How ironic, since it took 150 years before we actually created a broad middle class. Before the 1930s, most Americans were poor, or near poor. And, yes, “created” is the correct term for how our middle class came to be, pushed by two historic forces of social transformation.
First, the devastation of the Great Depression created a grassroots rebellion of labor, farmers and others against the careless moneyed class that caused the 1929 crash. These forces produced FDR and his New Deal of union rights, Social Security and other tools that empowered ordinary Americans to begin rising up from poverty.
Second, the government’s national mobilization for World War II created an explosion of new jobs and opportunities for millions, opening people’s eyes, boosting confidence and raising expectations. A post-war rise in unionism, passage of the GI Bill, a housing program and other progressive actions led to a doubling of the median family income in only 30 years, creating a middle class that included nearly 60 percent of Americans by the late 1970s.
Then — phfffft — Washington’s commitment to a middle class suddenly fizzled in the 1980s as Republicans and many Democrats switched from supporting egalitarianism to backing the elitism of their corporate donors. Ever since, they’ve steadily disempowered workers and enthroned the rich, thus imposing today’s abominable, un-American culture of inequality across our land.
As we’ve now seen from their totally regressive new tax law, your and my seven-course dinner turns out to be a six-pack and a possum. In fact, as the non-partisan Tax Policy Center reports, 10 years from now, 83 percent of the benefits in the Trump-Ryan-McConnell tax act will be flowing to the wealthiest families, while more than half of America’s middle-income and poor people will actually see their taxes rise during the next decade.
Meanwhile, this egregious giveaway to undeserving corporate elites will add as much as $1.5 trillion dollars to the federal deficit. No problem, says the slap-happy triumvirate, for we have a plan to cover the cost of these lavish tax cuts we’ve given to the royals (including cuts for the gilded Trump family, which just happens to be one of the act’s top beneficiaries). As Trump himself explained the plan: “We’re going to go into welfare reform.” Yes, the plan is to cut such essential safety net programs as children’s health care, food stamps, jobless programs, and — as Ryan now publicly admits, they intend to cut your and my Medicare and Social Security.
What we have here is plutocracy in action — the precious few are intentionally knocking down and locking down the many to further enrich themselves. This is why the social cancer of inequality is spreading so rampantly in America, devouring the very middle class that Trump & Company are using — ironically and cynically — as an Orwellian rationale for passing their plutocratic agenda.
Just as progressives once deliberately pushed public policies to create the middle class, so are today’s economic royalists deliberately pushing plutocratic policies to destroy it. That is the momentous struggle that calls us to action in this political year.
You can contact Hightower at jimhightower.com.