The Real American Dilemma

The Real American Dilemma


Leonard Zwelling

It is not often that so much is explained in so small a space.

The New York Times op-ed page on February 25, 2019 contains two columns that go a long way to explaining the chaos in America and the reason Donald Trump was able to wrest the presidency from Hillary Clinton.

In the first piece, David Leonhardt does a terrific job explaining that American incomes really need to be divided into five groups—not just lower, middle and upper class. This separation becomes visible in the graph he posts showing the share of the economic growth over the past 40 years that has been enjoyed by each of these sectors of the population.

The largest gains went to the top 0.01%, with a lot going to the top 1%. Those in the 90th-99th percentile, approximately those making $125,000 to $425,000 per year kept pace with economic growth. Everyone else, the middle 40% and bottom 50% lost ground. That’s a lot of votes losing ground. Many of them found Donald Trump appealing and really found Mrs. Clinton unappealing. She never got them and they thought he did.

Leonhardt writes about this in the context of the proposed tax cuts and tax hikes being promoted by the various Democratic candidates for president in 2020. There is the clear realization that any tax cuts must focus on the bottom 90% and ignore any gifts for the top 10% who have at least kept pace with economic growth.

What Leonhardt does not address is the why.

I think it’s pretty straight forward and focused on the educational system of the United States which is not preparing our young people for the new world they face of globalization, pay for manipulating symbols not making stuff, and climate change. It’s a world of technological innovation and only the best prepared and most accomplished will share in the economic growth of the American future. The old American dream of a house, two cars, and sending your kids to private college is over for many of those making their livings with their hands. Besides, the robots can do that work. It is those who program the robots who will enjoy the riches of tomorrow.

Erin Aubry Kaplan writes about Michelle Obama in the other article, especially focusing on Mrs. Obama’s book, Becoming.

She makes the case that the racial resentment that still affects the African-American community is somehow not accepted completely by Mrs. Obama. I must admit that I have had my sensibilities raised by both the #OscarSoWhite and #MeToo movements. The battles for women and African-Americans are just being joined today. The fight is not won and that too affects the economy and who gets to share in America’s increased productivity. There are racial, gender, and class aspects to the struggle outlined in Leonhardt’s chart showing who participated in the gains in our economy and who did not. That then leads to a discussion of what to do about it. And this is no small point.

As the ultra-liberals have a greater voice in the Democratic Party, calls will be for higher taxes on the rich and tax relief for the poor and middle classes. Along with this will come calls for an overhaul of public education that still suffers “white flight” (check out the public schools in Houston).

The country will not get better with someone like Donald Trump in the White House denying these problems exist because he and his minions cannot even understand the plight of the middle income and African-American segments of the population. They would rather vilify immigrants than acknowledge that almost all Americans are immigrants or a few generations removed from immigrants. This will be the battlefield of 2020. If the Democrats can find a candidate who understands the economics and racial nuances of America and can articulate a solution that appeals to the middle and lower classes while recruiting the upper echelons of our society into supporting his or her program, that might be a winning combination for the White House.

If, on the other hand, the candidate of the Democrats just bashes the upper class without really articulating a solution for those society has left behind, mostly because of lacking educational opportunities, then we may well have four more years of Trump. Of course, that’s only if we have one more year of him. That may be up to Robert Mueller, attorneys in the Southern District of New York and the Democrats in the House of Representatives.

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