Robert Reich

Winners and Losers

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Leave it to Trump and his Republican allies to spend more energy fighting non-existent voter fraud than containing a virus that has killed 244,000 Americans and counting.

The cost of this misplaced attention is incalculable. While Covid-19 surges to record levels, there’s still no national strategy for equipment, stay at home orders, mask mandates or disaster relief.

The other cost is found in the millions of Trump voters who are being led to believe the election was stolen and who will be a hostile force for years to come–making it harder to do much of anything the nation needs, including actions to contain the virus.

Trump is continuing this charade because it pulls money into his newly formed political action committee and allows him to assume the mantle of presumed presidential candidate for 2024, whether he intends to run or merely keep himself the center of attention.

Leading Republicans like Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell are going along with it because donors are refilling GOP coffers.

The biggest beneficiaries are the party’s biggest patrons – the billionaire class, including the heads of the nation’s largest corporations and financial institutions, private-equity partnerships and hedge funds – whom a deeply divided nation serves by giving them unfettered access to the economy’s gains.

Their heist started four decades ago. According to a recent Rand study, if America’s distribution of income had remained the same as it was in the three decades following the second world war, the bottom 90% would now be $47 trillion richer.

A low-income American earning $35,000 this year would be earning $61,000. A college-educated worker now earning $72,000 would be earning $120,000. Overall, the grotesque surge in inequality that began 40 years ago is costing the median American worker $42,000 per year.

The upward redistribution of $47 trillion wasn’t due to natural forces. It was contrived. As wealth accumulated at the top, so did political power to siphon off even more wealth and shaft everyone else.

Monopolies expanded because antitrust laws were neutered. Labor unions shriveled because corporations were allowed to bust unions. Wall Street was permitted to gamble with other peoples’ money and was bailed out when its bets soured even as millions lost their homes and savings. Taxes on the top were cut, tax loopholes widened.

When Covid-19 hit, Big Tech cornered the market, the rich traded on inside information, and the Treasury and the Fed bailed out big corporations but let small businesses go under. Since March, billionaire wealth has soared while most Americans have become poorer.

How could the oligarchy get away with this in a democracy where the bottom 90% have the votes? Because the bottom 90% are bitterly divided.

Long before Trump, the GOP suggested to white working-class voters that their real enemies were Black people, Latinos, immigrants, “coastal elites,” bureaucrats and “socialists.” Trump rode their anger and frustration into the White House with more explicit and incendiary messages. He’s still at it with his bonkers claim of a stolen election.

The oligarchy surely appreciates the Trump-GOP tax cuts, regulatory rollbacks and the most business-friendly Supreme Court since the early 1930s. But the Trump-GOP’s biggest gift has been an electorate more fiercely split than ever.

Into this melee comes Joe Biden, who speaks of being “president of all Americans” and collaborating with the Republican party. But the GOP doesn’t want to collaborate. When Biden holds out an olive branch, McConnell and other Republican leaders will respond just as they did to Barack Obama – with more warfare, because that maintains their power and keeps the big money rolling in.

The president-elect aspires to find a moderate middle ground. This will be difficult because there’s no middle. The real divide is no longer left versus right but the bottom 90% versus the oligarchy.

Biden and the Democrats will better serve the nation by becoming the party of the bottom 90% – of the poor and the working middle class, of black and white and brown, and of all those who would be $47 trillion richer today had the oligarchy not taken over America.

This would require that Democrats abandon the fiction of political centrism and establish a countervailing force to the oligarchy – and, not incidentally, sever their own links to it.

They’d have to show white working-class voters how badly racism and xenophobia have hurt them as well as people of color. And change the Democratic narrative from kumbaya to economic and social justice.

Easy to say, hugely difficult to accomplish. But if today’s bizarre standoff in Washington is seen for what it really is, there’s no alternative.

Past Columns
Seven Lessons of 2020

January 6, 2021

Tackling Inequality

December 16, 2020

Who Stood Up to Trump?

December 2, 2020

Antipathy of Empathy

October 7, 2020

Power versus Principle

September 23, 2020

SOTU: SNAFU

February 12, 2020

Speak for the People

October 30, 2019

Real Lesson of Ukraine

October 9, 2019

‘Right vs. Left’

July 10, 2019

Warren’s Way

June 12, 2019

The Hidden Economy

May 22, 2019

Bernie is Back

February 27, 2019

Wednesday
Origins and Evolutions Exhibit

11:00am

Starting this week, “Origins and Evolutions: Five Generations” can be seen from 11am-4pm Tues.-Thurs., and by appointment, at least through May 22 at Gallery Syre, 465 Stuart Rd. The show…

New Relics

11:00am

A “New Relics” exhibit can be perused from 11am-4pm Tuesday through Saturday through Jan. 30 at Allied Arts, 1418 Cornwall Ave. The exhibit features selections by Nikole Dixon, Jessica…

Energy Club

8:00am

From 8am-9pm, Sustainable Connections hosts an Energy Club Zoom meeting. The virtual event is a “quick and casual” meet-up to give energy-efficiency enthusiasts all of the tools, information…

BAAY Online Winter Classes

10:00am

Registration is still open for Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth’s online winter classes for kids and teens, which continue weekly on Zoom through early April. Students from ages 5 to 17 can…

Kitchen Kit

10:00am

Tiny Onion Cooking School and Bellingham Parks and Rec invite you into the kitchen for an all-ages “Kitchen Kit: Butter and Butterbeer” collaboration. From 3pm-6pm Fri., Jan. 29 or 10am-12pm…

Whatcom Art Market

11:00am

Works by as many as 45 Whatcom Art Guild members can be viewed from 11am-5pm Tuesdays through Sundays at Whatcom Art Market, 1103 11th St. Due to public safety concerns, masks are required…

Winter Warmers Cup Show Benefit

11:00am

An annual “Invitational Cup Show and Winter Warmers” exhibit and benefit can be perused from 11am-5pm Mondays through Saturdays, and 12pm-4pm Sundays through January at Good Earth Pottery,…

From Crime to Classroom

12:00pm

From 12pm-1:30pm, Bellingham City Club continues its efforts to shed light on difficult subjects by hosting special guest speaker Omari Amili of the Humanities Washington Speaker Bureau for a…

Teen Events with WCLS

3:00pm

Students in grades 6 to 12 can sign up for a variety of virtual events through Whatcom County Library System, including “Teen Reads” from 3pm-4pm Wednesdays, “Whatcom Teen Writers” from…

Murder at Andaman

6:00pm

At 6pm, celebrated local author Bharti Kirchner shares her new book, Murder at Andaman, at a virtual event hosted by Village Books. In the tome, private detective Maya Mallick is called when…

Thursday
Origins and Evolutions Exhibit

11:00am

Starting this week, “Origins and Evolutions: Five Generations” can be seen from 11am-4pm Tues.-Thurs., and by appointment, at least through May 22 at Gallery Syre, 465 Stuart Rd. The show…

New Relics

11:00am

A “New Relics” exhibit can be perused from 11am-4pm Tuesday through Saturday through Jan. 30 at Allied Arts, 1418 Cornwall Ave. The exhibit features selections by Nikole Dixon, Jessica…

Energy Club

8:00am

From 8am-9pm, Sustainable Connections hosts an Energy Club Zoom meeting. The virtual event is a “quick and casual” meet-up to give energy-efficiency enthusiasts all of the tools, information…

BAAY Online Winter Classes

10:00am

Registration is still open for Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth’s online winter classes for kids and teens, which continue weekly on Zoom through early April. Students from ages 5 to 17 can…

Kitchen Kit

10:00am

Tiny Onion Cooking School and Bellingham Parks and Rec invite you into the kitchen for an all-ages “Kitchen Kit: Butter and Butterbeer” collaboration. From 3pm-6pm Fri., Jan. 29 or 10am-12pm…

Whatcom Art Market

11:00am

Works by as many as 45 Whatcom Art Guild members can be viewed from 11am-5pm Tuesdays through Sundays at Whatcom Art Market, 1103 11th St. Due to public safety concerns, masks are required…

Winter Warmers Cup Show Benefit

11:00am

An annual “Invitational Cup Show and Winter Warmers” exhibit and benefit can be perused from 11am-5pm Mondays through Saturdays, and 12pm-4pm Sundays through January at Good Earth Pottery,…

From Crime to Classroom

12:00pm

From 12pm-1:30pm, Bellingham City Club continues its efforts to shed light on difficult subjects by hosting special guest speaker Omari Amili of the Humanities Washington Speaker Bureau for a…

Teen Events with WCLS

3:00pm

Students in grades 6 to 12 can sign up for a variety of virtual events through Whatcom County Library System, including “Teen Reads” from 3pm-4pm Wednesdays, “Whatcom Teen Writers” from…

Murder at Andaman

6:00pm

At 6pm, celebrated local author Bharti Kirchner shares her new book, Murder at Andaman, at a virtual event hosted by Village Books. In the tome, private detective Maya Mallick is called when…