Hard Times, Easy Answers

A few hundred super-delegates are the only reason we’re not looking at the prospect of a President Sanders, and only Hillary Clinton separates us from a President Trump. Yes, he’s a blowhard, a snake oil salesman, a crude bully, and an egomaniac know-nothing, but anxiety and insecurity tend to make even a charlatan on a white horse look good.

Those living in relative ease are baffled, but a lot of the country really does think America is on the ropes. Their America seems to be. They live in Flint where the economic engine abandoned them and the government poisoned their water. They live in San Bernardino where terrorism came to call, or in inner cities where the cops shoot unarmed black men in the street. Or in hollowed out cities and towns where the jobs went away and aren’t coming back

Economically a wide swath of America didn’t share in the boom leading up to the bust of 2008, and hasn’t shared in the recovery since. Yes, more people are working than at the nadir, but well-paid jobs have vanished and poorly paid ones have taken their place.

Over 30% of young adult millennials, born between 1980 and 2006, are living at home with their parents into their late 20s and early 30s, the highest percentage since the 1940s. Many are unemployed, more underemployed. Minorities and poorly educated members of the cohort are faring the worst, but even white college graduates are sleeping in the basement, working minimum wage jobs, and saddled with backbreaking student debt.

Car sales were robust after years of deferred purchases, but are now looking shaky and the head of J.P. Morgan warns that auto loan debt is getting out of hand. A new housing bubble seems to be in progress with many priced out of the market and others taking on questionable amounts of debt. Credit Card debt is also hitting new post-2008 highs. Do we sense a theme here?

Economic growth averaged three percent a year from 1980 to 2007. Since then it’s been 1.2% a year. Jobs have been growing more slowly, and the May number was especially dire. So the mood in the country is not cheerful.

Only 23% of the employed expect wages to rise next year, probably because wages for working-class employees have been stagnant for a generation. But the cost of most necessities keeps right on rising, especially health care. No wonder people feel the squeeze.

In the most vivid statistic of all, half of adults say they couldn’t deal with an unexpected expense of $400 without selling something they own or borrowing money. This is the 47% percent belittled by Mitt Romney, an man with an elevator for his cars in one of his half dozen homes. They live on a knife-edge, one slip away from real economic disaster.

This is not a picture of the American Dream we were all led to expect as our birthright, the opportunity to work hard, own a home and get ahead, or at the very least give our kids a chance to end up better off than us. Fat chance, when millennials are making less than their parents did at the same age with diminished prospects ahead. They know it, and their parents know it.

No wonder so many are ripe for a candidate with easy answers to hard times. Especially since no candidate is offering a more realistic narrative. None are willing to say: “The world has changed, the golden age that lasted from 1946 to 1980 is over, from now things will be tough, as they haven’t been since your grandparents endured the Great Depression, or an earlier generation had to survive a Gilded Age where a few lived in plenty and most provided brute labor with no minimum wage, no Social Security, no nothin’. Get used to the new normal, same as the old normal. Or at least, expect to put up with a great, big, painful, long-lasting adjustment to a changed world.”

That’s too bleak a tale to get elected on, so Bernie blames Wall Street. The mainstream members of the two parties blame each other, and Trump blames everyone – immigrants, wily Chinese competitors, stupid politicians and generals, crooked Hillary, the Kenyan president, all of whom have betrayed the country.

He promises to make America great again, yet this is a man who built a career on low-rent entertainment, gaudy facades, and taking advantage of the gullible with his made in China, all-American products, his serial bankruptcies, and his fraudulent Trump U.

But this is the usual profile of the demagogue. They say, “You were stabbed in the back by the bankers, the traitors, the Jews, the carpetbaggers, the immigrants and former slaves stealing your jobs, the rigged game of the insiders. I’m one of you (though he clearly isn’t), follow me and there will be a chicken in every pot.”

The only surprise about the rise of Trump is that he hasn’t adopted Huey Long’s old campaign ditty as his own.

Why weep or slumber America,
Land of brave and true?
With castles and clothing and food for all,
All belongs to you.
Ev’ry man a king, ev’ry man a king
For you can be a millionaire.
If there’s something belonging to others,
There’s enough for all people to share.

When it’s sunny June and December too
Or in the winter time or spring,
There’ll be peace without end,
Ev’ry neighbor a friend
With ev’ry man a king.

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