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Tuesday, August 3, 2021
SYDNEY, Jan 21 2021 (IPS) - Impeachment or no impeachment, Trump is out of the White House. Trump goes with an approval rating of 34%, far behind his predecessor Barack Obama’s 60%. A majority, 54%, said Trump ought to be removed from office before January 20, according to a new CNN poll, for his role in the January 6 events, when Trump incited his supporters to storm the US Capitol.
Battle for America’s soul
“Has America lost its soul?”, asked Peter Singer, the famous ethics and morality philosopher. More than 70 million, or 47% of Americans voted for Trump. With 21,000 votes in three key states, Trump would have defeated Biden.
Trump lies shamelessly. He takes pride in gaming the system to evade paying taxes. He incites racial hatred and violence, even demeaning the families of those who gave their lives for America. He celebrates white supremacists as patriots, and shows no empathy for close to 400 thousand Americans who died of COVID-19. He ignores science, and shows no respect or tolerance for opponents.
The list goes on. But most importantly, he undermined the highest office of the country by abusing it to promote his person and business interests.
Yet, so many Americans ignored Trump’s immorality and voted for him in an election which Biden declared to be a “battle for the soul of America”. Trump not only got the highest votes ever for a sitting president, but even increased his votes by over five million from 2016.
What caused this moral or ethical divide in America? Why did Biden fail to win half its soul? America’s fault-lines run through the middle, due to decades of rising wealth and income inequality.
Between 1990 and 2020, as US billionaires increased their wealth by 1,130%, US median wealth increased by only 5.4%. As the combined net worth of America’s 614 billionaires grew by $931 billion during the pandemic, ‘turbocharging’ inequality over seven months from mid-March, a week after Trump declared a national emergency.
The US has not had decent income or wealth redistribution at least since the 1960s. From 1963 to 2016, the lowest 10% of Americans went from having no assets at all to being US$1,000 in debt. Meanwhile, families in the top 10% multiplied their wealth five-fold. Most shockingly, families in the top 1% grew their wealth seven fold between 1963 and 2016.
For most US workers, real wages have barely budged in decades despite low unemployment in some periods. For example, average real wages during Trump’s final years had about the same purchasing power as 40 years ago. Average real hourly earnings in March 2019 amounted to US$23.24 in 2019 dollars, matching only the long-time peak of March 1974, and only around US$3 above the early 1960s level.
Furthermore, wage gains in recent decades have mostly flowed to the highest paid workers. Since 2000, workers’ average weekly wages in the lowest tenth of the earnings distribution have risen 3% (in real terms) while real earnings of the top tenth have risen 15.7% to US$2,112 a week – nearly five times the average of the bottom tenth (US$426). Real wages either rose less or fell at the middle and bottom of the distribution, while real wages of the 90th percentile increased for the workforce as a whole from 1979 to 2019.
Earnings disparities by race, colour, gender and ethnicity are even worse. At the 90th percentile, wage growth was much higher for White workers and lower for Black and Hispanic workers. By contrast, middle (50th percentile) and bottom (10th percentile) wages grew less (e.g., for women) or declined in real terms (e.g., for men).
Such earnings and wealth inequalities cannot be explained away by skills or education levels, or by including benefits, or by looking at total compensation, or by changing the price deflator (adjustments for inflation). On the contrary, they are due to policy decisions that have reduced the leverage of most workers to achieve faster wage growth.
One is job insecurity, as admitted by Alan Greenspan in his 1997 Senate testimony: “Atypical restraint on compensation increases has been … mainly the consequence of greater worker insecurity”, partly attributable to “domestic deregulation”. The situation has become worse since.
A 2016 study confirmed that the US labour market has become “more treacherous”. The rise of the ‘gig economy’ is still “too small to affect the broader workforce”. There are much deeper causes: job creation has been spotty and often inadequate, while new jobs are typically inferior to their predecessors.
The 2017-2019 three year period saw employment growth and declining unemployment. Yet, 6.3 million workers – aged 20 and over – were displaced from their jobs. Only around 65% of those who lost their long-term jobs could find similar ones after three years, with many earning less.
Rising inequality and insecurity are results of “a stubborn reliance by policymakers on markets to do the work of government, and the racism and sexism, sometimes written into law, that blind policymakers to injustice and to economic sense”, as Heather Boushey notes in her recent IMF blog. Growing monopoly power of corporations, and increasing financialization of the economy, with a concomitant rise of the rentier class, not only led to polarisation, but also fundamentally weakened the US economy.
The generous tax cuts received by corporations since the 1980s went to buy back shares, fatten obscene executive packages, and pay dividends instead of re-investing to boost productivity and create more decent jobs.
US economic problems are deep-rooted: “By early 2020 even before the pandemic reached the US, manufacturing jobs had stalled out, and factories shed workers in four of the six months through March”, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Trump’s China trade war also did not reduce overall US trade imbalances which have continued growing, soaring to a record US$84 billion in August 2019. US importers have shifted to goods from Vietnam, Mexico and other countries, but the trade deficit with China has risen amid the pandemic to where it was at the start of the Trump administration.
Trump still a hero!
But Trumpism is likely to stay, although his approval ratings just before leaving office, is among the worst since Gallup began regularly tracking presidential approval from the 1940s. Equal to Jimmy Carter, Trump still does better than Harry Truman’s 32%, George W. Bush’s 31% and Richard Nixon’s 24%.
The CNN poll is skewed along party-lines – nearly all Democrats (93%) favoured removing Trump from office before January 20, while just 10% of Republicans felt the same. Among Republicans, his approval rating has remained largely positive even after the deadly US Capitol attack; nearly nine in 10 Republicans approving Trump’s job performance.
Thus, ending Trumpism will need more than impeaching Trump. The Bidden-Harris agenda must include Republican Theodore Roosevelt’s trust-busting as well as Democrat Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and social agenda to address America’s deep-rooted socio-economic malaises that are undermining its democracy.
Teddy Roosevelt confronted the bitter struggle between capital and labour head-on in 1901, threatening to nationalize coal mines and settle in favour of labour. He took on JP Morgan, then the most powerful financier, barely six months into his presidency. He was a hunter, yet dedicated some 200 million acres for national forests, reserves and wildlife refuges as part of his “Square Deal” of domestic programmes.
Teddy could not be bullied by corporate capital. He was a conservative, who initiated far-reaching progressive reforms and started the conservation movement. He rose above party politics and did what thought right for America as a whole.
He broke away from the Republican Party when it became more conservative, and challenged his Republican successor William Taft in the 1912 elections after Taft failed to deliver his promise of progressive reforms.
Teddy’s fifth cousin, FDR led the US economy out of the Great Depression with his ambitious New Deal, defying fiscal conservatism and pressure from Wall Street. He thus redefined the impact of the federal government on the lives of Americans.
His vision of global institutions laid the foundation for the post-WWII Golden Age lasting nearly three decades. He also stood firm against the European colonial powers to advance the decolonization agenda.
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