Our country is more divided than it’s been in a very long time, quite possibly since the Civil War. This great rift has been growing for many years. While significant political differences have always existed, a larger, more troubling gap began to develop when income inequality started accelerating in the late 1970s. According to the Economic Policy Institute, from 1978 to 2015 the average corporate CEO’s salary grew 997% while the average salary of a private sector, non-supervisory worker increased just 10.9%.1
Additionally, as I noted in Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America, between 2009 and 2012, the first years of the economic recovery after the Great Recession, 95% of the total gain in income went to the families in the top one percent. Consequently, more and more Americans were feeling left behind as our nation dug itself out of the 2008 Recession.
While the Establishment in both political parties was addressing the needs and desires of the donor class, they were doing little for the rest of their constituents. During the last days of the George W. Bush administration, Congress passed TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Though TARP funds were primarily to be used to save the nation’s biggest banks from collapsing, the government could have used some of it to prevent the foreclosure of average citizens’ home mortgages. But President Obama refused to require foreclosure relief from these banks as a condition for their receiving a massive bailout of hundreds of billions of dollars2 paid for by American taxpayers.
Even Obama’s singular achievement, the Affordable Care Act, was drafted more in line with the wishes of corporate America than those of the general public. As a result, the Act failed to include a ‘public option,’ which would have helped limit the cost of people’s health insurance, while it contained the insurance companies’ requirement that all citizens obtain health insurance.
Meanwhile, since the Great Recession, Congress has refused to pass a substantial jobs bill, mostly due to Republican obstruction, which would have assisted millions of Americans in getting back on their feet. And, if that weren’t enough, Obama continues to lobby for the passage of the TPP, the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty, that would further hurt American workers while it boosts Big Business.
How many times can we expect working class Americans to take it on the chin before they start fighting back? Can we really blame them for being mad as hell and supporting Donald Trump? Yes, Trump is a charlatan. But, when people are drowning, they will grab onto any apparent lifesaver within reach. In fact, the rise of Trump’s presidential campaign is in large part the result of our nation’s failure to respond to the needs of his followers.
The truth is that the Establishment, Republican and Democratic alike, has been more focused on protecting and furthering its own self interest than it has been in building a nation where we all have an equal opportunity to enjoy healthy and prosperous lives. But, this is the way it has always been. The status quo does not change unless people organize and demand it. Just look at how it took millions of Americans coming together in the LGBT, Civil Rights and Environmental movements to overcome the opposition of the status quo and achieve their successes.
Now that this bitter presidential campaign is finally over, it’s time we turned our attention to the causes that made it so acrimonious. In particular, we must examine an economic/political system that provides so much to so few and so little to so many. Then, we must organize a broad-based, non-partisan Democracy Movement to redevelop that system into a fairer, more equitable one for all Americans. For how we can do this together, visit breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.
1 See http://www.epi.org/publication/ceo-pay-has-grown-90-times-faster-than-typical-worker-pay-since-1978/
2 See http://www.salon.com/2015/03/31/barney_frank_drops_a_bombshell_how_a_shocking_anecdote_explains_the_financial_crisis/