Sanders and Trump: Canaries in the Michigan coal mine

Hillary Clinton’s surprising loss in last night’s Michigan primary may prove critically important, but not for reasons that have anything to do with who becomes the Democratic presidential nominee. On Bernie Sanders’ big night, a night in which he and his supporters can justifiably take great pride, he won 70 delegates; thanks to her victory in Mississippi and close second in Michigan, Clinton won 100. To paraphrase King Pyrrhus, any more “victories” like that and Sanders is doomed, yet such victories are all that Sanders can hope to achieve.

Nonetheless, the victory of a socialist in the Democratic primary in Michigan, paired with the victory of a populist, anti-trade Donald Trump on the Republican side, tells us something important. It tells us that in an absurd, circus-like yet very real fashion, we are having a valuable debate about America’s future that will have repercussions well past November. It tells us that as ugly as it gets at times, this democracy thing is actually working. The American people are making themselves heard, and are forcing change.

What do I mean by “making themselves heard”? Listen to former GOP congressman Joe Scarborough as he commits the cardinal sin, as he says what was unsayable as recently as six months ago:

“The problem with the Republican Party over the past 30 years is they haven’t — and I’ll say, WE haven’t — developed a message that appeals to working class Americans economically in a way that Donald Trump’s does. We talk about cutting capital gains taxes that the 10,000 people in the crowd cheering for Donald Trump, they are never going to get a capital gains cut because it doesn’t apply.”

“We talk about getting rid of the death tax. The death tax is not going to impact the 10,000 people in the crowd for Donald Trump. We talk about how great free-trade deals are. Those free-trade deals never trickle down to those 10,000 people in Donald Trump’s rallies.

” …. herein lies the problem with the Republican Party. It never trickles down! Those people in Trump’s crowds, those are all the ones that lost the jobs when they get moved to Mexico and elsewhere. The Republican donor class are the ones that got rich off of it because their capital moved overseas and they made higher profits.”

It never trickles down?

It.

Never.

Trickles.

Down.

As proof, here’s what has happened to median household income in Michigan since 1999:

Michiganincome

That’s a loss of $14,000 in household income annually in a 15-year period, a calamitous decline of 21 percent of purchasing power throughout much of Michigan society. And if Republicans had succeeded in their efforts to block the bailout of the U.S. auto industry in 2008-09, it’s safe to say that the decline would have been much much worse. No wonder they’re in a foul mood, ready to take hope from whomever offers it. (Note also that much of the decline occurred long before the collapse of Wall Street, during the supposedly good years of the 2000s. That tells you that the decline is not the result of some temporary hiccup in the system. This is the outcome produced by the system when it is working as intended.)

The operating premise of the past 35 years, beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan, has been simple: If we allow and even encourage the accumulation of vast amounts of capital at the top, if we rearrange our tax policies and regulatory regimes to maximize investor profit, we would create an economic boom that would lift all Americans. And we’ve pursued that course with a vengeance.

In 1981, when Reagan took office, the top 0.1 percent of Americans controlled 8 percent of the nation’s wealth.

By 2012, their share of the nation’s wealth had almost tripled:

In short, we carried out the experiment, but the promised results have not appeared. We have a rising tide that lifts all yachts, but not much else.

Before we move on, let me throw two more charts at you, the first describing the falling share of economy productivity that goes to workers through wages, salary and benefits, the second that describes the stunning rise of after-tax corporate profits. They are two sides of the same coin:

laborshare

Corpprofit

Source: Federal Reserve of St. Louis

 

As those charts demonstrate, the frustrations that the American people are expressing through their votes are absolutely, completely justified. They’re mad and worried, and they have every reason to be. And of course it’s not just Michigan, which in some ways has done better at holding onto manufacturing jobs than other places. For example, while some people like to point to Detroit and Flint as symbols of dysfunction, Georgia and the South are littered with hundreds of little Detroits, desperate small towns and depopulating rural areas where the mills have closed and incomes have collapsed and the average lifespan is in retreat. It’s just that very few people notice or care.

Those people didn’t lose those jobs because they were lazy, or preferred to live off welfare, or because unions had made their workplaces uncompetitive. They lost those jobs because people in China and Vietnam and India were eager to do those same jobs for 90 percent less pay, and because those jobs that weren’t lured offshore by dramatically lower-cost labor disappeared because they could now be done by robots. From their point of view, those people did everything that they were supposed to do and played by the rules, and they got screwed as a result.

Here in Georgia, for example, Trump got 35 percent of the GOP vote overall. But among white voters without a college degree, it was 47 percent. Among those with a household income of less than $50,000, he got 49 percent. Among those in South Georgia and along the coast, he got 47 percent. In rural Georgia he got 51 percent.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that the Democratic Party has all the answers to such problems; it certainly does not. With his relentless candor, Sanders has been invaluable in forcing this debate, but the solutions that he offers are not politically or economically realistic. Clinton has been yanked out of her political comfort zone by Sanders’ success, but her ties to and past financial dependence upon Wall Street are legitimate causes for doubt about how well she really “gets it,” and how committed she will prove once in office.

But it at least the Democrats accept government as a legitimate tool in attempting to craft and implement those answers. That’s a start. With the eccentric and dangerous exception of Trump, the Republicans do not. Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ted Cruz all talk with varying degrees of sincerity about the economic problems facing many Americans, from stagnant wages to student loans. But in the end, expressing sympathy is as far as they allow themselves to go.

When the conversation turns to what can actually be done to address those problems, we hear the same ideology we have heard from the GOP for 40 years: The problems of working class and middle-class America can be solved by further empowerment and further enrichment of those already reaping enormous rewards in both real and relative terms, coupled with further diminishment of government programs — from Social Security to Medicare to student loan programs to infrastructure investment — that have given Americans some measure of security and insulation from the cruel vagaries of the economic system.

Cruz, for example, is the only Republican candidate with even a shot at stopping Trump.  According to the conservative Tax Foundation, the tax plan that Cruz champions would add $3.6 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, and would increase after-tax income for the bottom 90 percent of Americans by a whopping 2.4 percent. Meanwhile, after-tax income for the top 1 percent would jump by 29.6 percent.¹ It is a massive tax-redistribution scheme, dressed up for the masses with a crowd-pleasing promise to abolish the IRS.

It is ludicrous to look at the charts above, to listen to the pain and fear being expressed by voters, and to respond with a tax plan that completely ignores economic reality of the past 35 years and in fact would intensify the problem. But that’s where the establishment GOP –and yes, in this context Cruz is very much establishment — still finds itself.

I mentioned above that what we’re witnessing is the democratic system at work, bizarre as it sometimes is. But so far that is only partly true. Yes, the people are speaking, and they are making themselves heard even over the din of literally billions of dollars in campaign rhetoric funded by mega-donors who are trying to drown them out. That’s only half the battle, and the easy half at that.

What we need now are leaders capable of transforming that fear and pain into economically and politically realistic policies. We need leaders who are willing to abandon an ideology that has failed and experiment with new approaches more relevant to our times. And frankly, that leadership isn’t going to come from the Republican Party, not immediately, not in this cycle. They’ve got some things to work out first, and I honestly wish them well. We’re going to need them.

For the time being though, the rebuttal to destructive Trumpism will have to come from the Democrats, and more specifically Clinton. She has never been a great political synthesizer, but between now and November that is going to have to change.

For example, the results out of Michigan are being interpreted as a bipartisan rejection of the post-WWII consensus in favor of free trade, and that analysis is probably accurate. Among allegedly pro-business GOP voters, 55 percent told exit pollsters that free trade costs the country more jobs than it gains. Among Democrats it was 58 percent. Assuming that Trump is the GOP candidate this fall, that gives him a powerful election-year argument in an important state, and it won’t be easily brushed aside.

If we as a nation hope to sustain political support for free trade — and we should — then we will need to do far more than give lip service to those whose lives and futures and careers are being gutted by that approach. If that requires that the so-called “winners” subsidize the so-called “losers” with basic health care and retirement security, we will have to do that. If it means that we invest more heavily in both our physical and human infrastructure, to improve the quality of life for all rather than a few, that’s a price that free-trade advocates should willingly pay.

Because if the political system is not capable of producing such leadership and policies, then yes, the door swings open for charlatans such as Trump to march through.

—————–

¹The numbers cited are from the Tax Foundation’s “static analysis,” meaning based on the economy as it currently exists. It also provides a separate set of numbers, based on a projection that further enriching the already very wealthy would produce dramatic economic gains for everybody. You are welcome to continue to believe that, if you wish, but the economic experiment run over the past 35 years would argue against it.

Reader Comments 0

879 comments
MajorDowning
MajorDowning

GOP mantra when the facts don't support their ideology - "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" - Admiral David Farragut

goat diddler
goat diddler

What??? I just saw a TV commercial exhorting me to "stop Obama's cuts to Medicare"...

What is this BS?

Obama doesn't cut, he just spends... right?

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

More on Dem Insanity.

The Army is teaching "White Privilege" classes.

What a load of crap.

Why don't we just teach the soldiers to confront the enemy and immediately throw down their weapons since our country was not built through hard work and high character?

honested
honested

@JohnnyReb 

Yet another in a long line of situations where education might help you.

Is it your hope that military leadership affect a cohesive bond of trust within the unit to the benefit of all,........or do you hold to the faded notion that might makes right in all instances?

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@JohnnyReb

The Army is teaching "White Privilege" classes.

What a load of crap.

ok, J-Reb. Calm down and tell us where he touched you, erm, I mean, where did you hear about this?

TBS
TBS

You qualified for the 100m event last night

Once you were hit with the facts you got out of the conversation as quick as you could

You know the one

Lol!!!!

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@TBS

I'm thinking yesterday was a slow noozer over at the Excrement-in-Broadcasting corral and they had to whip up the faithful with this tried-and-true troop-trope.

Peachs
Peachs

I wish we could put the Georgia economy into football statistics like a win/loss, thing.  


We are Vanderbilt University in the SEC, only in real life, brains count, so we don't even get a good education in this model. 

Peachs
Peachs

We need to work to get a majority of the voters voting, either way they vote.  This is the problem in America, the lobbyist out number the voters and only by the ballot box can we chase them out of our lives. 

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

Under the topic of Insane -

A Dem senator has suggested that fossil fuel companies be indicted for carbon emissions under a civil suit similar to what happened with the tobacco industry under Bill Clinton.

In the same hearing, Loretta Lynch stated the Justice Department had discussed it but nothing is in work.

So, based on computer models that never work and are constantly revised so they continue to tell the false story, the Democrat Leadership wants to sue companies over carbon emissions because, no doubt, they can't get to first base with law in Congress.

And this the party that wants to continue to run the country.

If Repubs don't win in November the stupid deserve what we will get.


goat diddler
goat diddler

@JohnnyReb Well that's about stupid... We're kinda stuck with fossil fuels for the forseeable future and beyond. Especially since wingnuts are so hostile towards any type of sustainable energy.

Funny how wingnuts are so good and preemptively solving non-existent problems like voter id laws and gays getting married... but refuse to entertain anything that weakens the grip of big oil or coal on our country.  

When the oil is gone, it's gone. That won't be the time to try and figure something else out.

honested
honested

@foo2u @JohnnyReb 

Do republiklans realize how efficient PV cells have become, how much the price has dropped and how much more effective electricity generated at the point of use really is?

Unless they just don't comprehend technical advances, I can't comprehend their blind attachment to yesterdays practices.

Donnie_Pinko
Donnie_Pinko

Mary Elizabeth Sings

"Bernie's leftist tendencies leaned too Socialistic tonight when he praised the Castro brothers, and Hillary sounded like Thomas Jefferson in response.  Said Hillary, "My values will never be consistent with a regime in which people disappear or are imprisoned just for speaking their own minds.  That is not democracy and those will never be my values."

Bernie could never win over Trump in a general election.  That Socialistic past would come back to haunt him.  Some in the Latino audience were even taken aback by Bernie's very leftist views tonight, and some even feared them, according to a commentator on CNN."  / 

I see that your faith in the deeper instincts of the American people is alive and well, along with an unseemly penchant for red-baiting. 

But I have to ask, just where was this Hillary 'Thomas Jefferson' Clinton when she was backing a right-wing coup in Honduras early in her SD tenure or helping to push a right-wing putsch in Ukraine led by rabidly nationalistic and fascistic militias exactly 2 years ago?

TBS
TBS

It's a deep thinking nuance thing. You just don't get it

That comment along with the free trade helps everyone comments seemed to make for some great fairytale story telling last night

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@TBS  You and Donnie are both looking on the surface based on these things called "facts".  You need to look deeper into Hillary's mind and soul to understand exactly how she is going to create Utopia.

TBS
TBS

His little buddy Gilligan and US driver parakeet are still buying it

honested
honested

I like this new debate schedule.

Varsity on Wednesday, 'B' Team on Thursday.

Peachs
Peachs

@honested the Republicans really screwed that up. It is like dressing a prisoner not to look like a prisoner for his court case, so the jury won't be bias. 


Not a single candidate from the Republican primary four years ago made it to the final four this time, seems a strange thing to not have a process that grooms these people to do better next time, like Hilary. 

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Peachs @honested in other words indoctrinate them?

Is that you would like to see?

Sorta like our colleges where the lib professors brain wash the young heads of mush.

Peachs
Peachs

@rimsky @Peachs @honested some say this is real democracy, not sure, but it does get us by smug politicians who think it is all about them, they do not have to change and keep up with the world, just build walls.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@honested

Nice. 

Might I suggest "JV on Thursday" as a better in-your-face dig a those who have spent more than a year whining about the Bamster having referred to ISIL that way that one time?


honested
honested

@DownInAlbany @honested 

In any case, I think it's cute they give them an opportunity in front of the cameras, before they get trounced in November.

rimsky
rimsky

@Peachs @honested If Washington does not do something for the 99% 2018 and 2020 might be uglier.

Peachs
Peachs

I never realized Goldwater was Jewish..

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Peachs

Well, Jewish "enough" that the Nazis would likely consider him thus were he unfortunate enough to have lived in Europe at the time. However, he was raised Episcopalian; unlike Bernie, he didn't attend Hebrew classes and get bar mitzvah'd at 13.

but yeah, I'm sure that heritage didn't exactly help his electoral chance in 1964. 

Bill OrvisWhite
Bill OrvisWhite

No one is asking the tough questions of these socialists, pure and simple. 'Missus' Clinton, tell us about Whitewater, Vince Foster, Monica/Bill, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, Bill Ayres, Jeremiah Wright, Father Pfleger..... and communist 'Mister' Sanders, tell us about your honeymoon in Red Russia-who did you meet with in the KGB? What kind of dinner did you have with your buddy Kruschev? Is anyone out there?????? We have socialists who could become president God Forbid!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What is happening with this once-free nation? Good Lord!!!!!!! And GOOD NIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Amen, Bill 

Peachs
Peachs

@Bill OrvisWhite Hils and Trump represent a real country, not the poster children of something that does not exist. 


One of the things I am amazed at ,is how many people identify themselves as Christians, in the exist polls, yet voted for Trump.  Obviously all this front window impression of who this country is, does not exist. 


It is why the polls in places like Michigan are so far off, the country knows the politically correct answer to id themselves, but are underneath bigots, greedy, or cowards who can think through a situation to get the right answer but are to afraid to share it with a pollster, and that is showing up in who they vote for. 

Nick_Danger
Nick_Danger

@Bill OrvisWhite 

Hey, Bill - I have not heard about Clinton's association with Jeremiah Wright - could you elucidate?