Populism and Meritocracy

Pundits – paid to assess politics and society – who cannot tell the difference between Bernie Sanders’ economic populism and that of Donald Trump are proof of the lie of meritocracy. They are dumb and lazy and paid handsomely to write or say dumb and lazy things about society and politics. If we were any more cynical, we’d say it’s intentional misinformation.

Let’s rewind to talk about meritocracy for a bit. Because the top 1% wealthy amass a not insignificant amount of wealth and income, but not because they merit it.

The share of income going to the top 10 percent of income earners—those making on average about $300,000 a year—increased to 50.5 percent in 2015 from 50.0 percent in 2014, the highest ever except for 2012. The share of income going to the top 1 percent of families—those earning on average about $1.4 million a year—increased to 22.0 percent in 2015 from 21.4 percent in 2014.

One tenth of the people in the United States now take how more than one-half of the income in the entire country. Consider that as we move closer to the top, the numbers only get more staggering. If that 1:5 ratio isn’t disconcerting, what about the 1:22 ratio of the top 1%?

In the 1980s, at the dawn of Reagan’s Trickle Down Economy, the number for the top 1% was closer to 8% of total wages. But now, 1% of families in the US take home the income of twenty-five families – significantly more if we want to compare to the bottom quarter. Is it because they work twenty-five times harder, or that their work (if it’s to be called that) is worth twenty-five times more than their typical employee? 

The disparities rise even more so with the top 0.1%, who take in 3/4ths of that 22% all by themselves. So, to recap, the average person at the top 1/1,000th makes as much money every year as a random sampling of 155 of the rest of the population. Not because their work or value is 155 times better than those other dupes. But because the rest of us are being systematically, daily duped to believe that these wealth-mongers are 155 times more valuable and important than the rest of us.

President-elect Donald Trump is not only high within that 1%, he is a symptom of that 0.1%. Contrary to popular rhetoric, he is not a game-changer in denying capitalism or trickle-down economies. Trump is the end result of the Trickle Down. He will not bridge the wealth gap. He IS the wealth gap. So he has a vested interest in protecting himself and investing in his class. If you doubt it, you can check his tax plan, in which the top 0.1% would see a tax break of 7.3 points and the bottom 3/5ths would average a one percent tax break. The difference will be known in the drastic lack of social supports for the working and lower-middle class, let alone those experiencing homelessness and hunger, those needing chronic medical attention, and others on the cusp.

In this light, if Trump is promising to bring economic prosperity back to the middle and working classes absent any form of wealth redistribution from the top back to the bottom, where does he propose that income will come from? Who is holding it? Who is competing with the (specifically White, Anglo) working classes? Trump’s answer is intentionally and dangerously distinct from Bernie’s – and that makes all the difference in the world.

sanders-crowd

Trump may not have specifically stated it, but those that followed his word salads picked up on his undeniable wolf whistles. His voters either it figured out or conveniently ignored his scapegoat: The immigrants who occupy the bottom 5% of income earners are somehow hoarding all the goodies. Other white followers heard other messages, such as blaming Black families who, on average, hold 10% of the wealth that white families do.

In some perverted logic, agricultural, restaurant and other industry leaders want to pay white, native-born Americans (nevermind the obvious irony of ignoring if not attacking the Natives who’ve lived here a few thousand years before European colonialism and its chattel slavery) livable wages; it’s just that they can’t when there are so many immigrants who will work for lower pay. Pobrecito Millionaires! Ignore the fact that such logic is ludicrous – capitalism desires or at least needs a permanent underclass and the underclass needs to be occasionally vilified if not scapegoated.

The xenophobic, racial and religious scapegoating is a tool of this economic and political goal. They must appear to be criminals, rapists, plunderers – despite the very obvious fact that it is the top 1% and 0.1% that have done the pillaging and plundering. Similarly but in a different form of logic, Trump and his people have been targeting Black communities under Law & Order rhetoric, which since the times of post-slavery down to Nixon through Reagan and then down to Bush I and Clinton has been specifically anti-Black. The rhetoric against Muslims and Middle East refugees is clouded in internment and deliberately exclusionary language, where any child is pictured as a potential threat to democracy and Our Way of Life. Talk of restructuring trade deals with a China (like most of these racial discussions, far removed from reality) are also deliberately antagonistic and coded in racial terms and tropes about weak-willed Asians.

Purely for economic and political reasons, this campaign has decided to alienate people of color. This racial alienation is a last resort, creating insider/outsider groups when the people have come to understand the economics of scarcity. Two-thirds of Americans felt that the American economy was in bad shape, and Trump handily won those voters. Dishonestly, and by placing the blame and responsibility on non-white people, but handily.

Trump’s die-hard followers can talk about “division” now, even as they are practicing and endorsing it. It’s Newspeak that gets neo-fascists into the White House and running the country for the ultimate benefit of the 0.1%. For it’s not People of Color, unions, or activists that are dividing us – it’s the 0.1%, White Supremacists, and hyper-misogynists. And, ultimately, it’s those of us that accept their indoctrination and normalize their behavior and positions of power.

However, we are not a scarce nation. Bernie Sanders understood this even as the Clinton campaign was fatally ignoring the need to address the issue. And while his populism wasn’t without its own set of problems, he was on the right track, drawing poor communities of color and poor white people together towards a semblance of political solidarity.  To ignore the issue of widespread poverty – and the fear of poverty – in healthy, imaginative, and cross-cultural ways leaves the people with the lesser option of addressing poverty fears through disastrous, dull, and nativist ways such as cutthroat competition with any and all deemed outsiders. Being a capitalist and a real estate developer in the most cutthroat fields, Trump was acutely aware of this if nothing else.

This isn’t a gripe post. We don’t seek to complain about what could have or should have been. What we hope to do at Occupy the Democrats for People Power is seize momentum to leverage power that benefits the 99% by raising critical consciousness and encouraging people to band together. We believe that this will also benefit even that 1% whose lives seem to have little meaning but to keep their riches.

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