Isn't the presidential political season fun? You get to learn new things, issues that have been simmering in the background come storming out in angry bursts, explosive rhetoric, and dramatic societal fracturing.
Unless you've been hiding somewhere without any form of media (in which case I feel honored that you broke your tech sabbatical for me) you have probably noticed the bizarre circus this presidential race has caused.
What should really be blowing your mind, is that the two "anti-establishment" candidates appeal to the same economic demographic - for the same reason. I'll wait for you to calm down before I explain. Deep breaths, if you're a Sanders or Trump fan. It'll be okay, I promise.
The Vanishing Middle Class
Donald Trump supporters probably think they have nothing in common with Bernie Sanders fans, and vice versa, but you do. You see, American income, inflation, earning potential, and amount of income spent have changed dramatically over the past 80 years. In the last 40 years, one thing has been consistent. The middle class has been hit the hardest.
The underlying reason for all of this political anger is the disappearance of the American middle class. The rhetoric of both Trump and Sanders addresses this anger. Sanders appeals to younger people who identify with the OWS movement, which is anti-establishment at its core, while Trump supporters are boiling over on many fronts, also with an anti-establishment ideal.
Back in the 1970s the largest portion of the population was securely middle class. There were fewer people below them on the income scale and fewer people above them. They were comfortable with their friends and families, not too worried about falling behind the curve and hopeful about their ability to get up a notch or two.
While there are a lot of numbers to wrap your mind around, what it boils down to is - there are more people making less and more people making more. The middle class, where the majority of Americans once landed, is shrinking. The disparity between the groups is growing, and median wealth has dropped. The distance between people in the upper class and people in the lower class is immense in terms of wealth and income.
Are you curious if you're in the middle of the road? If your annual household income is around $52,000 per year, congratulations! You are in the top 50%. If you're curious about where you fall and how close you are to the elite 1%, CNN has a nifty calculator that can help you out. To fall in the middle income range as an individual you'd have to make between about $24,000 to $72,000. Bump that up to a family of five and the range is around $54,000 to $162,000.
Some people say this isn't all bad news. Some of the changes are coming from a greater portion of the population retiring, and a greater influx of new workers into the job market who are naturally being paid less. The silver lining list includes things like people are living longer, and the cost of goods relative to the amount of work required to purchase them has dropped.
Back to Sanders and Trump. I'm using them as examples not because I love them or hate them. Because let's be honest, who really cares what I think about them? I'm using them because they are seen as being on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Sanders way on the left and Trump over on the right. But do you know who both have targeted throughout their remarkably successful campaigns?
The middle class.
The people who feel they are owed more. More income, more respect, more of a voice in the political process. As their incomes have been whittled away, so too has their confidence in the government that has told them what to think and who to vote for. Trump's tax reform plan and Sander's stance on income inequality both speak to the people who feel they have been left behind in the political maneuvering of Washington. I'd be willing to bet it won't stop at the top political office in November. The way things are going, local and state elections will reflect the distress felt by what has become the middle class minority. ?
What does it mean for our country that income disparity has become so great that our entire political process is more focused on that than the education of our children, the exploration of space, or the push to cure horrible diseases? How have we become so polarized that the very government we elect has become the enemy? How have we created an electorate that feels so disenfranchised as to vote for the two candidates that their parties have specifically begged them not to vote for? Is this the beginning or the end of panem et circenses?