Populist Unity Can Overcome the Establishment's Supermajority
Back in 2012 we published an article entitled “The Forgotten 33%,” which included a graphic entitled “American Voter Breakdown 2012.” It depicted the U.S. electorate as comprised of 46% who pay zero net taxes, 20% who work for the government and are net tax consumers, the 1% “super rich,” and the “forgotten 33%,” who work in the private sector and earn enough to be positive net taxpayers.
The point of the article, then and now, was that people with an intrinsic preference for big government comprise a super-majority of voters in America. But something has changed since 2012…
AMERICAN VOTER BREAKDOWN 2016
The emergence of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as serious contenders to become president of the U.S. reflects a growing awareness among voters in all of the above categories that things can and should be better. The 33% who constitute America’s beleaguered taxpayers were angry four years ago, and this time around they’re furious. Their ire is the most easily explained: Now more than ever, they work long hours for less wages or lower profits, all while being told by the establishment press, by mainstream academia, and by left-wing politicians that they’re “privileged,” and still aren’t paying their “fair share.” If they’re white, they’re told their success is the undeserved result of their color, when in fact they’ve been the recipients of institutionalized reverse discrimination for nearly two generations. And no matter what their ethnicity, they confront soaring prices for housing, health care, and college tuition for their children.
The 33% who work and make enough to pay taxes are angry. And they should be. But what about the 46% who pay no net taxes?
The anger of the 46% takes various forms, nearly all of it justified. Many of them work, but qualify for the earned income tax credit and subsidized health care, which makes them net tax consumers. Many of them would like to work harder, but the only jobs available are part-time with unpredictable schedules which makes it impossible for them to work two jobs. Many of them would like to get a better education, but they are the products of failing schools where teacher tenure is more important than student achievement. And if they’re people of color and haven’t yet been successful, they’re perpetually told by the establishment press, by mainstream academia, and by left-wing politicians that they are victims of discrimination and their failures are not their responsibility – fueling additional anger.
And what of the 20% who work for the government? They are, for the most part, ensured decent health care and a secure retirement. But they are the targets of relentless propaganda from their unions, who have waged a multi-decade campaign to convince them they are underpaid, underappreciated, and overworked. Many of them succumb to this nonsense. Others, and more than a few, are disgruntled for the opposite reason – they resent working for a unionized government where merit means less than seniority, and innovation is a threat.
But why are taxes consuming the 33%? Why are opportunities for good jobs and education being denied the 46%? And why does government get bigger every year but deliver less?
There’s a simple answer. Government unions. Especially at the state and local level, government unions have destroyed our public schools and driven our public institutions to the brink of bankruptcy. These government unions perpetually lobby for higher taxes, bigger government – more employees with more pay and benefits, more job killing regulations, and more programs ostensibly intended to help the less fortunate – regardless of their cost or actual effectiveness. The government union agenda is to increase their power and influence – a goal that has no connection with the public interest.
Government unions control state and local politicians, who in turn control every scrap of legislation sought after by big business. They encourage and enable cronyism. Their union controlled pension funds and their union backed government bond underwriting make them the biggest players on Wall Street. They ARE the “establishment” that has gotten everyone so agitated this time around.
Donald Trump, for all his hapless gaffes and hideous vitriol, is far too intelligent to identify government unions as the root cause of most of the problems in America. Unions make or break Trump’s development projects. And even if Trump did attack the government unions, he’d risk confusing voters, who by and large still don’t make a distinction between public and private sector unions.
Bernie Sanders, despite his belated attempts to pander to the African American left by challenging police organizations, is unwilling or unable to make the distinction between police personnel, whom we are lucky to have among us, and police unions that protect bad cops and intimidate politicians. And even if Sanders did take on the police unions, he would never take on the teachers unions – despite the fact they’ve practically destroyed public education in America.
Populist anger in America today is justified, and there is a unifying target for the anger – the “establishment” as represented by government unions and their clients; monopolistic corporations, America’s overbuilt financial sector, and the extreme environmentalist lobby that provides a phony moral cover for their iniquitous schemes. If public sector unions were illegal, this entire corrupt establishment would be threatened as never before. As it is, this awakening national dissent has seismic power, diffused in all directions, turning only on itself.
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Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.