The Republican Fear Factor

February 18, 2019

The Republicans, whether in the White House or in Congress, are really masters of fear-mongering, in fact they are brilliant pushing at a political strategy that works. The list of fears is long and diverse – fear of immigrants, fear of crime, fear of gun laws, fear of taxes, fear of strong women, fear of big government, and now fear of socialism. I may have left a few out but I think you get my drift.

The Democrats are novices at the fear game and have not been up to the challenge of tapping into the driving force of voter motivation. They have tried with global warming/climate change and now with taxing the rich but they just don’t know how to convince people that governing is about cowering in a corner – whatever happened to the land of the free and HOME OF THE BRAVE.

Thanks to the progressive side of the Democrats in Congress pushing for a Green Deal, Medicare for all and tax increases on the rich the Republicans are back at the fear gambit  characterizing the female leaders of the movement as radicals who are taking the United States down the road to Venezuela. Fear has been at the core of the Trump strategy, especially with immigrants, and so the long knives are out to convince Americans that they must fear big spending, big taxes and big programs.

Now what may help the Democrats deal with the fear factor is that the new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, does not appear to wilt in the face of President Trump’s threats or the Republican leadership. Also the new women in the House like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez show little concern over challenging cabinet officials, lobbyists and the Republican men. The fact that she and others might get their facts wrong or over play their policy recommendations has not stopped them from responding to the fear strategy with a healthy dose of class warfare.

So as the politics of governing plays out in the coming months what we will likely see is a tug of competing strategies as the Republicans continue to try and scare the livin’ daylights out of Americans with the fear strategy while the Democrats try and convince voters that they have been cheated out of their hard earned money by greedy millionaires and billionaires.

The fact that Trump Republicans continue to hold onto their base suggests that the fear strategy still works (at least while the economy remains strong), but preliminary polling shows that Americans like the concept of Medicare for all, believe that climate change must be addressed, and agree that the rich need to start paying their fair share of taxes. We could be at a turning point in American politics as fear is replaced with class, in fact the 2020 election is likely to be a contest between these two powerful motivations.

 

 

 

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What’s Wrong With Being A Billionaire?

February 8, 2019

I think that most Americans would jump at the prospect of becoming a millionaire, especially in the times when so many people are living paycheck to paycheck. But hitting that billionaire mark is just too lofty for many of us. Being a billionaire in this country is certainly an elite club. Forbes magazine calculates the number at 540, a tiny club in a country with somewhere in the neighborhood of 320 million residents. But the real number to remember is that those 540 billionaires have a combined net worth of $2.399 trillion; yes you read it correctly $2.399 trillion.

The $ 2.399 trillion in the pockets of 540 people comes at a time when this country faces enormous income inequality as far too many people are in debt up to their eyeballs and have trouble scrapping the money for minor emergencies.  The Federal Reserve reports that the median American family net worth is $ 80,000, certainly a modest figure. But there are far too many Americans who fall beneath that number. The Institute for Policy Studies states that almost 20% of US households have zero or negative net worth; not surprisingly African- Americans and Latino households make up huge levels of that downward spiral- 30% of African-Americans and 27% of Latino households are in the zero or negative range.

Those 540 billionaires are starting to feel the heat as poll after poll supports policies that chip away at all that wealth and the inequality that accompanies the bulging bank accounts of the super rich. Already the billionaires are whining about increased tax proposals saying it deprives them of their hard earned wealth and will crush the economy. Nowhere is there the admission that the recent Trump/Republican Congress tax cut bill was heavily weighted to further enrich the rich or that stock market schemes like share buybacks have lined the pockets of these billionaires.

Sure most of these billionaires are hard working, savvy risk-takers who are model capitalists. Some of them like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet give away millions and millions of their wealth to noble causes.  But it is not an exaggeration or radical to state that something is wrong with an economic system that creates such inequality and outright poverty. Those middle class people and the African-Americans and Latinos work hard and take risks everyday but don’t get the bonus wealth that too easily comes the way of the billionaires.

There is no way that these calls to somehow end the wealth of the billionaires are realistic; in fact they are a bit wacky. The super rich will fight any confiscatory policies that diminish their status as billionaires and more importantly they have plenty of supporters from both parties in the Congress to derail legislation that ends their unique status. Slowly chipping away at their privileged tax status, giving a real tax boost to the middle class, and funding programs to address those Americans at the low end of the economic ladder seem the best strategy rather than public shaming, idle threats and legislative proposals that are going nowhere. These alternatives are not socialism or radical progressive claptrap but clearly in the tradition of making the American Dream accessible to all our citizens. As the comedian W.C. Fields said years ago, ” A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money.”