On the issue of the minimum wage, no top contender for the presidency has been as aggressive as Bernie Sanders. But for workers, that’s not nearly enough. For the last six years, Sanders has been pushing a $15 an hour minimum wage. That’s a major improvement over the current rate but it’s not nearly enough to keep up with inflation. Even under Sanders, workers would, at best, fail to lose more ground. They wouldn’t gain anything. Just another case study of how capitalism is not reformable.
Eight days before Donald J. Trump took his presidential oath before a crowd whose size the president still insists on fibbing about, I wrote a column titled “Life Under Trump—What Happens Now?”
“In a dictatorship, particularly where the despot is a megalomaniac in the vein of a Saddam Hussein or a Muammar Gaddafi, citizens obsess over the Great Leader’s every move. These days, there’s no better place to witness this phenomenon than the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan,” I wrote on January 12, 2017. I described how the founding dictator of that post-Soviet authoritarian state was manic, “constantly passing edicts and decrees about anything and everything that crossed his mind.”
“Whenever I visited Turkmenistan under Turkmenbashi,” I wrote back then, “the only thing anyone ever talked about – and this included ex-pats – was Turkmenbashi.”
Sadly, my predictions usually come to pass. As I expected, the United States remains a democratic republic but under Trump, everyday life has assumed some of the characteristics of an authoritarian regime, especially our obsession with Trump.
OMG can you believe what he tweeted?
What the hell is wrong with him?
How long can this go on?
Trump’s antics have prompted two strains of pundit reaction. One, represented by the comedian John Oliver, urges us to “keep reminding yourself this is not normal.” Others argue for ignoring the Keeper of the Launch Codes, at least his tweets. Ever the contrarian, I subscribe to None of the Above.
You can’t ignore the President of the United States. He’s too powerful. On the other hand, chasing down and driving rhetorical stakes through a maniac’s barrage of nonsense is exhausting and futile. You feel like a character at dusk in a vampire novel — too many undead, not enough stakes, definitely not enough coffee. The proper tack is insipid: Keep Calm and Carry On.
Here I offer my apologies.
For 15 months I have, like my competitors in the mainstream media, been reacting to Trump: to his tantrums, to his weirdness, and the incongruous hypocrisy of Democrats who complain about stuff Trump does that is exactly the same as what Obama did (mass deportations, bombing Syria). To paraphrase Walter White in the last episode of “Breaking Bad,” it was fun. I enjoyed it. And frankly, I didn’t think he would last this long. Trump was the Political Satirist Full Employment Act of 2016. I didn’t want to miss out.
But I’ve been remiss. I have always tried to be forward-looking, to change the conversation, to argue for what we Americans ought to be doing and talking about. Reacting to the agenda of our worthless political “leaders” was something I left to the mainstream idiots of the corporate media.
I snapped back to reality a few days ago after reading another piece about the booming economy. Never mind whether Trump is priming the pump before busting the joint or whether the good times are about to end with yet another recession. Things are humming now — so now, while the getting is good, is while Americans ought to be demanding that Trump and his Congress fork over big bucks to fix the country’s long-neglected problems.
Workers ought to be out in the streets agitating for a raise: a $25-an-hour minimum wage is literally asking for nothing, since it’s the same, adjusted for inflation, as it was in the 1960s. I say go for $50. While we’re at it, let’s set a $200,000-a-year maximum wage. No one needs more.
Universal health care: it’s time America joined the rest of the First World (and most of the Third).
Three out of ten American workers are self-employed. They ought to qualify for unemployment benefits when they lose work.
A high-speed national rail system is essential to modernize America’s infrastructure and bring it up to global standards circa 1990. Estimated cost: $500 billion. No big deal: Obama spent $800 billion on his 2009 bank-giveaway stimulus bill.
Then there’s stuff that wouldn’t cost a dime, like doing something about guns and gender inequality and police brutality.
Lack of money isn’t why we’re not addressing these issues. Trump recently gave $1.5 trillion in taxpayer funds to his rich friends (and his family). The problem is a lack of focus — because we’re all too busy focusing on the Lunatic-in-Chief.
It’s time to stop being reactive. This is our country. This is our time. These are our lives. It’s up to us to ignore the twitterstorms and the random rants and demand what is our birthright as Americans: the best possible lives we can afford.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Originally published at Skewed News:
Skewed News — Donald Trump is a nativist asshole. Why is he leading in the polls, and what does this say about Americans and/or Republicans?
Analysts and pundits are obsessing over these questions even more now that the real estate developer billionaire candidate seemed to have jumped the political shark with his statement that he wants to ban Muslims from emigrating to or even merely visiting the United States as tourists. Some writers called that the beginning of the end, yet his poll numbers shot up as a result.
Are likely Republican primary voters a bunch of xenophobes and racists? Yes, that’s part of it. The GOP has a long, sorry history of race-baiting and bigotry. A 2012 AP poll found that 79% of Republicans are racist, compared to 32% of Democrats.
There’s nothing new about Republican racism. But Trumpism, being increasingly compared to fascism, is clearly a new phenomenon in modern American politics, which had seemed to be moving away from the charismatic populist Huey Long and Ross Perot types and increasingly toward the bland European postwar technocrat model epitomized by President Obama.
Experts are struggling to explain the effectiveness of Trump’s special sauce — militant xenophobia with a dual focus on keeping out Muslims (because some might be terrorists) and throwing out Mexicans (because some are rapists). He’s soaring, month after month, despite being untelegenic, way short on specifics, obviously ignorant, and being repeatedly caught lying.
Why is he having so much success, despite his shortcomings?
Mark Krikorian of the anti-immigration group Center for Immigration Studies comes the closest of anyone to the answer — but even he doesn’t fully get The Donald’s appeal.
“Every society needs elites, but our elites have come to reject the basic worldview of the people they purport to lead,” Krikorian writes. “We have, as the late Samuel Huntington wrote, a patriotic public and a post-American, post-national elite that is mystified, at best – and disgusted, at worst – at the public’s demand that our government put the interests of Americans first. This disconnect is why immigration policy is at the core of Trump’s success.”
Absolutely right. But then, he goes a little off the rails:
“Mass immigration is perhaps the most potent symbol of the elite’s unconcern with America’s sovereignty and the well-being of ordinary people. Many Americans – not just Republicans but also independents and some Democrats – want policies that promote America’s sovereignty and self-determination. Our elites are more out-of-step with the public on immigration than on any other issue. The Chicago Council of Foreign Affairs surveyed both the public and opinion leaders on a variety of issues broadly related to foreign policy and found the biggest gaps on immigration policy. Even questions like support for the United Nations or support for foreign aid didn’t show as big a gap as immigration. Surveys of specific constituencies found the same thing. Whether union leaders vs. union members, religious leaders vs. their members, or minority leaders vs. minority voters, the results were the same – huge gaps between the demands of ordinary people for tighter borders and commitment to American workers vs. elite preference for amnesty, loose borders and increased immigration.”
Krikorian is right: illegal immigration is a symbol, but it’s not the big problem itself.
Numerous studies have shown that illegal immigration has a neutral or even upward effect on the wages of legal citizens working in the United States. Overall, however, real wages of U.S. workers have been stagnant or declining since the 1970s, while the richest 1% and superrichest 1% of 1% have seen a massive surge in income and wealth.
Elections are mostly about pocketbook issues, and 2016 is no exception. Adding to pressure on average American workers is the fact that, since the 2008-09 financial crisis, credit has been extremely difficult to obtain. Not only are you losing ground to inflation year after year, you’ve maxed out your credit card and the banks aren’t sending you any new ones.
Worries about declining living standards are at the top of the concerns of American voters. But neither the Democratic nor Republican parties are talking, much less doing anything about, people’s fears that they and their children will keep finding it harder and harder to pay their bills.
It is true that the borders have been open for years, as Trump says. The two parties have long been perfectly fine with this. The Republicans’ business allies like the cheap labor and Democrats think second-generation Latinos are likelier to vote for them. But as I said above, open borders are only a symbol, particularly now that the U.S. economy is so bad that more Mexicans are going back home than coming here.
Both parties have also been in cahoots on free trade. From NAFTA to the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), the Ds and Rs in Congress have rubberstamped every proposal to liberalize trade. But these deals are terrible for American workers, not least because they outsource U.S. jobs overseas.
Trump is the first major candidate in years to oppose free trade deals, saying he would kill both NAFTA and the TPP. “I am all for free trade, but it’s got to be fair. When Ford moves their massive plants to Mexico, we get nothing. I want them to stay in Michigan,” he said. Poor and working-class voters, many of whom are backing Trump right now, have long opposed free trade agreements.
I would modify Krokorian’s thesis to say that Trumpism is the primal scream of an American public sick and tired of politicians who put don’t put the interests of American workers first.
Wages remain stagnant but housing prices, propelled by speculating investors, are shooting upward. How will the housing market avoid crashing after all the investors get tired of holding on to their properties? Well, this is where we start to look at 2007 again…
There are signs of a genuine nascent recovery in the US economy, four years after it was formally announced by government propagandists. But the new jobs pay less, and it will take a long time before newly hired workers feel safe enough to risk spending again.
Why Not Link Pols’ Pay Level to Ours?
Most Americans don’t like Moammar Kadafi or Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. But that might change if they knew their paychecks. The leaders of Libya and Iran get $9,516 and $3,000 a year annually, respectively.
Obama collects $5,505,509—a whopping $22,022 per day.
Who’s the real out-of-touch dictator?
As the U.S. enters its third year of economic collapse, real unemployment has surged past levels that triggered revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. Yet neither the President nor members of Congress seem worried. They’re not even discussing the possibility of a bailout for the one-third of the workforce that is in effect structurally unemployed. Do you wonder why?
Maybe they don’t know what’s going on. As the saying goes, it’s a recession when you’ve gotten laid off. For members of Congress, who are raking it in, these are boom times.
Congressmen and Senators are insulated by huge salaries—$174,000 and up—that put them out of touch with and unaware of the problems of the 97 percent of Americans who earn less. Out of 535 members of Congress, 261 are millionaires.
It can’t be easy for Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, to feel our pain. According to campaign disclosure documents filed in 2010, her net worth is somewhere between $46 million and $108.1 million—and she’s only the 10th richest member of Congress. The top honor goes to Representative Darrell Issa, also from the Golden State but a Republican. Estimates of Issa’s net worth range between $156.1 million and $451.1 million.
Years ago the SEC floated the idea of a maximum wage for the CEOs of publicly traded corporations. If their pay was capped at, say, 20 times that of the lowest-paid employee, it wouldn’t be long before the whole pay scale went up.
The SEC pay cap didn’t go anywhere. But there’s the germ of a smart—and fair—idea there, one that could help Congressmen feel what it’s like to be an ordinary American during a time of poverty and mass layoffs.
Our elected representatives set the minimum wage, work standards, healthcare benefits, union organizing rules and thousands of regulations that determine the salaries and working conditions for tens of millions of American workers. As things stand now, the president and members of Congress have no personal incentive to improve those things for us. After all, they’re all set. They’re rich.
Paul Abrams writes: “Many Republicans ran for office declaring they would run the government ‘like a business’…
If they are serious, however, there is one way [Congress] can operate like a business. Cut their base pay and provide large incentive bonuses should the economy hit certain goals.” A nice thought, but why not follow this line of thinking to its logical conclusion?
It is high time to set a Maximum Wage for Congress, the president and other high-ranking elected representatives. The Maximum Wage for Congress should be set at the lowest pay received by an American citizen.
As long as one American citizen is homeless and unemployed, the Maximum Wage would be zero.
Similarly public officials ought to receive a Maximum Benefit set at the lowest/worst level received by an American citizen. If one U.S. citizen receives no healthcare benefits, so it would go for members of Congress. If one U.S. citizen does not have free access to a gym, members of Congress would lose theirs.
I have a hunch that our lives would get better in the blink of an eye.
Of course I could be wrong. Perhaps it’s really true that America somehow can’t afford socialized healthcare (even though there’s always plenty of cash for wars). If that’s the case, personal incentives won’t convince Congress.
Still, that’s OK. It’s only fair that our leaders be forced to tough it out as much as we do.
We’re all familiar with the arguments for paying six-figure salaries to politicians:
They have to maintain two homes, one in D.C. and one in their home district. It reduces the temptations of corruption. They should focus on their jobs, not how to pay their kids’ college tuition. People who are not wealthy ought to be able to afford to serve. The best and brightest won’t want the job if the pay is terrible.
To which I say:
Live modestly. Couchsurf. If you take a bribe, you’ll be jailed—so don’t. Everyone worries about bills; shouldn’t Congressmen? The current salary structure has resulted in a Congress full of millionaires. As for attracting the best and brightest—look at the fools we’ve got now.
Besides, there is no reason why the president and his congressional cronies shouldn’t be able to keep their current wonderful salaries and perks under a Maximum Wage. All they’d have to do is create an economy that shared those bounteous treats with everyone else.
(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)