The American people are furious. So furious that they’re dangerously close to electing Donald Trump president. What are they furious about? Immigrants and Muslims? If that was the whole story, why didn’t they pick Cruz, Rubio, Christie or any of the other anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim Republicans? Elections in America are won by small marginal advantages. What gave Trump the edge?
In between all the lies, Trump did speak some truth — at least for a few seconds here and there — about falling incomes and the underlying reasons behind them. That’s what gave him his edge. No other 2016 candidate did that except Bernie Sanders. And even Bernie didn’t go much into the nuts and bolts. Trump talks about factory closures, tariffs, protecting and investing in new industries, and rebuilding America’s “means of making a living.” Trump has promised factories in every community — “beautiful,” “huge” and “the best” factories. If you doubt this, watch his speech at a recycling plant in Monessen, Pennsylvania, to get a taste of the rhetoric that has been firing up whole chunks of the electorate.
Like Bernie, he consistently points a finger at who’s to blame: the political establishments and economic elites that have let all this happen. It drives Democrats crazy that this (supposed) billionaire can stand up there and blame elites. But that’s what’s so appealing about him to millions of voters: He’s telling it like it is from the inside. Who could be a more trustworthy messenger than someone who has benefited from the system himself and yet condemns it? This has been particularly devastating to Clinton. Trump tells us, “Politicians like her do whatever guys like me tell them to.” And he’s got the tax breaks, bankruptcies and wedding photos to prove it.
It’s true that his wall, his ban on Muslims, his plans to round up millions of immigrants, and other subtler but equally ugly cultural issues have all played a bigger role in this election than jobs and the economy. That’s why, as many analyses have pointed out, Trumpism is not primarily a working class movement, but a movement of reactionary chunks of the middle class. (538, WP/Gallop, Jilani, Kilgore) But big chunks of the middle class are falling economically and Trump’s economic rhetoric has won them over while also motivating some working class voters — just enough to give him the nomination, and maybe even enough to win the White House.
Why are falling incomes so important? Because income adjusted for inflation has been falling for 40 years — even after they took food and fuel out of the inflation index. And in the post-2008 “recovery,” incomes for the bottom 90 percent kept falling.
For decades, there was an unspoken deal between Republicans and Democrats to never press the economic populist button. This deal was not even conscious, it was just an automatic result of the shared free market ideology of both the parties. Trumps anti-free trade populism was a complete surprise to everyone.
What has been so remarkable is how tiny of a dose of that populism propelled Trump so far. Even though he didn’t even talk about falling incomes all that much, but instead obsessed over past Miss Universes and Megyn Kelly, and even though we heard him confess on tape to being a sexual predator, even though we learned about how he has evaded paying ANY taxes, learned that virtually all his businesses were failures and that if he had just invested his dad’s $100 million in an index fund that he’d be not a fake billionaire but a real one — despite all of that, he has a chance of winning the White House because he talked about falling incomes.
So who out there is now ready to talk about falling incomes and standards of living for the working class and the declining middle class? Win or lose, a new politics is going to rise, powered by questions and answers about Americans’ sinking standard of living.
Whenever whole countries slide backward economically, eventually their politics become dominated by leaders who speak out about incomes, wealth, inequality and standards of living. Unfortunately, too often the leaders are like Trump in that they mix xenophobia and racism with their economic populism. When that kind of leader takes power, they tend to find war and hate to be much easier levers to pull compared to the straightforward but difficult work of economic development.
The genie is out of the bottle... nativist populism is back until incomes start going up.
If Trump wins the White House, he will not challenge Wall Street but will go after the most vulnerable people in our society, like undocumented workers and Muslims. Despite his isolationist rhetoric, he will find it easier to command generals to war than encourage companies to build in America.
And if Trump loses, another Trump is coming. The genie is out of the bottle. Who knows who it will be, but nativist populism is back until incomes start going up.
The only way to compete with that is to embrace the politics that many of us have been arguing for and attempting to practice for decades. I’m talking about the politics that says to the whole American people, “Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work building a better economy — and not let anything stop us.”
This means talking about mobilizing trillions of dollars of labor and resources to build missing industries, restore American research and development, build a 100 percent renewable energy economy, repair and rebuild infrastructure, hire a million new teachers, provide medicare for all, and more. Only this kind of direct-fix politics will trump Trumpism. And it’s not pandering, it’s just what the American people actually want and need. And in a democracy, they should get it!
The solutions are so simple. They are visible in action all over the world, and have been frequently employed in American history. But they’ve been totally erased from the American mind over the past 50 years. This isn’t some wacky left-wing formula, this is practical, commonsense policy like investing public money into efforts to build the newest, highest value industries here in America.
Solutions also include policies that politicians frequently pay lip service to such as rebuilding and repairing America’s infrastructure. But politicians like Hillary Clinton talk about these things disingenuously. Her tiny infrastructure plan is barely a fraction of what we wasted while pretending to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure. I know that sounds crazy, but unfortunately it’s not even an exaggeration. The American Society of Civil Engineers says we need to spend $3.6 trillion just to get everything back to normal. So that should be the starting point, not Hillary’s $275 billion over five years.
Some still ask, “Where will you find those trillions?” It’s an absurd thing to ask after watching our government mobilize trillions of dollars worth of support for too-big-to-fail banks and insurance companies. They showed us how it is done and now it’s time for the People’s QE!
But how can we practice these politics? Where will they come from? I’m throwing in my lot with Brand New Congress. We’re recruiting 400 non-politicians to run behind one plan to rebuild our economy and reform our institutions by mobilizing trillions of dollars worth of resources and work — just like we did in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the Wall Street bailouts.
The Brand New Congress plan to rebuild the economy is a work in progress but currently has six simple parts:
Rebuild and repair local communities — starting with those that have been left the furthest behind.
Fix our nation’s crumbling infrastructure — starting in the most economically depressed regions of our country.
Give small businesses the competitive edge in rebuilding America.
Build the inevitable 100 percent free and clean energy economy immediately, not after it’s too late.
Totally eliminate health care costs for American business with Medicare for All.
Build new high-wage, high tech industries that America is missing.
I know that some of you are still thinking “that’s too big, too radical, too politically unrealistic,” but think again. Trump has taught you at least one valuable thing: “politically realistic” isn’t what it used to be. Please sign up at BrandNewCongress.org to learn more and see the plan to rebuild America! Or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch now.