Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

April 23, 2016 12:00 PM


America is going through enormous change. As I sat down to write a description what is going on, I realized I could not do better than the following four pieces I recently read.

The first of these is from a memorandum by Doug Sosnick, as good an observer of America as anyone and better than most.

“It is not an overstatement to say that the failures of our leaders and governmental institutions have brought our political system to the brink of implosion.

“The country is undergoing the most significant economic, technological, and demographic changes since the Industrial Revolution. Such change in any one of these areas would test our ability to adapt. But the fact that we are experiencing all of these shifts at the same time has exacerbated Americans’ fears and fundamental distrust of those in power. The public has concluded that our 20th century institutions are incapable of dealing with 21st century challenges.

“The public’s discontent has been clear at the ballot box in four out of the past five elections; each time, they voted against the party in power. But the current environment suggests that the level of pent-up frustration and demand for change is more profound than we have seen before in our lifetimes. The support for Sanders and Trump is an expression of this alienation and distrust towards the system and the elected officials who govern it.

“The overwhelming belief that the system is rigged in favor of the rich has spurred an emerging populist movement that transcends traditional partisan lines. (Which Side of the Barricade are You On?) At a time when big corporations and the wealthy have enjoyed the largest gains, a majority of Americans have experienced stagnant wages and a decline in wealth.

“The sense of everyday Americans that they are worse off has also contributed to a yawning social and cultural divide defined by age, race and income.”

The second is the opening paragraphs from a four-part article by David Maraniss and Robert Samuels which appeared in the Washington Post March 17- 21, 2016.

“So much anger out there in America.

“Anger at Wall Street. Anger at Muslims. Anger at trade deals. Anger at Washington. Anger at police shootings of young black men. Anger at President Obama. Anger at Republican obstructionists. Anger about political correctness. Anger about the role of big money in campaigns. Anger about the poisoned water of Flint, Mich. Anger about deportations. Anger about undocumented immigrants. Anger about a career that didn’t go as expected. Anger about a lost way of life. Mob anger at groups of protesters in their midst. Specific anger and undefined anger and even anger about anger.

“Each presidential campaign has its own rhythm and meaning, but this one unfolded with dizzying intensity, an exaggeration of everything that came before. It felt like the culmination of so many long-emerging trends in American life. The decomposition of traditional institutions. The descent of politics into reality-TV entertainment. Demographic and economic shifts quickening the impulses of inclusion and exclusion and us vs. them. All of it leading to this moment of great unsettling, with the Republican Party unraveling, the Democrats barely keeping it together, and both moving farther away from each other by the week, reflecting the splintering not only of the body politic but of the national ideal.”

The third is from a column by Charlie Cook.

“While I agree with both pieces, I would add that these white working-class voters, particularly men, the descendants of white-working class Americans who once voted overwhelmingly Democratic, feel increasingly left behind. Free- and open-trade policies always create winners and losers, but today the biggest winners by far are business owners and educated workers with special talents, while the big losers are people with 20th-century job skills who have been left adrift in the 21st century.

“Beyond trade, the Democratic Party has placed greater emphasis on cul- tural and environmental issues. Even in the 2009 economic-stimulus pack- age, the job-creation components pushed green energy and medical-techno- logy-related jobs. An FDR-style emphasis on rebuilding our national infra- structure was not in the offing, despite a desperate need for such a program and the opportunity to borrow at near-zero-percent interest rates. There could not have been a better time to embark on a seven-to-10 year program designed to rebuild the nation’s crumbling bridges, roads, dams, and sewer lines. This undertaking would have created badly needed jobs that could not be shipped abroad. This would have been the old Democratic Party ap- proach, but the new Democratic Party saw shovels, jackhammers, and cement mixers as passé.

“For their part, the Republicans were so busy fighting Obamacare, pushing to cut taxes and the size of government, and fighting culture wars that they didn’t see that their party had changed and along with it their base’s needs. Much of what Republicans were talking about didn’t resonate with working- class people who didn’t have the luxury to weigh abstract issues when they had to worry about how to feed, clothe, and house their kids, and how to make it to the next paycheck.”

The fourth is from a memo distributed by Democracy Corps and Women’s Voices Women’s Vote Action Fund on March 22, 2016.

“The country is in a desperate mood, expressed in the public’s discontent with the direction of country. The anxiety begins with an economy you can’t depend on that produces a struggling middle class, inequality and a growing disparity between rich and poor. It extends to a decline in morals and lack of personal responsibility, pushed by the media, which breeds more drugs and crime. And importantly, it is produced by a toxic political environment. Donald Trump’s victories leave them questioning the country’s values, whether they can trust their neighbors, and what the future holds. It is a dangerous brew that generates impassioned, engaged discussion... It has created an election with high stakes.”

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