Jim Hightower: What's Killing America's Middle Class?
It is said that the rich and poor will always be among us—but nowhere is it written that the middle class is a sure thing.
Even in this country of grand egalitarian aspirations, where the common yeoman (neither rich nor poor) has been hailed from 1776 forward as America's greatest strength, the U.S. actually had no broad middle class until one was created in the 1930s and '40s. Before then, most Americans either lived in poverty or right next door.
And, yes, "created" is the correct term for how our middle class came to be, with two historic forces of social transformation pushing it. First, the widespread economic devastation of the Great Depression created a grassroots rebellion of labor, farmers, poor people, the elderly and others against the careless moneyed class that caused the crash. These forces produced FDR and his New Deal of Social Security, worker rights and protections, consumer laws, anti-monopoly restraints and other policies that put government on the side of the people, empowering them to counter much of the corporate greed preventing their upward mobility.
Second, the government's national mobilization for World War II created an explosion of new jobs, growth and opportunities for millions who'd long been blocked from sharing in our nation's prosperity. The war effort opened people's eyes, boosted confidence and raised expectations, leading to a post-war rise in unionism, passage of the GI Bill, a housing boom and a doubling of the median family income in only 30 years. In short, by the late 1970s, we had created a middle class that included nearly 60 percent of Americans.
Then—pffft—the momentum was gone. Beginning in the 1980s, right-wing Republicans and Democratic comparatists switched sides, and ever since they've increasingly allowed corporate lobbyists and campaign donors to disempower America's workaday majority, further enrich themselves and impose an abominable, un-American culture of inequality across our land.
Just as progressives deliberately pushed public policies to create the middle class, so are today's economic royalists deliberately pushing plutocratic policies to destroy it. That is the momentous struggle that calls us to action this political year.
As the royal triumvirate of Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell continue their perverse quest to turn our America into a gold-plated Trumplandistan (an exclusive realm ruled by and for the billionaire class), they keep proclaiming that their blatantly elitist schemes will magically elevate the middle class and even the poor. We're giving a seven-course dinner to everyone, they loudly ballyhoo!
Oh sure, and as we now see from the details of their regressive rewrite of America's tax law, the 1-percenters got a perpetual feast of foie gras, chateaubriand, bouillabaisse and other rich gourmet delights, while our seven-course dinner turns out to be a six-pack and a possum. In fact, as the non-partisan Tax Policy Center reports, 10 years from now, 83 percent of the benefits in the Trump-Ryan-McConnell tax act will be flowing to the wealthiest families, while more than half of America's middle-income and poor people will actually see their taxes rise over the next decade.
Meanwhile, this egregious giveaway to undeserving corporate elites will add between one and one-and-a-half trillion dollars to the federal deficit. No problem, says the slap-happy triumvirate, for we have a plan to cover the cost of lavishing these mega-tax cuts on the royals (including cuts for the gilded Trump family, which just happens to be one of the act's top beneficiaries). As Trump himself explained the plan: "We're going to go into welfare reform." Yes, the plan is to cut such essential safety net programs as children's health care, food stamps, jobless programs, and—as Ryan and McConnell now publicly admit—they intend to cut Medicare and Social Security.
What we have here is plutocracy in action—the precious few are intentionally knocking down and locking down the many to further enrich themselves. This is the reason that the social cancer of inequality is spreading so rampantly in America, devouring the very middle class that Trump & Company are using, ironically and cynically, as an Orwellian rational for passing their plutocratic agenda.