On Proposition 3: The System Fails Most Americans

Proposition 3: A clear manifestation of this blockage is that our system is no longer capable of bringing about outcomes that are for the good of the majority of Americans. More accurately and more strongly: only a small minority of Americans are benefiting from the system as it is operating now.

(Yes, I changed the word from observation to proposition.)

While debate about what led to Trump's victory will rage on, and while no single factor fully explains the outcome, it's undeniable that in the general election Trump was the only candidate speaking to the sense of decline felt by many Americans, a sense that they've been left behind. While it was easy to hear within Trump's call to "Make America Great Again" his supporters' anxiety about a world in which the previously dominant power structure (white, straight, patriarchal) is being superseded by something more inclusive of cultural, racial, and sexual minorities, it's undeniable that many of the economic changes over the last couple of generations have taken away the opportunities that once allowed the working class a path to middle class comfort and a concomitant dignity.

While Trump's protectionist stances were widely derided by the intelligentsia on both sides of the aisle--Didn't he get the memo that globalization is an unqualified success? seemed to be the general sense--it's worth remembering that the promise of deals like NAFTA was that free trade would benefit all people. And while it's true that the ability of capital to move manufacturing to the places where costs are lowest has meant that Americans get cheap TVs and cell phones, what's gone along with that is the disappearance of the sorts of jobs that a high-school-educated person could have relied on 40 years ago to be a safe ticket to the middle class, and millions of part-time jobs at Starbucks and Walmart aren't filling the gap.

Or let's consider the costs and benefits of the most significant and of course most controversial piece of legislation during the Obama administration, the Affordable Care Act. In my piece from two weeks ago, I defended the ACA as better than the system we had before, because it has given many millions of Americans access to health care who previously lacked it. Nonetheless, it's clear that the law is a far cry from an unqualified success. Is it better for the majority of Americans? Possibly. But a more salient question is, Do a majority of Americans believe it to be better? Republican electoral success since the 2010 midterms would suggest not.

Another useful measuring stick of the blockage I'm speaking of is the distribution of income and wealth in our country. Coinciding with the rise of supply-side, trickle-down economics, which hold that tax cuts for the wealthiest lead to benefits for all, an orthodoxy essentially unchallenged since the Reagan era, we've seen income and wealth inequality increase for almost forty years. The rich have gotten much richer, while the rest have seen stagnation, even decline.

When you consider the policy proposals at the heart of the Trump/Republican plans for governance--immigration crackdowns, repealing the ACA (without, it seems, the vaguest ideas of how to replace it with something better), increased military spending, and tax cuts (offered as a good unto themselves); and when you consider that the Democrats offered little more than the status quo, one has to ask, Is this the best we can do? Either the status quo of the last eight years or else a doubling down of the policies of the Reagan and Bush (I and II) administrations?

Sadly, by all appearances, this is exactly the case: this is the best we can do. And if the best we can do is to continue to run a system that will not and cannot benefit most of the people whom it is supposed to serve, then it has become time to change that system.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *