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Politics

Only two Democratic candidates could fix our broken system

By Robert B. Reich, Tribune Content Agency on

In the conventional view of American politics, Joe Biden is a moderate, while Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are on the left, and Donald Trump is on the right.

This conventional view is rubbish. The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a rigged system. There are no longer "moderates." There's no longer a "center." Today's great divide is not between left and right. It's between democracy and oligarchy.

Four decades ago, when America had a large and growing middle class, the left wanted stronger social safety nets and more public investment in schools, roads and research. The right sought greater reliance on the free market.

In those days, a general election was like a competition between two hot dog vendors on a long boardwalk extending from the left to the right. Each had to move to the middle to maximize sales. If one strayed too far left or right, the other would move beside him and take all sales from the rest of the boardwalk.

This type of American politics is now obsolete. As wealth and power have moved to the top and the middle class has shrunk, more Americans have joined the ranks of the working class and poor. Most Americans, regardless of whether they were once on the left or right, have become politically disempowered and economically insecure. Nowadays it's the boardwalk vs. private jets on their way to the Hamptons.

As Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama's chief of staff and the former mayor of Chicago, told The New York Times in July, "This is really the crackup. Usually fights are Democrats versus Republicans, one end of Pennsylvania versus the other, or the left versus the right. Today's squabbles are internal between the establishment versus the people that are storming the barricades."

 

In 2016, Trump harnessed many of these frustrations, as did Bernie Sanders. If anything, the frustrations today are larger than they were then. Corporate profits are higher, as is CEO pay. Markets are more concentrated. The three richest Americans now have more wealth than the bottom half of the population put together. Yet most people's pay has gone nowhere, and they have even less job security.

Meanwhile, Washington has become even swampier. Big corporations, Wall Street and billionaires have entrenched their power. Trump has given them all the tax cuts, regulatory rollbacks and subsidies they've wanted.

Why doesn't the rest of America rise up in protest against Trump's virulent attacks on American democracy? Because American democracy was dysfunctional even before Trump ran for president. The moneyed interests had already taken over much of it. It's hard for many Americans to get very excited about returning to the widening inequalities and growing corruption of the decades before Trump. Which partly explains why Biden is foundering.

At the same time, Trump and his propagandists at Fox News have channeled working-class rage at the establishment into fears of imaginary threats such as immigrants, socialists and a "deep state."

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