By Bill Woods
As 2020 begins, we realize that almost an entire year of political campaigning lies ahead. It's a Presidential year, and months of primaries, millions of misleading TV ads, and endless fundraising and campaign spending loom before us. Beyond the hoopla and glitz, however, it remains an extremely critical election in terms of the future of this country.
Another factor has become apparent. The central theme of President Trump's reelection campaign is going to be the success of the economy under his watch. His political strategists believe that no matter how many laws he has broken or lies he has told, voters won't reject him because the economy is booming and the Stock Market is at an all-time high. Ads will emphasize the low unemployment rate and statistics that show wages rising.
It is true that the numbers people receive every day on radio, TV, or in their newspapers reveal a rosy picture of the economy. Corporations are raking in profits, the Stock Market is high, and the national unemployment rate is low. Nevertheless, when one examines economic data beyond those general stats, some disturbing facts emerge that show this economy is not performing well in supporting the day to day lives of average Americans. It is those facts that the Democratic presidential contenders must spotlight and offer solutions to.
Income inequality continued to grow despite the economic upturn that has occurred since 2009. The income disparity between the wealthiest ten percent of the population and the other ninety-percent is the highest it has been since the 1920s. Thus, even though the unemployment rate is low, most of new wealth has not trickled down to average workers.
In fact, while the upper ten percent are doing very, very well, millions of workers and their families are just getting by and remain fearful about medical expenses or other unexpected costs that would put them in a financial crisis.
The federal safety net that includes Food Stamps and housing assistance has been slashed over the years, and expenses such as rents, medicine, and other basics have risen much faster than salaries. Housing in many cities is unaffordable further increasing homelessness. Visible economic decline can also be seen when driving through rural communities in Michigan, Ohio, and many other states.
In recent times, more and more unhappy people living on the edge have become disillusioned with the political and economic system. They voted in 2016 for Bernie Sanders, a Socialist, and Trump, a loud outsider who promised the return of high paying jobs. While polls show Trump still doing well among rural, white voters, Democrats should be able to show that despite his populist rhetoric, his policies have continued to help the rich at the expense of middle to low-income families.
His most significant legislation, the tax cut of 2018, gave huge tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, while doing nothing for poor families and very little for even the upper-middle-class. It certainly increased income inequality in this country. No efforts by his Administration or Republicans in Congress have been taken to raise the minimum wage, and the Administration has made it difficult for thousands of families and individuals to qualify for Food Stamps. The assault on the Safety Net continues, and his Tariff Wars have increased costs for goods while jeopardizing agricultural sales for many Midwestern farmers. Nevertheless, Trump still continues his crusade to make immigrants the scapegoats for America's problems.
Recent news indicates that the Democratic candidates are already articulating an economic message in places like Iowa. Besides Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, others like Pete Buttigeig and Joe Biden have taken up the cause of fairer economic policies. At a recent meeting in Fairfield, Iowa, Biden noted: "An awful lot of people - middle-class folks - are in real trouble, and they're not at all certain about their future." Buttigeig warmed to the same theme at a rally in Knoxville, Iowa. "It's nice to see that the Dow Jones is doing well, but more and more Americans find that we're fighting like hell to hold on to what we've got."
The Democrats need to keep hammering away at the message that economic prosperity is insufficient unless it includes economic security for all Americans. In terms of policies, they must talk about a livable wage, improvements to the Affordable Care Act, and a tax increase for the very wealthy that would be earmarked to strengthen affordable housing programs, Food Stamps, and other Safety Net services for people in need of assistance. Democrats with credibility in rural America such as Senator Sherod Brown must continually campaign in these areas, and a fair economics message must be attached to every "get out the vote campaign" in urban and poor rural communities. Although the President can't be let off the hook for his lawless and impeachable actions, the Democrats have to be loud and clear that they represent the Party that is serious about bringing some fairness to the current economic system.