A few of my students asked if I plan to write a blog post about the election. I think many of them are trying to understand why the American electorate has chosen someone they consider to be a racist as President. It’s not an easy topic to cover in a classroom. It’s difficult to find the right words.
I want to tell them not to worry too much and everything will be okay. But I can’t yet. I’m still trying to convince myself.
My family and I lived in Michigan for 7.5 years before moving to Colorado in 2012. I think I know and understand the voters in the Rust Belt and the upper Midwest who, essentially, elected Donald Trump. I know the overwhelming majority are not racists. They’re good people who have been hit hard economically and they don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. They feel compelled to shake things up in DC and if electing a repulsive clown like Trump is what it takes to “drain the swamp” they figure so be it. They’ve lost patience because neither political party has made a meaningful effort to correct the outrageous economic injustices we’ve witnessed in the past 2-3 decades.
But I also know the bigotry is real. Worse, the population of Americans who, essentially, favor racial discrimination is shockingly large. Real life characters depicted in movies like “Mississippi Burning”, “American History X” et al actually exist…today. The incidents of overt racism I’ve seen and read about since the conclusion of the election are frightening. I think I understand how the protesters feel. I think I understand how my students of color feel. I think I understand the fear. But maybe not. I am, after all, a straight middle-age white man so I haven’t been on the receiving end of the hateful discrimination they know all too well.
I voted for Hillary Clinton. She may not have been a great candidate but I think she would have been a good President. At the same time, I have to admit feeling disgusted with the Democrats who were complicit in allowing Wall Street banks to steal an entire generation worth of prosperity from the American working class. Who was punished? What has changed to prevent another economic meltdown? We have a fully re-inflated stock market and housing market, but what have we done to correct these injustices?
We have a few new capital requirements for banks but we haven’t re-gained critical provisions from the Glass-Steagall Act. The $550 trillion (yes, with a T) derivatives market remains almost entirely unregulated. The Fed is still clueless and full of Greenspan/Bernanke disciples who learned to drop money from helicopters but somehow managed to overlook regulatory lessons from the Great Depression. We still have a handful of too-big-to-fail banks who should have been broken up 7 years ago. The Fed still gives these banks free money to use for speculation and executive bonuses. Wall Street CEOs still make more in a month than a working class family can make in a lifetime. The entire financial sector produces very little of value while exerting extraordinary financial pressure on publicly traded businesses to think short term, even when it’s not in their long term interest. These pressures, just as much as NAFTA or any other trade agreement, have led to offshoring of American jobs and the elimination of middle class incomes.
While the GOP leads the charge to deregulate and enable exploitation of the working class, Democrats are only interested in increasing tax rates for the rich and increasing entitlements for the poor. These are band-aids. We’re treating the symptoms. But we’ve done nothing to bring about a cure.
What’s the cure?
The economic playing field must be level. This doesn’t mean socialism and a return to huge marginal tax rates but it does mean financial re-regulation. Wall Street has been encouraged to gamble recklessly with a robust safety net while the working class has been asked to compete globally without any meaningful safety net. Tax breaks for the rich have been handed out in the name of stimulating small business growth while simultaneously protecting monopolies and making it nearly impossible for small businesses to compete in many industries. Students have been saddled with crippling debt while the architects of the mortgage meltdown have been handed golden parachutes.
In other words, we’re being asked to play a game of Monopoly on the big board. But we don’t get $1500 to start the game, we aren’t allowed to buy railroads, utilities or properties and we can’t draw a Get Out of Jail Free card from Chance or Community Chest. All we can do is hope for lucky rolls of the dice so we can Pass Go and live to fight another day. The rules must be changed.
How do we get there?
We have to take back government one seat at a time. For me it starts in the House of Representatives and in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. Republican Scott Tipton must be defeated in 2018. We can’t cry about gerrymandering or make other excuses. We have to win elections.
Marching and protesting in the streets will get people’s attention but it’s not enough. Maybe the protests will force Trump to disavow white nationalists who now feel emboldened to openly express hatred and threaten violence. I hope so. But that won’t be enough either.
The rise of racial discrimination has its roots in economic injustice. The fix must involve an effort to reconstruct the regulatory scaffolding that once protected the working class from the Banksters and Corporate Pirates who have fleeced all of us for far too long. Only then will we be able to isolate and defeat the racists and move toward a more prosperous and harmonious society.
So, to my students who feel betrayed, it’s time to grit your teeth and get ready to fight. The next battle will take place November 6th, 2018. Enlist in the political process. Vote. Take political power away from the bigots. That’s what they just did to you.