I was part of a Democratic administration that failed to fix a rigged system – I know our current president is a symptom of our disunion, not its only cause.
By Robert Reich
The Guardian (2/2/20)
An impeached president who is up for re-election will this week deliver a State of the Union address to the most divided union in living memory.
But why are we so divided? We’re not fighting a hugely unpopular war on the scale of Vietnam. We’re not in a deep economic crisis like the Great Depression. Yes, we disagree about guns, gays, abortion and immigration, but we’ve disagreed about them for decades. Why are we so divided now?
Part of the answer is Trump himself. The Great Divider knows how to pit native-born Americans against immigrants, the working class against the poor, whites against blacks and Latinos, evangelicals against secularists, keeping almost everyone stirred up by vilifying, disparaging, denouncing, defaming and accusing others of the worst. Trump thrives off disruption and division.
But that begs the question of why we have been so ready to be divided by Trump. The answer derives in large part from what has happened to wealth and power.
In the fall of 2015, I visited Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Missouri and North Carolina, for a research project on the changing nature of work. I spoke with many of the people I had met 20 years before when I was secretary of labor, as well as with some of their grown children.
What I heard surprised me. Twenty years before, many said they’d been working hard and were frustrated they weren’t doing better. Now they were angry – angry at their employers, the government, Wall Street.
Many had lost jobs, savings, or homes in the Great Recession following the financial crisis of 2008, or knew others who had. Most were back in jobs but the jobs paid no more than they had two decades before, in terms of purchasing power.
I heard the term “rigged system” so often I began asking people what they meant. They spoke about flat wages, shrinking benefits, growing job insecurity. They talked about the bailout of Wall Street, political payoffs, insider deals, soaring CEO pay, and “crony capitalism”.
These complaints came from people who identified themselves as Republicans, Democrats and independents. A few had joined the Tea Party. A few had briefly been involved in the Occupy movement.
The 2016 rebellion is ongoing
With the 2016 political primaries looming, I asked which candidates they found most attractive. At the time, the leaders of the Democratic party favored Hillary Clinton and Republican leaders favored Jeb Bush. Yet no one I spoke with mentioned Clinton or Bush.
They talked instead about Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. When I asked why, they said Sanders or Trump would “shake things up” or “make the system work again” or “stop the corruption” or “end the rigging”.
In the following year, Sanders – a 74-year-old Jew from Vermont who described himself as a democratic socialist and wasn’t even a Democrat until the primaries – came within a whisker of beating Clinton in Iowa, routed her in New Hampshire, and ended up with 46% of the pledged delegates from Democratic primaries and caucuses.
Trump – a 69-year-old egomaniacal billionaire reality-TV star who had never held elective office or had anything to do with the Republican party and who lied compulsively about everything – won the primaries and went on to beat Clinton, one of the most experienced and well-connected politicians in modern America (although he didn’t win the popular vote, and had some help from the Kremlin).
Something very big had happened, and it wasn’t due to Sanders’ magnetism or Trump’s likeability. It was a rebellion against the establishment. That rebellion is still going on, although much of the establishment still denies it. …
# Well, DUH! People like me and millions more who were furious at Obama and Holder for not holding Wall Street accountable, and who hated the results of NAFTA and the wholesale move of our manufacturing capacity overseas, have been saying all this for years. That’s why we supported Bernie Sanders in 2016 and why we were so disgusted at the DNC which subverted his campaign. That’s what those e-mails were about, and the Republicans chose to exploit them, but their substance was entirely factual.
And now the DNC, along with Obama, Hillary, and all the rest, are trying to do it again, to appease their corporate donors. The DNC is hopelessly corrupt, and until we the Democratic minions can wrest power from them and get one of our own nominated and elected, the populist fury will continue to grow, in even more violent and racist directions.
I am very fortunate that I stumbled into a career in the 1980’s that kept my family and me afloat. But I see my sisters and my cousins falling backwards because they did not have my dumb luck. These hardworking people are scrounging away, pulled down by all the corporate forces combined. Any wonder they are lashing out at any scapegoat that is presented to them?
The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are two sides of the same coin of pain and disillusionment.
Good article, Mr. Reich, but way too late. This all should have been top priority for the Dems by 2010.