, has failed to tell the story of this systematic theft of our freedoms and our well-being by a cadre of the uber-rich and corporations, so the manipulative and false narratives of blame, scapegoating and tribalism conservatives used to obscure this defacto coup have become a dominant force.

The electorate is now divided between those who are animated by a feeling of disenfranchisement and impotence and the inchoate rage they create, and those who no longer believe that government can be a force for good.

There has been an antidote to this assault on democracy available to Democrats throughout this long, sad history, but they’ve steadfastly refused to avail themselves of it.  All they needed to do—and all they need do now —is to adopt new New Deal policies that represent the interests of the people, and refuse to continue their pandering to the corporations and ultra-rich.

With less than a month to go before the midterms, the Democrat’s old guard is still clinging to their failed centrist strategy, but the rest of the country—indeed the world—is straddling a broadening gap between a progressive hope and regressive hate.  Now that a grassroots progressive movement is trying to take over the Democratic party, there’s a chance that we can forge another New Deal, one built on inclusiveness, compassion, and our common good; one that constrains the power of money, not one that bows before it.

But it can only happen if we turn out and vote against the demagogues and plutocrats who are running the country now.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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John Atcheson

John Atcheson

screen_shot_2017-07-26_at_9.09.47_pm.pngJohn Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and he has just completed a book on the 2016 elections titled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson

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