An unabashed, sustained assault on wealth must be part of the Democratic platform
A tug of war we must win
The election of Trump has been a traumatizing but also rejuvenating event for America’s left. Though the electoral fortunes of the Democratic party have never been worse, the surge in activism following this historic defeat is nothing short of amazing, and may be a portent of victories to come. Yet if we are to sustain these victories, and prevent a more effective autocrat from gaining power, it is essential that American politics, and society, undergo a fundamental realignment.
Trump’s election did not happen in a vacuum; it is the product of a decades long assault on democracy by the wealthy of this country, and to reverse it, we must push for a modern FDR-esque agenda, bringing private and corporate wealth back down to size.
Perhaps the thing that should give us the most hope is the reason Trump was elected in the first place. Yes, years of propaganda proclaiming government useless played a part. But far more importantly, the people who voted for Trump voted because he ran as a populist, someone who would stand up to wealthy interests and fight on their behalf. Astonishingly, we saw both political parties experience this populist wave, with Bernie Sanders nearly claiming the mantle of the Democratic nomination. Clearly, the American people have had it with the 1% and their endless exploitation of America for their own selfish ends.
The strategy should be simple. The “we are the 99%” message is powerful, effective, and meaningful. It succinctly states what Democrats should stand for, and it is perfectly compatible with a set of policy proposals that should form the basis of the Democratic platform. These proposals should be unabashedly redistributionist, not because we aim to take from the wealthy to give to the rest, but because we aim to take back from the wealthy what belongs to the rest.
This means a two prong approach. First, a series of policies that undermine private and corporate concentrations of wealth and power. These include things like aggressive enforcement of antitrust, elimination of “corporate speech” rights, substantial increase in inheritance/estate tax rates, abolition of a separate capital gains tax, and additional, higher brackets for high and very high income earners. Second, we continue to advocate for policies that enhance the financial security of average Americans and, far more importantly, invest in their future to ensure that they contribute to long term growth. This includes things like single payer, guaranteed college education, robust investments in scientific research, as well as expansion of infrastructure.
These policy proposals go hand in hand: one pays for the other. What’s more, by eroding the political power of the modern aristocracy, we effectively defend the new social and investment programs from the inevitable assault the moneyed classes will bring to bear against them.
Taxing the rich has always enjoyed broad popular support. The same is true of universal healthcare. Yet for some reason, the marriage of these two prongs — taxation to pay for social investment — is never front-and-center of the Democratic platform. This is what we, as activists, must change as we penetrate the ossified Democratic party and reform it from the inside out. This philosophy is completely anathema to what the GOP stands for, and since it is popular, its elements should be used in the same manner that the GOP always used social wedge issues: to splinter the GOP base and take away many of their poorest and most disaffected voters.
What’s more, Trump provides us with a perfect opportunity to pitch this message. Look at the horrendous budget proposal his administration has put forth. Tax reduction and investment reduction. That is the Trump budget in a nutshell. We should advocate to do the exact opposite. It is guaranteed to win votes.
I am frankly tired of watching liberalism play defense on economic issues for what is basically my entire life. Yes, we’ve won a victory with Obamacare, but that was the worst of the range of good options, and overall, inequity and the power of the wealthy has grown unabated. The American people are tired of it too; this is why we had populist messages perform so well in both parties. We can’t just continue making policy proposals that ignore this dynamic.
We must put forth a program that will roll back private and corporate wealth concentration, and unabashedly aim to do this as an end in and of itself. Dismantling large concentrations of private power is something a democratic government should and must do. We have to cut down the wealthy, and bring up the rest. Otherwise, our democracy is doomed.
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